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Inadequate systems

Print edition : May 06, 2011 T+T-

THE Jan Lokpal Bill fills the vacuum in the fight against corruption, at least in a theoretical sense. The existing systems of identifying and prosecuting cases of corruption against public officials are woefully inadequate. At present, public servants can be prosecuted for corruption under the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. However, the investigating agency, such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), has to get the sanction of the Central or State governments before it can initiate the prosecution in a court. This provision is designed to protect honest officials from harassment. However, this provision is mostly misused through delayed responses to requests for sanction.

As of end-2010, according to figures compiled by PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi, the Central government had not provided responses to 236 requests for sanction. Of these, 155 requests (66 per cent) had been pending for over three months. State governments had not responded to 84 requests for sanction, of which 13 (15 per cent) had been pending for more than three months.

The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) is the premier agency tasked with tackling corruption cases within the Central government. Between 2005 and 2009, penalties were imposed in 13,061 cases (average 2,612 a year) on the basis of the CVC's advice. This included 846 cases (annual average 169) in which sanctions were granted for criminal prosecution.

The CBI is the main agency used by the CVC to investigate cases of corruption and misuse of office by public officials. As of December 2010, as many as 21 per cent of the sanctioned posts in the CBI were vacant. Besides, the criminal justice system has also been slow in prosecuting CBI cases. As of end-2010, there were 9,927 CBI cases pending in courts. Of these, 2,245 (23 per cent of the total) had been pending for more than 10 years.

In the five years from 2005 to 2009, the CVC got 1,731 whistleblower complaints. Activists describe the Public Interest Disclosure Bill, 2010, currently being examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee, as grossly ineffective in encouraging whistleblower complaints.

India Against Corruption's website, while examining the deficiencies in the current anti-corruption systems, points out that there is not a single anti-corruption agency that is effective and independent of the government. The CBI has powers but it is not independent (of its political masters). The CVC is independent, but it does not have sufficient powers or resources, it says.

With a staff strength of less than 200, the CVC seeks to check corruption in more than 1,500 Central government departments and Ministries. So, it depends on the vigilance wings of the respective departments and forwards most of the complaints to them, which results in unjustified delays. Besides, the CVC is merely an advisory body and has no powers to register a criminal case.

The Jan Lokpal Bill, therefore, seeks to merge that part of the CBI which deals with cases of corruption with the Lokpal, so that there is one effective and independent body to take action against corruption. It also proposes to merge the CVC and the entire vigilance machinery of the government with the Lokpal.

V. Venkatesan and Purnima Tripathi