A dip in graft cases, thanks to amended Act

The total number of corruption cases/inquiries against government officials has come down 77% in Tamil Nadu in 2018-19, thanks to the amended Prevention of Corruption Act, that makes it mandatory for anti-corruption agencies to obtain the sanction of the competent authority to initiate an inquiry or register a case.

The Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC), Tamil Nadu’s anti-corruption force, initiated 505 preliminary/detailed inquiries against government officials on charges of corruption and registered 189 regular cases in 2017-18.

The Department of Rural Development topped the list of officials facing corruption charges with 260 cases, including traps, followed by the Revenue and Police Departments with 146 and 94 cases respectively.

The number dropped to 231 inquiries and 161 cases in 2018-19. Reason? An amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act last year has become a stumbling block to investigators who cannot straight away launch an investigation or register a case against a public servant even if there is a specific complaint.

As a follow-up to the amendment, the Government of Tamil Nadu issued an order introducing a new Section 17 (A)(1), restraining police officers from initiating any inquiry or investigation into any offence punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act without the written consent of the competent or appointing authority of the department concerned.

Though the order said that the “concerned authority [sic] shall convey its decision under this section within a period of three months, which may, for reasons to be recorded in writing by such authority, be extended by a further period of one month.” However, there is no mention about what happens if the competent authority does not take a decision even after 120 days.

Traps remain

However, there would be no change in laying traps based on specific written complaints and also registering cases relating to disproportionate assets after prima facie evidence is established. Police will continue to accept complaints from the public against government officials who demand bribes for discharging their duties and lay traps to arrest them.

Explaining the difference that Section 17 (A)(1) makes, a DVAC officer said that investigators would not be able to proceed on intelligence or source information on irregularities, abuse of power by public servants, loss to exchequer, corruption, etc. involving any government official or organisation.

The amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act was made to protect honest public servants from being harassed. But it was only going in favour of officials facing serious charges of corruption.

“For instance, the cases we registered against Anna University officials for the sensational revaluation marks scandal, irregularities in admissions under NRI quota in the Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University, scam in the purchase of medicines in the ESI Hospitals etc. were all based on source information. The cases exposed serious violations in established procedures,” the officer, who preferred not to be named, told The Hindu on Wednesday.

Coordinator of anti-corruption body Arappor Iyakkam Jayaram Venkatesan, who is the complainant in many corruption cases against State Ministers and officials, said the Centre, that promised to fight corruption, amended existing laws which was only helping the corrupt public servants.

‘Retrograde step’

“This is a huge retrograde step in the fight against corruption. In many cases, the entire chain of officials in a department are involved in corruption and seeking permission for the Head of the Department would not only delay the process of launching probe but also expose the plan, thereby alerting the suspects to tamper with evidence,” he said.

While the timeline for according sanction to initiate inquiry has been mentioned as three months with one-month grace period, it has been left open as to what happens if the competent authority fails to give permission in four months.

"Therefore, we are forced to move the court every time to force the competent authority to decide. This has resulted in huge delay in investigations and also given opportunity to competent authorities to reject permission in cases they are directly or indirectly involved in,” Mr. Venkatesan said.

Sources in the DVAC said that inquiries and cases were initiated against 4,429 officials in various departments, particularly the Department of Rural Development, in the last three years ending 2017-18.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 8:31:49 PM |

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