The Prevention of Corruption Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018 was passed by the parliament on Tuesday. The amendments propose a lot of changes to the anti-corruption law which range from redefining criminal misconduct to bringing collusive bribe givers to book. Moreover, bankers and civil servants are considering the latest amendments to Prevention of Corruption Act as means to ease pressure on them amidst mounting bad loans and investigative scrutiny against their commercial decisions.
The amendments extend the provision of prior permission before prosecuting a civil servant to retired officials too. This means that an investigating agency like the police or the Central Bureau of Investigation will have to secure permission from a competent authority before they can arrest a retired banker or civil servant. Earlier this provision was applicable for serving banking staff and public officials as well as public servants above the joint secretary level.
Criminal misconduct redefined
After the amendments, the definition of 'criminal misconduct' under Prevention of Corruption Act now includes misappropriation of assets or possession of disproportionate assets. The amendments say that criminal misconduct will also include intention to acquire disproportionate assets. This redefinition could mean that abuse of position and disregarding public interest cannot be reasons alone for prosecution, said a Bloomberg report.
So while some bankers are seeing this as an opportunity to work without the fear of prosecution, some fear these amendments will be bad for bankers. "Earlier it was just disproportionate assets and now they are talking about intention to acquire disproportionate assets. So how does that impact the process. I would say that instead of raising the threshold it has actually lowered the threshold," SBI Chairman Rajnish Kumar was quoted in the report.
The Central Vigilance Commission will set up some guidelines on how offence should be dealt with and what kind of approvals are needed before making an arrest, vigilance commissioner TM Bhasin was quoted as saying in the report. The report also mentioned bankers saying that the amendments will help them to overcome the fear of prosecution while take crucial decisions regarding restructuring, haircuts or even financing stressed firms any further.
Before the Monsoon Session of the Parliament, Indian Banking Association asked the government to expedite the amendments to Prevention of Corruption Act this month. This came after former Bank of Maharashtra managing director Ravindra Marathe was arrested on charges of banking fraud.
Strict penalties for giving bribes
The amendments to Prevention of Corruption Act also call for harsh action against those who offer bribes without any coercion from the bribe taker. The amendments call for penalties against a first time bribe giver if they give the bribe willingly to a government official or bank staff. The term of sentence for giving or taking bribes has also been increased to seven years.
The Prevention of Corruption Act amendments will help bankers and public sector officials to carry out their duties fearlessly and on merit, while doing away with any paralysis in decision making, Bhasin was quoted in the report.