Governance in India is now more transparent, more accountable than ever before. The year 2005 marked the beginning of a transparency revolution in India with the landmark Right to Information being enacted as a legal right. It gave each and every Indian the right to question public officials at every level. Earlier this week, the Congress party took yet another critical step in its battle against corruption by ensuring the passage of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 in both Houses of Parliament. Once the legislation is signed by the President of India, India will have an empowered Lokpal, which can inquire into allegations of corruption against public officials at various levels. Though a revolutionary legislation, the Lokpal alone cannot be a cure for corruption. Corruption is too complex a problem to be removed by an ombudsman, no matter how empowered the body is.
The Congress party understands the corruption is a systemic problem which needs to be tackled in a comprehensive manner. During the debate on the Lokpal Bill in the Lok Sabha, Congress Vice-President Shri Rahul Gandhi said "The Lokpal Bill alone is not adequate to fight corruption. We need a comprehensive anti-corruption code in this country".
Elaborating on the framework, Shri Gandhi said "The UPA government has developed a powerful anti-corruption framework consisting of eight new central laws. Even after the passage of the Lokpal Bill, four of these Bills remain pending in the Lok Sabha and two in the Rajya Sabha". Which are the pending Bills Shri Gandhi is speaking about?
The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill, 2011
The Bill seeks to protect those who expose corruption and criminal offence. The Bill states that the identity of the whistleblower must not be disclosed. It provides for a penalty for any person who reveals the identity of the complainant. Under the Bill, statutory protection will be provided to any person who has brought to light a case of corruption, omission and commission.
Status: The Bill, as amended, was passed by the Lok Sabha on December 27, 2011 and was included in the List of Business of the Rajya Sabha on December 28 and December 29, 2011, but could not be taken up for consideration on both these dates due to opposition disruption
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010
The Bill tries to lay down enforceable standards of conduct for judges. Under the Bill, judges are required to declare details of their and their family members' assets and liabilities. Significantly, it creates a mechanism to allow any person to complain against judges on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity. The Bill establishes three bodies to investigate complaints against judges: the National Judicial Oversight Committee, the Complaints Scrutiny Panel and allows for the constitution of an investigation committee.
Status: The Bill with some amendments was passed by the Lok Sabha on March 29, 2012
The Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011
Under the Bill every public authority is required to publish a Citizens Charter specifying the category of goods supplied and services rendered by it as well as the time frame within which such goods shall be supplied or services be rendered. The Bill provides for establishing information and facilitation centre for efficient and effective delivery of services and redressal of grievances. It designates Grievance Redress Officers (GRO) in every public authority to enquire into complaints and redress any grievances from citizens. The grievance-redressal machinery is comprehensive. State Public Grievance Redressal Commission and the Central Public Grievance Redressal Commission will be set up for as appellate authorities. Citizens can appeal against the decision of GRO, call for the imposition of penalties in case of failure on the part of designated official responsible for delivery of goods and services or even complain against the GRO. However, the powers given to district and sub-district level authorities is such that they would be able to redress most of the grievances at the grassroots.
Status: The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 20, 2011. It was referred to the Department Related Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, which submitted its report on August 30, 2012.
Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2013
The main intention of the Amendment is to prosecute the bribe givers in the offence of consensual bribery. At present, no domestic law has provision to punish a bribe giver. The Bill defines the term 'corruption' and changes provision relating to protection from frivolous prosecution, also ensures more effective compliance of the United Nations Convention against corruption. The Bill provides for punishing any public servant who obtains any financial or other advantage at least three years of imprisonment in addition to a fine. This may even extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine. The Bill also provides for the confiscation of the property of corrupt officials. However, prior sanction of competent authority is proposed to safeguard the public servants from the frivolous prosecution after they have demitted office.
Status: The Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on August 19, 2013.
The Public Procurement Bill, 2012
One of the steps suggested by the Group of Ministers on Corruption, the Bill ensures full transparency in public procurement and contracts. It lays down public procurement standards and a public procurement policy. Following the announcement made by the Prime Minister in his Independence Day address of 2011, the Public Procurement Bill, 2012 has been drafted and approved by the Cabinet. The Bill seeks to regulate public procurement by all Ministries and Departments of the central government, Central Public Sector Enterprises and bodies controlled by the Central Government to ensure transparency, fair and equitable treatment of bidders. This will promote competition and enhance efficiency in the procurement process. The Bill is based on the recommendations of Committee on Public Procurement which were accepted on February 22 , 2012 by a GOM, to tackle corruption. The Bill will create a statutory framework for public procurement which will improve the accountability, transparency and enforceability of the regulatory framework.
Status: The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 14, 2012.
The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations Bill, 2011
The legislation makes accepting or giving bribe by foreign public officials a criminal offence. Those found guilty of corruption under this Bill, can be imprisoned for up to seven years among others penal provisions. As per the proposed Bill, the government can attach, seize and confiscate property of offenders. The Bill empowers the Central Government to enter into agreements with other countries for enforcing this law and for exchange of investigative information. Presently bribery by foreign nationals is not covered under any domestic anti-corruption laws. It is to address this remedy that this Bill was initiated. The Bill empowers the Central Government to enter into agreements with other countries (contracting states) for enforcing this law and for exchange of investigative information.
Status: The Bill was introduced in the Monsoon session of Parliament in 2011. It was then referred to the Department related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice which submitted its report on March 29, 2012.
In addition to these Bills, there are a number of legislations which, if passed, can play a crucial role in tackling corruption such as the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill, the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill and the Benami Transaction (Prohibition) Bill 2011. All three Bills are pending in Parliament.
During his speech in the Lok Sabha, Shri Gandhi said "I believe it is our responsibility to complete our unfinished work in our fight against corruption. I believe it is the responsibility of the 15th Lok Sabha to consider and enact all six pending anti-corruption bills before its term expires. If necessary Madam Speaker, can we not extend the session of Parliament to complete the passage of these bills and provide this country with a frame work to fight corruption. This is not about one Bill, this is about a frame work and we want to deliver that frame work to the country."
If these Bills are passed, a corruption-free India would soon be a reality and not just an empty slogan.