With the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement having shaken and stirred the Congress-led government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today admitted that the agitation for establishing a Lokpal or anti-graft watchdog has brought the issue of cleaning up the country's public life "right to the top of the agenda of our national priorities".
Speaking at the biennial conference of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and state anti-corruption bureaus, the prime minister said his government was committed to expedite a comprehensive agenda of executive, legal and technology reforms to curb corruption and deliver good governance. He pointed out that India has ratified UN conventions against corruption and has taken a number of measures to meet its requirements.
The government, the prime minister said, had recently decided in principle to prescribe a three-month deadline for deciding on a request by investigating agencies for sanction for prosecution of public servants. "In fact, this deadline would also apply to requests for permission for investigation by the CBI. We have also decided that if an authority refuses to grant permission for investigation or sanction for prosecution, the reasons for such denial would have to be communicated to the next higher authority. Delay in the prosecution of cases remains an area of serious public concern," he said.
To reduce the pendency of CBI cases under trial, Singh said the government has decided to set up a committee under a retired Supreme Court judge to review cases pending trial for more than 10 years, and suggest ways for their speedy disposal. He said the government had already sanctioned 71 special courts for CBI to fast-track trial of cases.
Singh said the government is considering changes in the law to bribery by private companies a criminal offence. "We have introduced a bill in Parliament to make bribery of foreign public officials an offence. Another bill has been introduced in Parliament to provide protection to whistleblowers. The judicial standards and accountability bill has also been introduced in Parliament," he said.
He said the government is working on ways to minimise the discretionary powers of public authorities and the passage of a public procurement law to reduce irregularities in the award of government contracts, which are worth thousands of crores of rupees every year.