On April 29, 2015, the Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, gave its approval to move certain amendments to the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013 (“Amendment Bill”) which amends the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (“Prevention of Corruption Act”). The Amendment Bill is currently pending before the Rajya Sabha. Pursuant to the recommendations of the Law Commission of India in its 254th Report and the report submitted by the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee, the amendments are proposed to bring the Prevention of Corruption Act in line with the current international practices as well as to fulfil India’s obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The proposed amendments strive to introduce stringent measures to tackle corruption, including punishing both the bribe giver and the bribe taker for the offences of bribery and covering non-monetary gratification under the definition of “gratification”.
Some of the notable amendments proposed to the Amendment Bill are summarised below:
- The minimum term for imprisonment for the offence has been raised from the period of 6 (six) months to 3 (three) years and the maximum being increased from 5 (five) years to 7 (seven) years bringing corruption under the heinous crime category;
- The trial court (Special Judge) instead of the District Judge, will have the power to attach property to curb continual benefits from profits of corruption;
- Commercial entities will now be included within the ambit of bribe giver. Guidelines are to be introduced to prevent persons associated with commercial organisations from bribing a public servant;
- It is proposed that trial completion within a period of 2 (two) years to ensure speedy trial;
- Possession of disproportionate assets will be construed as proof of illicit enrichment by a public servant, with intentional enrichment construed as criminal misconduct;
- The obligations and duties of a public servant are more clearly defined to deter from violating statutory duties;
- Prior sanction will be required for prosecuting retired, resigned public servants who no longer hold office. Additionally, prior approval from the Lokpal or Lokayukta will be required for investigation of offences by public servants related to acts done in discharging his official duties.
The proposed amendments is a great step forward towards curbing the menace of corruption and also to keep up with international practices. However, ambiguity on interpretation of “intentional enrichment” and “disproportionate assets” will have to be cleared. Critics have also questioned the protection of prior sanction being provided to public servants, including ones who are no longer in service.