Friday, Oct 31, 2014

Six bills, twelve days

Passage of these anti-corruption bills in the 12-day session could run into obstacles due to Telangana-related disruptions. Passage of these anti-corruption bills in the 12-day session could run into obstacles due to Telangana-related disruptions.
Written by Chakshu Roy | Posted: February 5, 2014 12:56 am

Plans to pass anti-graft laws during the current Parliament session are ambitious.

The second part of the winter session of Parliament is beginning today. The agenda for the session indicates that the government is planning to push for the passage of six anti-corruption bills.

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has urged that these bills, which form part of the government’s anti-corruption framework, be considered and passed by Parliament before the expiry of the term of the 15th Lok Sabha.

These six bills are the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill, 2011, the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011 (that is, the citizen’s charter bill), the Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations Bill, 2011, the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013 and the Public Procurement Bill, 2012.

The bills are in different stages of the parliamentary system. The two bills that are closest to the finishing line are the judicial standards bill and the whistleblower’s bill. Both these bills have been passed by the Lok Sabha and need to be passed by the Rajya Sabha.

The judicial standards bill requires judges to declare their assets, lays down judicial standards and provides a process for the removal of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts. The critical issue is whether the mechanisms proposed are able to achieve a balance between the independence and accountability of judges.

The whistleblower’s bill provides a mechanism for public servants and others to make disclosures related to corruption and misuse of power by public officials. When the bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha, it specified that disclosures against armed forces and intelligence organisations could not be made. On the recommendations of the parliamentary committee that scrutinised the bill, the government deleted these provisions. Last year, the government circulated amendments to the bill in the Rajya Sabha. One of these amendments seeks to prevent any disclosures which are likely to “prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state, relations with foreign states or which may lead to the incitement of an offence”. If this amendment is passed by the Rajya Sabha, it would amount to reversing the stand taken by the Lok Sabha.

The parliamentary committees examining the citizen’s charter bill and the prevention of bribery of foreign public officials bill have submitted their reports and now they need to be passed by both Houses of Parliament.

The citizen’s charter bill seeks to create a mechanism to ensure timely delivery of goods and services to citizens by Central and state public authorities. Since a number of state legislatures have already enacted their own right to public service delivery acts, the passage of this bill could potentially create ambiguity between the Central and state acts.

The parliamentary committee which examined the bill was of the opinion that Parliament was competent to enact it. It also observed that the layout of the bill would ensure that the Centre and state governments would be independent of the other while implementing the bill. Under the bill, only Indian citizens can file complaints for non-delivery of services.

The prevention of bribery of foreign public officials bill provides a mechanism to deal with bribery among foreign public officials and criminalises both the giving and taking of bribes. It also empowers the Central government to enter into agreements with other countries to enforce this law and for the exchange of investigative information.

The last two bills that are part of the government’s anti-corruption framework are the bill to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Public Procurement Bill. They are currently pending before the parliamentary committees to which they were referred to for scrutiny.

The amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act expands the scope of the offence relating to a public servant being bribed. The bill covers the offences of giving a bribe and soliciting and accepting a bribe through an intermediary. It also has clauses that provide for confiscation of bribes and the proceeds of bribery. The Public Procurement Bill seeks to regulate and ensure transparency in procurement by the Central government. The government is empowered to exempt any procurements or procuring entities from the provisions of the bill in public interest.

The bill specifies open competitive bidding as the preferred method for procurement and specifies the conditions under which other procurement methods can be used and the procedure that is to be followed. Besides these six bills, the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill and the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill are also pending in Parliament. If passed, these bills could supplement the government’s efforts in combating corruption.

The passage of these anti-corruption bills in the 12-day session could run into obstacles, given that both Houses are expected to see disruptions on account of the Telangana issue. To sustain the fight against corruption and the deliberative character of our democracy, it is important that these bills are passed after constructive debate in Parliament.

The writer is head of outreach, PRS Legislative Research, Delhi
express@expressindia.com

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