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Mainstream, VOL L, No 50, December 1, 2012

Menace of Corruption in India — the Way Out

Monday 3 December 2012, by Rajindar Sachar

CAG Vinod Rai’s pained expression on the brazenness of government decisions—obviously alluding to the way decisions have been taken resulting in corrupt deals in the matter of telecom, coal allocations, miscues of allotments of land on political grounds—has understandably touched the raw nerve amongst the politicians, though it has been welcomed by the average person.

Corruption is not merely a moral question. It eats into the vitals of the economy and leads to the loss of faith in the principles of equality and honest administration.
In its 2008 study, Transparency International reports about 40 per cent of Indians had first-hand experience of paying bribes or using a contact to get a job done in public office.

In 2011 India was ranked 95th out of 178 countries in Transparency International’s Corr-uption Perceptions Index. The World Bank-aided programmes in India are beset by corruption, bad administration and under-payments. As an example, the report cites that only 40 per cent of grain handed out for the poor reaches its intended target.

Despite its best intentions, the MGNREGA is beset with controversy about corrupt officials pocketing money on behalf of fake rural employees.
A November 2010 report from the Washing-ton-based Global Financial Integrity estimates that over a 60-year period, India lost US $ 213 billion in illicit financial flows beginning in 1948; adjusted for inflation, this was estimated to be $ 462 billion in 2010, or about $ 8 billion per year. The report also estimated the size of India’s underground economy at approximately US $ 640 billion at the end of 2008 or roughly 50 per cent of the nation’s GDP.

If corruption levels in India were reduced to the levels in the developed economies such as the United States, India’s GDP growth rate could increase by an additional four-to-five per cent, to 12-to-13 per cent each year. C.K. Prahalad, the management guru, estimates that the lost opportunity cost caused by corruption, in terms of investment, growth and jobs for India, is over US $ 50 billion a year.
Though loud proclamations are made by the Central Government to fight the menace of corruption, in fact the disease has increased and the corruption index has reached the summit with the involvement of politicians and high government officials—this was to be expected when the Central Governments un-embarras-singly adopted globalisation as the first mantra from the Prime Minister downwards, and equa-ted the prosperity of the nation by taking
pride in pointing out that Indian billionaires were included in the Forbes Fortune, while shamefully omitting to mention that even in Delhi, which is supposed to have the highest per capita income in the country, the ugly reality is that 70 per cent of its population are able to spend only Rs 50 per day, which is now accepted as the poverty level by the government itself. Such horrible inequality in the country is only due to the ill-gotten wealth, made possible by the corrupt polices of the political parties in power.

Thus we have the corruption scandal from Indian coal mining to the extent of Rs 186,000 crores, while the 2G spectrum scam is of Rs 176,000 crores. Not to be left out, the other major party has been responsible for a scam of Rs 200,000 crores from illegal mining in Karnataka.

IT is a truism that maximum corruption is done by close friends and relatives like the sons, sons-in-law of politicians because of their closeness to the powers that be. But then instead of finding honest answers, the Congress leader, Digvijay Singh, has unabashedly propounded a self-serving formula—namely, that political parties should not even refer to the acts of corruption purportedly done by relations of opposite political leaders much less to their own on the patently fallacious plea that parents or parents-in-law cannot be held responsible for the corruption done by their relations. How very convenient for political parties! But this unashamed, unacceptable plea by politicians was rejected as far back as 1964 by the S.R. Das (the then Chief Justice of India) Inquiry Commission which held against the conduct of Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon, the then Chief Minister of Punjab. I appeared as a lawyer for the memorialists before the Commission. The Commission in its report trashed Kairon’s defence and observed; “The main charges related to the sons of Kairon in enriching themselves by misusing the State machinery—the complicity of Kairon being established by his remaining silent and not taking any steps to prevent it.” (Going by Digvijay Singh’s philosophy, Kairon would have been blameless.)

But the Commission exploded this self-serving excuse put forth by Kairon that it would be unfair and unjust not to permit a person to do business simply because he happens to be the son or son-in-law of a person in authority; to this, the Das Commission caustically ruled thus: “Kairon’s case was that the alleged misconduct and misdeeds of his sons had not been brought to his notice, else he would have warned them.”

This was patent absurdity. The Commission freely conceded that a father cannot legally or morally prevent his sons from carrying on business, but it asserted that the exploitation of the influence of the father, who happens to be the Chief Minister of the State, cannot be permitted to be made a business. Such exploitation cannot possibly be a legitimate business and the father’s influence and powers cannot be permitted to be traded in. Even assuming he personally had not lent a helping hand in relation to them, the least he could do was to give a stern warning, in private and if necessary publicly, to his sons, relatives, colleagues and subordinate officers against their alleged conduct even if such conduct had not been proven to be true. But, as his own affidavit showed, he made no inquiry, gave no warning to anybody and took no step whatever to prevent its recurrence but let things drift in the way they had been going, assuming he had no hand in it. The allegations stared him in the face; he paid no heed to them. He could not thus plead ignorance of facts. "In view of his inaction in the fact of the circumstances hereinbefore alluded to, he must be held to have connived at the doings of his sons and relatives, his colleagues and the government officers.” In the face of these findings Kairon had to resign.

Do political parties need any other precedent for action if they are genuine in eradicating corruption from public life?

The author is a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court.

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