Looking Ahead: Fighting the cancer of corruption

Indians have got used to corruption and it has become a way of life in the country.

Akrita Reyar

Indians have got used to Corruption. Whether it is a scandal tainted big politician or public servant, or it’s that payment we make to a small time Babu to push a file; corruption has become a way of life in India.

As per Transparency International, in year 2010, India ranked a lowly 87 among 178 countries on the corruption index. Its previous study states that 75% people had experienced paying bribe first hand in the country.

Corruption is not something new to India. Reports of official level corruption being deep rooted go back a long time. There are references of this even in Chanakya’s Artha Shastra.

What is sad is that all social uplift schemes meant to ameliorate poverty are in reality rendered ineffective as the help never reaches the intended beneficiaries. For example, in Bihar, more than 80% of the subsidized food aid for poor is reportedly stolen. Same is the case with NREGA. Not all the money goes to poor labourers. There are also several stories like 36,000 ghost employees on rolls of MCD.

More shocking still are alarming new cases of corruption in Armed Forces which are surfacing; whether it is cases involving land allotment or Adarsh scam etc. The men in uniform were always considered above board and of impeccable integrity. Corruption seeping into the military will demoralize rank and cadre as well as hurt its reputation in the eyes of the common man.

As per UN’s World Governance Survey, corruption is the most important challenge facing India.

What are some of the options at our disposal to salvage the situation? Laissez Faire is one. Government needs to get out of business and sanctions. The divestment process has begun. There should be single window clearance process with maximum transparency for FDI.

Reform in tax process is an absolute necessity, what with people like Hasan Ali with outstanding tax of Rs 40,000 crore allowed to roam scot-free for so long. Even in tax collection, there is active collusion of I-T officials with those who conceal wealth. Estimates indicate a parallel black economy may be to the tune of 50% of India’s GDP.

The Licence Raj era encumbered people unnecessarily; therefore there was poor compliance. Direct Tax Code will help streamline and stabilize tax slabs and rates.

As the malice runs so deep in India, probably ruthless and exemplary punishment for anyone corrupt is the answer. Corruption can only be fought with quick and stringent punishment. This has to be backed with strong law enforcement. In China, those who were involved in milk adulteration that caused the death of some children last year, have all been executed.

Public scrutiny and active media, especially 24X7 television has brought to light corruption cases and forced government to act. At the moment A Raja is cooling his heels in Tihar jail and CWG OC Secy Gen Lalit Bhanot and VK Verma have been arrested. Ex judges have been summoned and former Chiefs of Army are under scanner. While ethics in public life need to be better, never before has there been such stringent follow up action.

A public watch dog should be established to register anonymous complaints. It should also have spies to conduct incognito checks. This may sound bizarre or even an extreme step, but it may just work.

Importantly, people need to vote decisively, so that compulsions of coalition are not too many. So that a prime minister like Manmohan Singh, whose personal character is unquestionable, is not forced to take decisions which he wouldn’t want to.

People must also use options available to them like the Right to Information law.

If you have travelled in trains in Switzerland, you would have noticed there is no checking of tickets – everyone is expected to buy tickets and everyone does buy them.
Eventually, we need to breed a fresh culture where corruption is considered a social stigma and looked down upon.

(This piece on Corruption is part of the Looking Ahead series.)

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