Calcutta, Feb. 25: The government is mulling a legislation to empower itself to bypass criminal courts to put action against corrupt officials on the fast track.
It wants to appoint a set of officials to investigate corruption charges against public servants, recommend jail terms of up to three years, impose fines and even confiscate their ill-gotten assets. However, the accused employee would be free to move High Court against the government.
The West Bengal Corrupt Public Servants (Forfeiture of Property) Bill will mark a departure from the existing system of punishing government employees charged with graft.
A public servant accused of corruption is now tried in a criminal court under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the cases drag over years. In the proposed Bill, a group of officials will have powers similar to that of a subordinate criminal court and will be entitled to punish a corrupt employee.
“The plus point of the proposed Bill is that the government will not have to fight a case in a criminal court. If an employee is found guilty, the appointed higher authority in the government will be able to confiscate his or her illegally-amassed wealth and property and recommend a jail term or fine or both.
“During its inquiry, the higher authority will also be able to take help from police, income tax, enforcement and other law enforcing departments,” said an official. “The guilty official can appeal against this in the high court.”
However, law minister Nisith Adhikary cautioned: “The matter is in a very initial stage and the legal aspects are being examined at all levels. Everything is still very fluid at the moment.”
According to the West Bengal Service (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1971, a government servant can be censured, dismissed and his promotion and increments blocked for misconduct. “But forfeiture of unauthorised property is something new,” said an official.
Sources in Writers’ Buildings today said the government’s objective was to make the administration transparent. Moreover, if inquiry against a government employee reveals that his family members or relatives are involved in amassing illegal assets, they will also not be spared.
The legal advisor to the government, Bikash Bhattacharya, said there are provisions in the existing service rules to take corrupt employees to task. “The Bill is being contemplated to put things on the fast track and make these punishments more stringent,” he added.
Officials said under the proposed legislation, all categories of employees — except Group-C and Group-D — would have to furnish a list of assets to higher authorities.
Once the Bill is passed, the government will publish a list of officers, not below the rank of secretary, who will be regarded as “higher authority”.