NEW DELHI: Union Minister Arun Jaitley said on Friday that the passage of the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013 will ensure that bonafide actions of public servants are not called into question.
Mr Jaitley in an article said that the present Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 was legislated in the pre-liberalisation regime.
"It had not visualised the changes in the economy, when higher participation of the private sector would take place."
According to him, it had also not anticipated the kind of risk that it could put honest decision makers to.
"I had, for a long time, been advocating the change in this legislation. In the past one week, both the Houses of Parliament have approved this Bill. Both the Standing Committee of Parliament and, thereafter, the Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha had approved this Bill. The Bill has two significant features."
Jaitley said the Bill seeks to punish both - the bribe giver and bribe taker.
"It provides protection if the briber assists the investigative agency. Even non-monetary gratification has been included within the ambit of the Bill. Promoters of companies which hide behind the corporate veil to avoid the consequences of this Act, have been made more accountable. Since the company cannot be sent to jail, the individual in the management responsible for the corruption will be held liable."
He added that the bill has also corrected a fundamental flaw in the Act.
"The wide definition of corruption, which is referred to as 'criminal misconduct' in the original Act had a potential for including in its ambit, not merely dishonest decisions taken with a dishonest intention but as the history of its functioning shows, could also include honest decision taken by honest individuals which subsequently turn out to be erroneous."
"Thus a loan given by an honest bank management in accordance with the rules, would get subsequently questioned if the recipient of the loan defaulted and the entire process of the banker-lender relationship was referred to an investigative agency."
He added that the somewhat loose language of the Act enabled investigating agencies to shed apart their professionalism and followed the investigators golden rule 'when in doubt, file a chargesheet'.
"The result was many honest persons were harassed and eventually never convicted. Reputations were ruined and a fear amongst decision makers was created. This witnessed a tendency where civil servants would postpone decision making to their successor rather than take the risk upon themselves."
He further added that the new Bill, besides correcting the somewhat loose language, now requires the element of mens rea i.e. the dishonest intention to be proved for an offence of criminal conduct to be made out.
"This will ensure that bonafide actions of public servants are not called into question."
According to the article, the period of trial for corruption is now required to be completed within two years.
The Prevention of Corruption Act merely provided for sanction for serving civil servants and not retired civil servants.
On the contrary, Indian Penal Code required a sanction for those who are or have been public servants.
Jaitley wrote that the scare created amongst the civil servants, bankers, heads of public sector undertakings and other decision makers, who have seen in the last few years professional investigation graduating into investigating adventurism, have a reason to be relieved.
"The only group which is unhappy is some NGO's who are not aware of the needs of governance, quick decision making and growth. For these groups 'chaos' and 'decision making paralysis' is better than stability and growth. I do hope that the investigators also realise that it is only professionalism and fairness which will ensure a higher rate of conviction. Punishing the corrupt has to be judiciously balanced with non-harassment of the honest."