Evolution of the Anti-Corruption Laws in India
In the pre-independence period, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was the main tool to combat corruption in public life. The Code had a chapter on ‘Offences by Public Servants’. Sections 161 to 165 provided the legal framework to prosecute corrupt public servants. At that time the need for a special law to deal with corruption was not felt.
The Second World War created shortages which gave opportunity to unscrupulous elements to exploit the situation leading to large scale corruption in public life. This situation continued even after the war. The lawmakers concerned about this menace, felt that drastic legislative measures need to be taken. Hence the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947 was enacted to fight the evils of bribery and corruption.
The Prevention of Corruption Act 1947: This Act did not redefine nor expand the definition of offences related to corruption, already existing in the IPC. Similarly, it also adopted the same definition of ‘Public Servant’ as in the IPC38. However the law defined a new offence -‘Criminal misconduct in discharge of official duty’ – for which enhanced punishment (minimum 1 year to maximum 7 years) was stipulated. In order to shift the burden of proof in certain cases to the accused, it was provided that whenever it was proved that a public servant had accepted any gratification, it shall be presumed that the public servant accepted such a gratification as a motive or reward under Section 161 of IPC. In order to prevent harassment to honest officers, it was mandated that no court shall take cognizance of offences punishable under Sections 161,164 and 165 without the permission of the authority competent to remove the charged public servant. The Act also provided that the statement by bribe-giver would not subject him to prosecution. It was considered necessary to grant such immunity to the bribe-giver, who might have been forced by circumstances into giving a bribe. If this immunity was not provided, all complainants would become liable for punishment, which would deter them from giving complaints against any public official who accepted a bribe.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1952 brought some changes in laws relating to corruption. The punishment specified under Section 165 of IPC was enhanced to three years instead of the existing two years. Also a new Section 165A was inserted in the IPC, which made abetting of offences, defined in Sections 161 and 165 of IPC, an offence. It was also stipulated that all corruption related offences should be tried only by special judges.
Amendments in 1964: The anti-corruption laws underwent comprehensive amendments in 1964. The definition of ‘Public Servant’ under the IPC was expanded (The Santhanam Committee had also recommended an expanded definition of the term ‘Public Servant’). The CrPC was amended to provide in camera trial if either party or the court so desires. The presumption which was available under Section 4 of The Prevention of Corruption Act, was extended to include offences defined under Sections 5(1) and 5(2). The definition of ‘criminal misconduct’ was expanded and possession of assets disproportionate to the known sources of income of a public servant, was made an offence. Section 5(A) was amended so as to empower the State Governments to authorize officers of the rank of Inspectors of Police to investigate cases under the Act (earlier, this could be done only with the approval of the Magistrate (The Santhanam Committee recommended this). Police officers, competent to investigate cases under the Act, were empowered to inspect bankers’ records, if they had reasons to suspect commission of an offence under the Act (This power is available under Section 94 CrPC, but only after a case has been registered. This was also one of the recommendations of the Santhanam Committee).