Punish the guilty, spare the honest and protect those who resist or complain against corruption – these principles form the basis of the latest move to amend and strengthen the Prevention of Corruption Act. The Union government has approved making giving and taking of bribe a ‘heinous’ crime
But let nobody be fooled. Graft is not going to vanish. The law was always there, but used selectively and half-heartedly
Punish the guilty, spare the honest and protect those who resist or complain against corruption – these principles form the basis of the latest move to amend and strengthen the Prevention of Corruption Act. The Union government has approved making giving and taking of bribe a ‘heinous’ crime, enhancing punishment and, significantly, making the corporate world liable for offering bribe to government officials.
The power of the court has been enhanced, allowing it to attach property. A special CBI court has just launched proceedings against industrialist Navin Jindal, former Union Minister Dasari Narayana Rao and former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda in the coal scam.
These are radical moves. As the government is hit by corporate espionage, they do not come a day too early. It required a sustained movement of over four years to make Modi and his government keep the poll promise. It took long in coming after the nation was rocked by a public outcry four years ago. Rather than rue over the delay, it is better to welcome the measure at its face value.
But let nobody be fooled. Graft is not going to vanish. The law was always there, but used selectively and half-heartedly, for lack of political will. Also, there are shades of grey. It is not that everything was wrong before and that everything will be right under the present government. The will of the Modi dispensation and the extent of its effective implementation would need to be watched and tested carefully. There are no short cuts and there is no magic wand.
The law will have to operate within civil, democratic norms, unlike countries where trials are run through, convictions are declared with no room for appeal and the guilty are shot dead. Corruption is embedded into our society – and we are only talking of financial corruption that is now proposed to include non-money graft as well. Yet, who will look at bribe paid in kind, not to officials but to family members, drivers, servants and so on? The bribe givers simply disown the employee caught giving bribe. Period.
Surely, there will be warnings that corporate India is being throttled and suppressed by anti-graft measures and warnings that “investor sentiment,’ domestic and foreign, could be affected. With different parties in power at the Centre and in the States, there are bound to be allegations of “political motivations.” And there will be claims of ‘vindication’ through “popular mandate”.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, many of whose colleagues are implicated and on trial in the Saradha chit fund scam, has, on winning the civic polls, made precisely this claim.How the proposed law succeeds would need to be judged by whether it will crash the glass house in which everyone who matters lives, without throwing stones at each other. This is a tall order.