New Delhi: The government on Wednesday announced a series of measures to expedite corruption cases against public servants includes setting up of 71 fast-track special CBI courts, fixing a limit of three months to grant sanction for prosecution and strengthening the vigilance administration.

The decisions, which would be implemented soon through issuance of government orders, were taken on the basis of the recommendations of a Group of Ministers (GoM) to curb corruption, headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

It also decided to bring a new policy and a bill on public procurement in the Winter Session of Parliament to tackle corruption and make the procedure more transparent, Law Minister Salman Khursheed and Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy told reporters here.

"The first report of the GoM has been submitted to the government and the prime minister has approved many of the recommendations," Narayanasamy said.

Asked whether anti-graft measures were being announced under the impact of the Anna Hazare agitation, he reminded that the GoM on corruption was set up on January 6 much before Hazare began his fast.

"The government is very concerned about corruption and is taken steps. Anna Hazare gave his views. We are considering it. That does not mean whatever he says is going to be accepted. There are several other views also," he said.

Observing that he was hopeful that the Lokpal Bill would be studied by the Standing Committee and tabled in Parliament in the upcoming session, he said a decision has also been taken to curtail the discretionary powers of Ministers as part of the anti-graft approach of the government. Narayanasamy said the GoM has recommended that the ministers would have no discretionary powers in the allotment of land, telephone and petrol pumps.

"These powers have been removed," barring in cases of compensation to victims of Naxal violence by the Home Ministry and to war widows by the Defence Ministry, he said.

In all corruption cases where the investigating agency has sought sanction for prosecution, it would be mandatory for the competent authority, including the prime minister and ministers concerned, to take a decision and give a 'speaking order' within a period of three months from the date of
receipt of the request.

In the event of refusal of sanction to prosecute, the competent authority would have to submit its order, including the reasons for refusal, to the next higher authority for information within seven days, Narayanasamy said.

Wherever the minister in-charge of the department is the competent authority and he decides to deny permission for prosecution, it would be incumbent on the minister to report it to the prime minister within seven days.

On the fast-tracking of almost 10,000 pending CBI cases, he said a decision to set up 71 special courts has been taken and 44 of them have started working already.

A committee, headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge, would be set up for studying cases which have been pending trial for more than ten years and make recommendations for their speedy disposal or withdrawal.

The committee, which would look at cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act, would include retired CVC, CBI Director and another person of impeccable repute from civil society, he said, adding that almost 2,600 cases were over a decade old.

With the GoM recommendations accepted, now onwards mere retirement would not be a ground for dropping proceedings against corrupt government servants who will now face a 10 per cent cut in pension in case of minor penalty, for a period not exceeding five years.

The present major penalty of compulsory retirement with full benefits would be changed hereafter with a cut of 20 per cent in pension.

On amendment to Art 311 of the Constitution to provide for summary proceedings in cases of grave misdemeanour or acts of blatant corruption by public servants, it was felt that there was need to strike a balance between fundamental rights of individuals and administrative agencies.

"Yes Article 311 will remain untouched," Narayansamy said to repeated questions on the issue.

"Lot of discussion took place in the GoM over the issue and it took a conscious decision that at least one opportunity should be given to an officer. A person is not dismissed as soon as he is caught taking bribe. He will be given at least one chance," he said.

The GoM has also decided to make the departments and ministries to primarily use serving officers as inquiry and presenting officers in one of the steps towards speeding up the inquiry proceedings.

"The committee has recommended that the vigilance officers especially the investigating officer should not be by name but by designation so that the other officer, who is appointed can continue the inquiry in any case," Narayanasamy said, adding that delay in many a cases occurred due to change of IOs.

In important cases, the officers may request the Central Vigilance Commission to appoint their Commissioner of Direct Inquiries as Investigating Officer. The GoM also decided to dispense with the practice of seeking second stage advice of the CVC in corruption cases.