Thursday, April 7, 2011

Corruption: A never ending malaise


Will the country ever get rid of corruption? The issue has now become the prime concern of the common man

Shitanshu Shekhar Shukla / New Delhi

Constitution of nine-member group of ministers (GoM) by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to recommend an effective anti-graft mechanism and discuss the Lokpal bill with activist Anna Hazare has not stopped the social activist from expressing his apprehensions over passage of the bill in the desired form.

"Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may be an honest person but is remote-controlled which might make it difficult to pass the Lokpal Bill," Hazare said adding that there was a vast difference between the draft of the Lokpal Bill prepared by him and the one by the government.

Even as the GoM was meeting in New Delhi to form a sub panel of four ministers (Defence Minister AK Antony, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, Law Minister MV Moily and Minister of state for personnel V Narayanswami) to start discussions in last week of March, Hazare was tearing into the UPA government.

"When I discussed the issue with the prime minister, he refused to accept all the proposals I had suggested. I then urged him to make some changes from both the sides. The government alone should not formulate the Lokpal Bill and it should be autonomous like court. It is only in such a case that the government would not be able to interfere it its functioning. Organisations like CBI and central vigilance commission should also be covered under Lokpal Bill," he said.

Anna Hazare was alluding to his recent meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over Lokpal Bill. He was carrying with him the disconcerting voices of the common men perturbed over the season of scams. Hazare came out much disappointed to hear the ‘honest’ Prime Minister say no to including within the probing ambit of the bill almost every executive including the Prime Minister himself.

The season of scams included alleged theft of billions by officials behind last year’s Commonwealth games in Delhi; $40 billion in revenues lost from the crooked sale of 2G telecoms licences; and over $40 billion stolen in Uttar Pradesh alone from schemes subsidising food and fuel for the poor.

Dismayed over rise of corruption-related petitions by more than 50%, the apex court recently blurted out “what the hell is going on,”. The Supreme Court’s anger reflects growing cynicism among the hapless populace. Appointment of a tainted bureaucrat as anti-corruption chief had already raised eyebrows among the liberal forces.

Eventually, he was forced out. But the people had seen Manmohan defend the tainted bureaucrat to his fault. And when it came to share the accountability, Manmohan found in Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan a willing scapegoat. Graft is hardly new in India. But there seems to be more of it for everyone than ever before. India is getting richer fast. The faster the economy grows, the more chances arise and the more mind-boggling is graft.

Foreign businessmen, who have slashed investment over the past year, rank graft as their biggest headache behind appalling infrastructure. Till recently, corruption evoked little more than shrug of shoulders. Threshold of tolerance had gone up. After all, corruption does not seem to be stopping India from growing. Now, it has served to break the unspoken truce between the opposition and the ruling regime. Because everyone prospered from spate of scams. Impending assembly elections in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala may reflect, if at all, a sense of unease among the citizens over corruption taking roots.

Inspite of usual political noise against corruption, the voters are generally swayed over by cash, caste and communal creeds. The BJP appears to have won a few brownie points though a general election is not due until 2014. By boycotting parliament, it closed most of the winter session, until it won the inquiry into graft that it had demanded. It had a ripple effect and the press, the courts and street protesters picked up the campaign. The opposition may be hoping to make the 2 G scam another Bofors which cost the congress win in 1989.

Alive to the threat, Singh and his (and Congress’s) boss, Sonia Gandhi, want people to believe that the nation will soon see sweeping reforms (some suggest the reforms could radically change the policy making process) across the board. These may include state funding for political parties, the removal of discretionary powers abused by politicians and civil servants, and the ratification of a UN corruption convention.

There is no cause to believe such statements. Because most are forgotten as soon as they are spoken. But if they want, there are many books from which to take a leaf out of. Bihar is a recent entry to the list of states changing for better. They might do well to look no farther than this state where elected officials and civil servants must now publish a list of all their private assets or fear suspension. It was, is and, to a great extent, will continue to be a flourishing industry.

Nature of the state is the root cause of corruption. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” goes the adage. But more and more people are joining the civil movement against the graft. They are coming to the view that corruption raises costs not just to Indians, but also to the foreigners whose capital India needs. Thanks in part to the recent spate of scandals, India’s stockmarket was the worst-performing outside the Muslim world over the past year. According to Hazare, around 60 lakh persons, mostly youngsters, have supported the agitation and shown interest in the movement.

Participation of the youth in the fight against corruption has created optimism. "The Prime Minister asked for a time limit on the Lokpal Bill and we decided to wait till April 4. If concrete steps are not taken by then, a country-wide agitation would be launched from April 5," he said. It will also help if the agitation brings to senses those at the helm before treasury is thrown open for ambitious development projects.

Some mechanisms must be instituted to check the graft before the next five year plan commences next year. Because about $1 trillion is expected to be spent on roads, railways, ports and so on, with billions more on re-equipping the armed forces and welfare. As ever land, water and minerals will be much scarcer commodities. This all makes for a monsoon of bribes. Besides RTI, web is helping.

There are Websites, led by, to reveal the cost of graft by publicising the details of bribe demanded. Some states have even the bids for state contracts being run online so that anti-corruption bodies may keep tab on them. The central government’s scheme to implement a universal, computerised ID would allow welfare payments to be paid into individuals’ bank accounts, eliminating space for state workers.

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