The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the amended anti-corruption bill that doles out stringent punishment for those who give bribes along with those who accept it.
The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill will now go to Lok Sabha for discussion. The existing law — the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 — penalises only public officials who take a bribe. However, as per the amended bill, the bribe givers shall be punished with upto seven years of imprisonment or with penalties or both.
However, the bill has made an exception for the people who are compelled to pay bribe under pressure. They will have the option of reporting the incident to the law enforcement authorities within seven days to avoid punishment.
For the bribe takers, the bill proposes to increase the punishment to a minimum of three years of imprisonment, which may extend to seven years, besides the fine.
“It is a historic anti-corruption legislation to check graft in the country,” Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh told PTI.
He said the bill has many provisions to ensure speedy trial of corruption cases besides providing protection to bureaucrats, even after their retirement, from malicious complaints.
Critics are divided over the proposed amendments as they argue the bill will only end up helping the corrupt rather than punishing them.
During the debate in the Upper House on Thursday, several MPs sounded a note of caution on the provision to punish the bribe giver with up to seven years in jail and/or fine, pointing out that a distinction has to be made between a “bribe of collusion” and a “bribe of coercion”, The Indian Express reported.
Congress MP Anand Sharma said, “There is something called coercive bribery — extortion, coercion. There is a difference because you are equating for the purpose of punishment a bribe-giver, whether it is individual, organisation or corporate entity, and a bribe-taker…But we know that in our society…extortion takes place. People are poor. Even for the provision of public services, money is extracted under duress from people. Will you equate them to the bribe-giver who is a big corporate entity or somebody?”
While replying to the debate, Jitendra Singh said that this grace period for coercive bribe-giver may be increased to two weeks or more. He underlined that the Bill has been debated quite a bit in the Standing Committee, the Select Committee of the House as well as has been considered by the Law Commission.