Shield for corrupt *****, netas soon
17 Dec 2007, 0221 hrs IST,Subodh Ghildiyal ,TNN

NEW DELHI: It may soon be difficult to link ill-gotten money of "public servants" to corruption charges.

Government is mulling a change in the definition of "known sources of income" under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA).

It plans to limit the "known sources..." to money received from "lawful source" and delete the additional requirement that "such receipt" be declared under rules applicable to a public servant.

Top sources said a decision to modify what constitutes "known sources of income" has been taken by a Group of Ministers, headed by Home Minister Shivraj Patil, looking into the amendments to PCA.

Explaining its implications, experts point out if a corruption probe were to reveal a sum of undeclared money and link it to illegal earnings, the accused may be able to wriggle out by claiming that the money was from other sources like farm income or rentals.

This is because the key requirement of declaring extra income outside of salary for it to be legal will be done away with. Public servants are also bound by "service rules" to file annual property returns and declare extra income to the government, besides the I-T returns.

While service rules may still remain in force, it is only the existing PCA which imputes a criminal intent to non-intimation.

Once non-intimation is deleted from PCA, experts said it would make it easier for tainted officials, as also MPs and MLAs, to escape the net of law enforcement authorities. Ironically, the GoM has taken the decision on complaints that the said clause led to harassment of honest officers. While corrupt officers resort to explaining unaccounted funds and properties as accruing from farms or other such assets, agencies have been able to pin them down by citing non-declared income as illegal, as required under the PCA.

Altaf Ahmed, former Additional Solicitor General, says the said provision puts the burden of justifying 'extra' money on a public servant. He feels if the GoM's suggestion is accepted, it will take the burden away from an officer "when caught". Sources said the GoM has agreed to trim the explanation of "known sources of income" in Section 13 dealing with "criminal misconduct by a public servant".

The 'explanation' says, "Known sources of income means income received from any lawful source and such receipt has been intimated in accordance with the provisions of any law, rules or orders for the time being applicable to a public servant." If the GoM's view is accepted, it would end at "any lawful source".

The 'good news' for ***** and MPs/MLAs comes after the GoM earlier decided to extend the immunity from legal action - sanction for prosecution - from serving public servants to those who have retired or ceased to be one, as reported earlier by TOI .