Fighting corruption needs a law with clear, visible and timely punishments prescribed depending on the extent and scale of corruption. With the amounts involved touching unbelievable and astronomical levels, the punishment also needs to be relatively proportional.
The Lok Pal bill 2010 of the Government does not talk of increasing punishment that is mentioned under the Prevention of Corruption Act. It also does not expand or enlarge the definition of corruption. It neither permits confiscation of the properties of public servants nor allows for sanction of the prosecution of officials. There is also no mention of establishing special courts whenever the Lok Pal feels that it is needed.
One can easily see through the intent of the Government in having such a weak law. How could anyone imagine that a law with such weak processes of punishment ever be a deterrent to corruption by public officials? This is sought to be addressed comprehensively by the Jan Lok Pal. It talks of the punishment being not less than 2 years of rigorous imprisonment and may extend up to life imprisonment. If the accused is an office of the rank of Joint Secretary or above or a Minister, a member or Chairperson of the Lok Pal, the punishment shall not be less than ten years of imprisonment. Provided further that if the offence is deemed a case of ‘corruption’ and if the beneficiary is a business entity, in addition to other punishments mentioned in this Act and under the Prevention of Corruption Act, a fine amounting to five times the loss caused to the public shall be recovered from the accused and the recovery may be done from the assets of the business entity and from the personal assets of all its Directors, if the assets of the accused are inadequate.
The Jan Lok Pal bill also permits the properties obtained by a public servant through corrupt means to be confiscated by the Lok Pal. No prior sanction under is also needed for prosecution of officials.
The Jan Lok Pal bill also allows for establishment of special courts. On an annual basis, the Lok Pal shall make an assessment of the number of special judges required under Sec 4 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 in each area and the Government shall appoint such number of judges within three months of the receipt of such recommendation.
As one can observe, the Jan Lok Pal seeks to serve as a strong deterrent and create the fear of law and punishment in the mind of the officials who could be potentially corrupt. Some human rights activists have pointed out that such a strong Act could become draconian in the hands of a perverted few and seek softer and more lenient punishment. This will not be entirely acceptable as the present context and reality of India clearly demonstrates the need for a strong law to make a visible impact.
(to be continued…)