Arresting Curse of Corruption
There are many cases, where kettle call the pot black. A governor of a state, who himself has a dubitable record, has blamed a state government for not cooperating with Lokayukta, the anti-corruption watchdog of the state. Of course, the Lokayukta was a distinguished former Judge of the Supreme Court of India. On appeals by the political leadership, including the Union Home Minister and Governor, the Lokayukta has agreed to withdraw the resignation and continue in the office.
But the way things are going on in the country it is doubtful whether any political party will take resignation of anybody fighting corruption seriously. There is an Urdu saying that ‘is hamam mey sabh nangey hey’ (All are bare and naked in this bathroom) . The noise about corruption is made from time to time is obviously not to fight or eliminate corruption, but to score brownie points over the rivals.
No one, but all political parties are guilty of it. If anything, whenever a corruption case is started against a politician, the first allegation is that it is a political witch-hunt, to put a noose around the opposition or the rival, so that they keep on the right side of the ruling party.
The problem of corruption by political leaders is raised only when the misdeed or corruption of some is revealed and brought open in the public domain. Unfortunately, the basic reasons for corruption are not tackled, leading to the suspicion, that, the powers that be, do not want to either improve the judicial and criminal justice system, or are indifferent to it, or at the worst, are a party to it. It is naturally so, for if the criminal cases pending against politicians were decided quickly, one-fourth of our elected Members of Parliament would be behind the bars.
According to groups working on electoral reform, 84 of the newly elected Congress party and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians in India’s 2009 general elections have criminal cases pending against them. BJP has 43 MPs facing criminal charges, while the Congress party has 41. The groups claim that a further 69 MPs from minor parties are also facing criminal cases.
In a scathing observation made on August 27, 2009, the Supreme Court of India said “Those in power have come forward to protect the wrong-doers either by issuing administrative orders or (by) enacting laws for regularisation of illegal and unauthorised constructions in the name of compassion and hardship…Such actions have done irreparable harm to the concept of planned development of cities and urban areas…It is high time that executive and the political apparatus of the State take serious view of the menace of illegal and unauthorized constructions and stop their support to the lobbies of affluent class of builders and others, else even the rural areas of the country will soon witness similar chaotic conditions.”
What can be starker than what the Supreme Court has said about the misuse of government agencies, by the political and executive apparatus for their best interests, and for the reasons best known to them.
However laudable and correct may be the objectives of the Supreme Court, it is doubtful whether it will have any effect on the political parties or the political class. It appears that ethics, integrity and honesty have been submerged in the desert of corruption self-interest, deceit and fraud.
A politician, who is not even 58 years old, has declared income of Rs 58 crore in the tax return. I still have to see a profession that can earn you an income of one crore a year, without any production of goods and services. Somebody asked me why I did not join politics. My reply was that when you get into politics, you find that all your worst nightmares about it turn out to be true. In fact, the people controlling various political parties are the ones who should be kept as far away from it as possible. I added that politics is the struggle between those seeking power and mostly those not looking for truth or integrity. There is no midway there.
Self-praise about our achievements sounds hollow in front of the highest pendency of the court cases. Law Minister told our Parliament: As per the information available, 3,11,39,022 cases were pending in the courts in the country as on December 31, 2009. Steps if any taken have not shown any results on the grounds, notwithstanding the claims of the Government.
As India is the 83rd most corrupt country in the world, with 34 marks out of 100 in Corruption Perception Index, it suits the criminals elements to have the antique and outdated laws and over-protection. Indeed, judiciary faces a crisis with nearly 25 per cent posts at the level of subordinate judiciary lying vacant, position is no better in High Courts either.
The Law Commission, in its 120th report, submitted on 31-7-1987 recommended an optimum figure of 107 judges per million by 2000, the ratio achieved by USA in the year 1981. It also recommended ratio of 50 judges per million of population within a period of five years which was endorsed by the Standing Committee of Parliament headed by Mr Pranab Mukherjee, in its 85th report submitted in February 2002. We have less than 10 per million population!
The Supreme Court also directed increase in judges’ strength to 50 per million in a phased manner. But despite all this, the strength of judges has not been increased, that is why the judiciary is also facing difficulties in tackling the problem of mounting arrears.
There is a tendency on the part of the government department to go in for appeal after appeals, so that by the time a final judgement comes, it becomes impossible to fix responsibility for frivolous litigation. If it is not done by the state, then the same is undertaken by the accused involved in corruption cases, who try their luck till the highest court in the country.
At present, more than 2.5 crore criminal cases are pending in trial courts as against over 72.6 lakh civil cases. UP leads with a pendency of 47.8 lakh cases, closely followed by Maharashtra with 40.6 lakh cases. Gujarat has 25.8 lakh cases pending in criminal courts. The figures for other states with major pendency are: Bihar 13.3 lakh, Orissa 10 lakh, Rajasthan 10.8 lakh and Karnataka 10.9 lakh.
Of the 72.6 lakh civil cases pending in the trial courts, UP accounts for the lion’s share with 12.3 lakh cases. Maharashtra has 9.7 lakh pending cases, while Gujarat has 7.4 lakh cases. The present Law Minister himself has admitted in September, 2009: “There is no gainsaying that the provisions of Article 311 have come in the way of bringing the corrupt civil servants to book. Article 311 would require a revisit. I am pursuing the matter with the Prime Minister and the government…
“In fact, the Santhanam Committee on Prevention of Corruption wryly remarked how Article 311 of the Constitution as interpreted by our courts has made it very difficult to deal effectively with corrupt civil servants…Even after Article 311 was amended, the panoply of safeguards and procedures still available is interpreted in such a manner as to make the proceedings protracted, and therefore, effete in the ultimate analysis…Article 311 may be repealed along with Article 310 and legislation should be passed under Article 309 to provide for the terms and conditions of service of public servants, including necessary protection against arbitrary action.”
Earlier, the then Chief Justice of India, supported by the Law Minister, had proposed the enactment of a law to seize property of the corrupt officials. But this is still in a limbo. In the mean time, the free-for-all loot goes on in the country.
According to CBI, the Indian Revenue Services (IRS) officials top the list of corrupt bureaucrats. In one-year period, beginning May 2009 to May 2010, the CBI has sought sanction for prosecution against at least 102 IRS officials posted in different parts of the country in connection with corruption cases.
The officials of the Indian Railways follow second with the CBI seeking sanction for prosecution against 35 of its officials. With sanction for prosecution requests pending against at least 27 of its officials, the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) comes a close third.
The CBI reportedly sought prosecution sanction against nine customs officials on a single day on June 29, 2009. On October 15, the same year, the CBI moved another request of prosecution sanction against 24 senior officials of the customs and central excise department. Majority of them were posted in Madurai and Chennai.
On October 16, 2009, the CBI sought prosecution sanction against another 24 senior officials of the customs and central excise from zonal headquarters of the department located in Chennai in connection with corruption cases. Recently, the CBI moved another request of prosecution sanction against 34 senior officials of the customs and Central excise, posted in Ludhiana in Punjab, on May 31, 2010. However, all requests against 102 IRS officials are pending with the department concerned and the CBI is still to receive the approval.
As far as officials of Indian Railways are concerned, the CBI sought prosecution sanction against four senior officials of the department, which has been pending since September 8, 2009. The above report does not mean that only the services mentioned are corrupt. Corruption is rampant in all departments, which have any authority to give any permission or sanction, whether it is education or land or DDA or cooperative societies or health.
A report says that Human Resources Development Minister wants to clean up his Ministry from corruption, but his bureaucrats do not. The vigilance wing has put on record that officers of the ministry give last priority to vigilance work and shirk from exercising vigilance or completing the vigilance probes.
Of course, it goes without saying that government as the final authority has every right to examine and scrutinise all reports and complaints about corruption. It need not accept the word of the vigilance agencies, including Central Vigilance Commission or State Vigilance Bureaus or CBI as the gospel truth.
But what is vital is to have a time frame for giving sanctions or permissions, if a prima facie case exists. The situation is already bad enough, where vigilance agencies cannot take on any corrupt and dishonest officer, if he has reached the status of the Joint Secretary to the Government of India. Even before starting the inquiry, you need the government permission. But the point is how you can prove anything without conducting an inquiry, which is apart from the sanction required from the government for prosecution.
Corruption, by no stretch of imagination, is part of government’s servants duty. This legal provision was held ultra vires by the Supreme Court in December, 1997, but the devious bureaucrats smuggled it in the Central Vigilance Commission Act, without the ignorant political leadership realising its implications. It has been the law since 2004.
Daniel Webster rightly said: “I apprehend no danger to our country from a foreign foe… Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter. From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence, I must confess that I do apprehend some danger. I fear that they may place too implicit a confidence in their public servants, and fail properly to scrutinise their conduct; that in this way they may be made the dupes of designing men, and become the instruments of their own undoing.” This was a warning given a few centuries ago. It is for the government to ensure that public servants mind their business and not turn their offices into offices for extortion and loot of the helpless citizens, who have to suffer at the hands of the corrupt and unscrupulous day in and day out. I cannot hazard any guess, as to when we shall see the end of the suffering.
By Joginder Singh
The writer is former Director, CBI