New Delhi: Parliament on Tuesday passed a bill to amend the 1988 anti-graft law by seeking to punish bribe-givers for the first time along with the bribe takers, as the Lok Sabha gave its nod to it. Moving the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill for passage in the Lower House, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Jitendra Singh said its aim was to enhance transparency and accountability of the government and also to make the provisions under the law stringent.
The measure reflects the Narendra Modi government's zero tolerance towards corruption, he said.
Replying to the debate before the bill was passed by a voice vote, Singh said through this measure, it is also being ensured that honest officers are not harassed. Not only taking bribe, but giving bribe would also be a crime, he said.
The Minister said that now prior approval for investigation will be required in cases of all government officers. Earlier, it was restricted to officials above the rank of a Joint Secretary.
The bill, which got the Rajya Sabha's nod last week with 43 amendments, seeks to set a timeframe within which a court would decide on corruption issues, he said, adding that verdicts in such cases has to be given "ordinarily" in two years.
He also said that immunity from arrest would be available to all levels of officers, as against the existing provision of joint secretary and above.
The Minister said the bill had many provisions to ensure speedy trial of corruption cases, besides providing protection to bureaucrats, even after their retirement, from malicious complaints. For the bribe takers, the bill proposes to increase the punishment to a minimum of three years of imprisonment, which may extend to seven years, besides fine.
During the debate, K H Muniyappa (Cong) said electoral reforms were badly required to check corruption in the system.
Corruption can be tackled to some extent if money is not involved in polls right from the panchayat to Parliament.
Earlier, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the opposition will support the government if they fought corruption in reality rather than making claims. "Under your rule, India, which was known as land of saints, has turned into land of scamsters....Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and many others fled the country after defaulting on banks' money," he said.
Chowdhury also raised the issue of Rafale deal and asked the government why it was unwilling to share the entire information about the deal with the House.
Countering his charges, the BJP MP Prahlad Joshi said it was during the rule of UPA government, the money was given to all these businessman who have now fled. "The loans were sanctioned by banks after they were pressurised by the top people in the UPA government," Joshi alleged while speaking on the bill. He said the NDA government has adopted a progressive approach by bringing this bill and was working to root out corruption from the system.
K Nimala (TDP) alleged that the central government was using the anti-corruption laws for their vested political interests. There is a need to effectively implement these laws, he said.
APJ Reddy (TRS) wondered whether graft can be prevented effectively. He said that corruption was involved from birth to death as, at every stage of life, one should have to pay bribe for any work. He said there is a problem in the clause where it talks about punishing bribe givers. This would discourage whistleblowers to come forward, he said, adding "we need to hit the root cause of the menace".
B Khan (CPI-M) said nothing has happened so far in the Saradha scam in West Bengal. He also raised the issue of delay in the appointment of the anti-graft ombudsman Lokpal.
Idris Ali (TMC) refuted graft allegations against the TMC saying these were false and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was a "symbol of honesty".
K Geetha (YSRCP) said that excessive regulation, lack of transparency and lack of transparent laws led to corruption. Citing an example, the member of parliament said that she herself was a victim of corruption.
Expelled RJD MP Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav said corruption was worse than terrorism. He alleged that politicians only crib about corruption and they should resign.
Yadav said that people including officers and politicians need to be investigated by Enforcement Directorate and other agencies, it should be started "from Paapu Yadav". He also said that funding of political parties should be made more transparent as it impacted the election process.
Shiromani Akali Dal's Prem Singh Chandumajra and AAP member Bhagwant Mann also spoke.