New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the government plans to strengthen anti-graft laws in India by making bribery in the private sector a criminal offence.

“We are considering changes in our laws to criminalize private sector bribery," Singh said, while speaking at the Biennial Conference of CBI and state anti-corruption bureaux on Friday.

Tackling graft: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Union law minister Salman Khurshid in New Delhi on Friday. Photo: PTI

Activist Anna Hazare, who has led a civil society movement for the constitution of a strong Lokpal, has demanded that the anti-corruption wing of the CBI be brought under the anti-graft body. However, the federal investigating agency has opposed the demand. None of the close associates of Hazare was available for comment despite repeated attempts.

Admitting that a “totally foolproof system" cannot be built to fight corruption, the Prime Minister also sought to draw a distinction between “deliberate attempt at wrongdoing and honest mistakes, which are “inevitable in decision making process under conditions of uncertainty".

A.P. Singh, director, CBI, also voiced the federal agency’s opposition to bringing it under the Lokpal. “One of the draft Bills for the Lokpal envisages merger of the Anti-Corruption wing of CBI with the Lokpal. Given the composite nature of CBI which is its intrinsic strength, I am of the firm belief that such a proposal is neither practical and advisable," A.P. Singh said while speaking at the conference.

The CBI director highlighted the challenges before the agency in battling corruption. “There are also delays in getting sanction for prosecution, execution of Letters Rogatory and requests for investigation abroad. Another major impediment is the delay in trial of cases," Singh said. The CBI has around 10,000 cases pending trial. The CBI chief cited scarcity of resources as a major challenge and sought “greater functional autonomy for the agency".

The government is contemplating a raft of measures against corruption in compliance with the United Nation Convention Against Corruption, also ratified by India, said a senior CBI official on condition of anonymity.

The Union government has already introduced Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisation Bill in parliament in March. “This will act as a deterrent for any citizen or Indian company from bribing any foreign company or foreign national from giving or receiving bribes," the official said.

The government is planning to amend the existing Indian Penal Code (IPC) to include fresh provisions to check graft by the private sector. “The definition of corruption will be changed and a fresh chapter is likely to be added to current provisions," the official said.

The department of personal and training is Currently working on the draft, said the official. Currently, a private entity is booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act when it receives undue favours from the government servant. “Such individual usually get away with lesser punishment. But amendments to IPC will ensure that they get stricter punishment. Additional charges can be slapped on private people," the official said.

Anuja contributed to this story.