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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

India breeds corruption

Joginder Singh Ji
Former Director - CBI

There are any number of rules and laws to prevent corruption but these are followed in the breach because there’s profit in that. The result is obvious.

 Last week on December 9 we observed the United Nations-designated ‘International Anti-Corruption Day’. Unfortunately, corruption has become the reigning deity in India. There are temples raised to all kinds of gods and goddesses — some well-known, some obscure. But corruption, which is worshipped by most politicians and a large number of bureaucrats, is officially unacknowledged as one. With mounting political corruption, bureaucrats are now expected to anticipate both overt and covert wishes of their bosses and accordingly prepare notes for orders. If they do not follow the implied and unspoken wishes of their political masters, they are sidelined and given jobs where there’s no work to do.
When an incident of corruption comes to light, instead of taking action the standard ploy is to set up an inquiry committee or commission although in reality everybody knows the facts. Sometimes these are known months, if not years, before a scam becomes public. This is especially applicable to scams like those involving the preparations for and organisation of the Commonwealth Games, the land grab by Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society and the 2G Spectrum loot. If ‘Halls of Shame’ were to be set up in New Delhi and our State capitals, they would probably be the biggest buildings in these cities.

A study authored by Dev Kar, a leading economist and a former official of the International Monetary Fund, on the flight of illicit money from the country — perhaps the first ever attempt at shedding light on a subject steeped in secrecy — concludes that India has been drained of $462 billion or over Rs 20 lakh crore between 1948 and 2008. The amount is nearly 40 per cent of India’s gross domestic product and nearly 12 times the size of the estimated loss to the Government because of the 2G Spectrum scam.

Mr Dev Kar is now with the US-based Global Financial Integrity, a non-profit research body that has long crusaded against illegal capital flight. According to his observations, illicit financial outflow from India has been growing at 11.5 per cent per year and nearly 50 per cent of the total illegal outflows occurred since 1991. Around a third of the money exited the country between 2000 and 2008.

With the days of single party rule over, Union Governments now survive on the support of coalition partners. A new term has been coined called ‘coalition dharma’, which means that the portfolios given to coalition partners literally become their fiefdoms, almost independent empires. It is more so if the allies have enough MPs to bring down the Government. Yet, it should not have been so. The party leading the coalition is expected to stand by good governance instead of being blackmailed by allies simply for the sake of staying in power.

If the CAG is to be believed, the Government has suffered a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore in the auction of 2G Spectrum in 2008. When petrol is not being sold at 2008 prices today, why was spectrum sold at 2001
prices in 2008? On November 2, 2007, the Prime Minister wrote to Mr A Raja that in the backdrop of inadequate spectrum and unprecedented number of applications for licenses’, there should be a fair and transparent auction. He also pointed out that the revision of the entry fee, which was benchmarked on an old figure, needed to be considered.
On November 5, 2007, S Tel wrote to the Prime Minister and the Telecom Minister, offering Rs 6,000 crore for a pan-India licence. On December 27, 2007, S Tel enhanced the offer to Rs 13,752 crore and further agreed to increase the bid price in the event of a counter-bid. If S Tel’s offer had been considered, the exchequer would have got Rs 65,909 crore.

So what was the motivation behind selling spectrum benchmarked on an old figure? Whether it was love for money or done in good faith is anybody’s guess. Raiding the former Telecom Minister’s house and subjecting his close associates to an inquiry by the CBI after two years of the 2G Spectrum scam is unlikely to serve any purpose. It’s more of eyewash than a genuine effort to get to the bottom of the scandal and pin responsibility.

Rules and laws do exist. But most people who are supposed to enforce them do not do so as there’s profit in that. How else do you explain the death of 70 people and injuries to another 300 in a building collapse in the national capital? That the building had been illegally constructed with poor material was known to civic authorities. Nor did the Delhi Government do anything to enforce the law which would have prevented the disaster and saved these lives.

To cover up its lapses, the Delhi Government has appointed a one-member judicial commission of inquiry to probe the disaster “in view of the scale of the mishap, the large number of casualties and the number of complex issues connected with the incident”. This is an executive function; outsourcing the work to commissions and committees has become a standard ploy to calm popular outrage which eventually dies a natural death, only to surface all over again when another similar disaster takes place.

The job of the commission of inquiry set up by the Delhi Government will be to probe all aspects of the incident, including whether there was any procedural, administrative and statutory lapses that led to the tragedy. That’s a joke. Those heading such commissions are neither investigators nor do they have any legal power to punish anybody. They ask for affidavits to be filed and then use these to prepare their reports. Surely the Government does not need a commission of inquiry to find out whether the construction of this particular building was approved or not by the agencies concerned and whether the structure was sound enough to take the load of so many floors. The whole purpose is to deflect discomfiting questions by saying that the matter is being investigated.

A simple point will show how serious our politicians are about inquiring into scams and scandals. Till date no party has agreed to confer constitutional status, like that of the CAG or Election Commission, on the CBI. Under the present system, cases have to be referred to the CBI and then Government sanction is required to
prosecute individuals for violating the law. Thus, the CBI has no independent powers of its own.

Corruption flourishes in our country because Government lacks the political will to fight corruption. All talk of zero tolerance towards corruption is meaningless unless there is appropriate follow-up action. Politicians know this well.

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