RAVI SHARMA IN THE HINDU
EVEN as members of the investigating teams looking into the corruption charges against Ministers in the B.S. Yeddyurappa Cabinet bemoan the lack of adequate laws to trap, convict and punish wrong-doers, Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily is of the view that the public is not doing enough to force the governments of the day to strengthen the laws meant to deal with corrupt bureaucrats and elected representatives. He feels that there is a “total tolerance of corruption” and that the “corrupt are being glorified”.
Moily, who headed the Second Administrative Reforms Commission and produced a report recommending sweeping changes in the political, judicial, administrative and electoral spheres, told Frontline that the Union government should do more. “But where is the public pressure to implement stricter laws against corruption? Especially NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and the media should push the government to act. Today the media and the NGOs are focussed only on temporary gains. They are happy going after small fry and sensationalising issues. The focus should be on evolving, reforming and improving the system of governance. Elected representatives should not be allowed to interfere in the posting of officials. Today pliable officials, especially those belonging to the same caste/community as the elected representative, are sought to be posted in his constituency or in key posts. Cronyism, casteism and nepotism lead to rampant corruption.”
Officers involved in the investigation of corruption charges against government officers and politicians are of the opinion that laws are diluted and inadequate and the government is not prepared to strengthen them. Citing the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), they said that the clause stipulating prior sanction from the government for prosecuting higher officials was a major hurdle.
Senior police officers pointed out that since the prosecuting agencies were not independent, investigations by them were bound to be unreliable. Another area that needs to be looked into is the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988. The police officers regretted that although they were aware that thousands of properties were held in benami names, they were unable to act.
With the Corrupt Public Servants (Forfeiture of Property) Bill not yet legislated, offenders are now tried under the archaic Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 1944. The officers said the ordinance was not powerful as properties of such offenders had to be first attached and then forfeited by the courts of law.
Again, while the Union Cabinet has approved the Whistleblowers Protection Act (where the onus is on the investigating officer to protect the identity of the whistleblower), the State governments have not done enough to protect him/her.
The appointment of the Lokayukta (ombudsman), which was recommended by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, is not mandatory in all States. “The State Vigilance Commission is still part of the government and is headed by a government servant. Where is the independence? The United Nations Convention against Corruption clearly calls for independent bodies,” one officer pointed out.
According to R.V. Deshpande, who until recently was the president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, both the Lokayukta Bill and the Lokpal Bill have to be strengthened and people’s representatives should be brought under their ambit. He said: “At present elected representatives are only required to file an affidavit about their assets. The anti-defection law should be amended withdrawing the Assembly Speaker’s powers to disqualify members. This power should be vested with the High Courts with the stipulation that a decision is handed out within two-three months. A defector should also be barred from contesting elections for at least six years. This will curtail corruption in politics.”