You may dial 1064 to report a corrupt government officer; he may be trapped due to your initiative to report the offense but, in all likelihood, the culprit would have the last laugh. That is because, a 2018 amendment of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 by the Central government, mandates that the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) must obtain sanctions from his/her higher-ups to initiate the investigation and also to file charges against the accused.
Mumbai-based RTI activist Jeetendra Ghadge recently read a news item stating that the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) authorities are not giving sanction to the ACB to investigate a scam regarding a ward officer. This spurred him to use RTI to find out how many such sanctions are pending with the ACB.
Mr Ghadge’s RTI reply revealed that, due to the amendment under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act in 2018, as of March 2023, 364 corruption cases against various Maharashtra state government officers are awaiting approval from the concerned higher authorities. This means the ACB cannot go ahead with its investigations. The information further reveals that the urban development department tops the list with 90 pending sanctions, followed by the revenue department with 45, and the rural development department with 41 pending sanctions.
RTI activist Mr Ghadge, who sought this information, states, “What is particularly concerning is that 356 of these sanctions have been pending for 120 days, indicating a potential attempt to shield corrupt officials from the investigation. Section 17A provision provides an additional layer of protection for government employees across the country, requiring two stages of sanction from the competent authority. The first sanction is needed to commence an inquiry, followed by another sanction to file charges against the accused. The very purpose of the ACB has been lost as it cannot move forward with the cases of the corrupt.”
It is worth noting that, just recently, all nine cases against deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar were promptly dropped by the ACB after he joined the BJP in Maharashtra. Director general Parambir Singh, Maharashtra anti-corruption bureau, announced this clearance to the media!
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar too, who used the sunshine law before the amendment on this issue, found from RTI records that the ACB of Maharashtra had taken a lenient stand on disclosing the identities of corrupt officials in the state. This is despite the fact that ACB had sought permission for open inquiries into several cases of corruption involving high-profile bureaucrats and ministers.
States Mr Kumbhar, “The ACB initially removed a list of officials against whom it had sought permission for open inquiries. However, after inquiries from media persons, the ACB re-uploaded the list, but without the designations and clear names of the officials, so that their identities would not be revealed easily. The list of ministries involved in the cases for which the ACB had sought permission is a long one and includes the Mantralaya, the home department, the revenue department, and the public works department. This suggests that corruption is widespread in the Maharashtra government.”
Mr Kumbhar further argues that “These amendments, introduced in 2018, have effectively undermined the very essence of the Prevention of Corruption Act. If the government refuses to grant sanctions to investigate corrupt officials, it begs the question: what purpose does the ACB serve? This discrepancy between political rhetoric about eradicating corruption and the amendments made to protect the corrupt while in power has raised serious concerns among the people of the country.”
Mr Ghadge points out, “Many activists protested against the 2018 amendments but it was futile. Also, citizens, who have long believed in the anti-corruption crusade promised by political parties, now find themselves disillusioned and questioning the integrity of those in power.”
Both activists say that the state government should urgently clear the pending sanctions promptly and transparently. The citizens demand answers and accountability from the very institutions entrusted with safeguarding the principles of justice and integrity. However, Mr Kumbhar says that “In cases involving high-profile officials, the government is often reluctant to give the ACB permission to conduct an open inquiry. This is because the government does not want to embarrass the officials involved or to expose the extent of corruption in the government.”
As a result, the ACB's inquiries often drag on for months or even years, and the culprits are able to get away with their crimes. This lenient approach to corruption is a major problem in Maharashtra, and it needs to be addressed urgently.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.