Ministers’ discretionary powers set to go

In the wake of Anna Hazare’s movement for a strong Lokpal Bill, the government on Wednesday announced several key measures aimed at curbing corruption.

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: In the wake of Anna Hazare’s movement for a strong Lokpal Bill, the government on Wednesday announced several key measures aimed at curbing corruption, including setting up of 71 fast-track special CBI
courts, fixing a limit of three months to grant sanction for
prosecution and strengthening the vigilance administration.

Addressing a joint press conference, Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy said ministers will no longer have discretionary powers.

According to Narayanasamy, a Group of Ministers (GoM) to curb
corruption, headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, has recommended that the ministers would have no discretionary powers in the allotment
of land, telephone and petrol pumps.
"These powers have been removed," barring in cases of compensation to victims of Naxal violence by the Home Ministry and to war widows by the Defence Ministry, he said.

With the GoM recommendations accepted, now onwards mere
retirement would not be a ground for dropping proceedings
against corrupt government servants who will now face a 10 per
cent cut in pension in case of minor penalty, for a period not
exceeding five years.

The present major penalty of compulsory retirement with
full benefits would be changed hereafter with a cut of 20 per
cent in pension.

Further, the permission to initiate legal action against corrupt officials will be given in a maximum period of three months.

In the event of refusal of sanction to prosecute, the
competent authority would have to submit its order, including
the reasons for refusal, to the next higher authority for
information within seven days, Narayanasamy said.

Wherever the minister in-charge of the department is the
competent authority and he decides to deny permission for
prosecution, it would be incumbent on the minister to report
it to the Prime Minister within seven days.

Narayanasamy also announced that 71 fast-track CBI courts will try corruption cases, out of which 44 are already in place.

On the fast-tracking of almost 10,000 pending CBI cases,
he said a committee, headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge,
would be set up for studying cases which have been pending
trial for more than ten years and make recommendations for
their speedy disposal or withdrawal.

The committee, which would look at cases under the
Prevention of Corruption Act, would include retired CVC, CBI
Director and another person of impeccable repute from civil
society, he said, adding that almost 2,600 cases were over a
decade old.

On electoral reforms, the government announced that the PM will hold consultations with all political parties on the issue. Contentious issues like the Right to recall and measures to keep those with criminal records away from electoral process will be part of the discussions.

Moreover, to ensure timely delivery of public services, the government will bring in a national-level Citizen’s Charter bill.

As regards tackling corruption in judiciary, Khurshid said the government will look into setting up of a Judicial Commission for appointment of judges.
The GoM also decided to bring a new policy and a bill on
public procurement in the Winter Session of Parliament to
tackle corruption and make the procedure more transparent, Khurshid and Narayanasamy told reporters.

"The first report of the GoM has been submitted to the
government and the Prime Minister has approved many of the
recommendations," Narayanasamy said.

Asked whether anti-graft measures were being announced
under the impact of the Anna Hazare agitation, he reminded
that the GoM on corruption was set up on January 6 much before
Hazare began his fast.

"The government is very concerned about corruption and has already
taken steps. Anna Hazare gave his views. We are considering
it. That does not mean whatever he says is going to be
accepted. There are several other views also," he said.

Narayanasamy said he was hopeful that the Lokpal Bill would
be studied by the Standing Committee and tabled in Parliament
in the upcoming session.

On amendment to Art 311 of the Constitution to provide
for summary proceedings in cases of grave misdemeanour or acts
of blatant corruption by public servants, it was felt that
there was need to strike a balance between fundamental rights
of individuals and administrative agencies.

"Yes Article 311 will remain untouched," Narayansamy said.

"Lot of discussion took place in the GoM over the issue
and it took a conscious decision that at least one opportunity
should be given to an officer. A person is not dismissed as
soon as he is caught taking bribe. He will be given at least
one chance," he said.

The GoM has also decided to make the departments and
ministries to primarily use serving officers as inquiry and
presenting officers in one of the steps towards speeding up
the inquiry proceedings.

"The committee has recommended that the vigilance
officers especially the investigating officer should not be by
name but by designation so that the other officer, who is appointed can continue the inquiry in any case," Narayanasamy
said, adding that delay in many a cases occurred due to change
of investigating officers.

In important cases, the officers may request the Central
Vigilance Commission to appoint their Commissioner of Direct
Inquiries as Investigating Officer.

The GoM also decided to
dispense with the practice of seeking second stage advise of
the CVC in corruption cases.

Reacting to the announcements, former Karnataka Lokayukta and Team Anna member Santosh Hegde said the decision to give permission for legal action against corrupt official in a maximum period of three months will go a long way in tackling corruption.

He however stressed on the need for a Lokpal, saying who will ensure all the measures announced by the government are implemented.

(With PTI inputs)

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