Dialogue January-March, 2011, Volume 12 No. 3
The Fight Against Corruption
“Corruption means that a civil servant abuses his authority in order to obtain an extra income from the public. Corruption is the occasional act of dishonesty on the part of civil servants. Concepts of integrity amongst public servants is that they should not misuse their official positions.” (Facets of Vigilance; K.L. Malhotra, Delhi, 1988). This definition of corruption has to be widened now because many other ramifications of corruption have surfaced in the mean time. The people involved in corruption come from various avocations and professions. The amounts involved are also huge.
In India corruption has become all pervasive and it has permeated all strata of society. India has become one of the most corrupt countries in the world. There have been many major scams. The latest one include the Commonwealth Games, and the 2G scam Unfortunately most of the people accused of corruption are not apprehended. No prosecution is launched in majority of cases. Hardly any case ends in conviction and deterrent punishment. This has encouraged more and more people to indulge in corrupt practices. The general public has also become indifferent and callous. Except for the few people who try to bring out cases of corruption through references to the Right to Information Act (RTI) and recourse to Public Interest Litigation (PIL), others do not seem to care. This indifferent attitude has corroded the moral fibre of society.
In the North Eastern Region (NE) corruption is perceived to be the worst in the country. Thousands of crores of rupees are drawn as Central Government assistance for development programmes each year. These amounts are not utilized properly and quite a large chunk of the money is siphoned off by politicians, bureaucrats, upcountry businessmen, insurgent outfits, unscrupulous contractors and their cohorts. Most of the politicians in the tribal states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram have become crorepaties within the past few decades. This is evident from the affidavits furnished by the candidates at the time of elections. These politicians were penniless not so very long ago. Their accomplices, the businessmen and the contractors, have become even richer. These people are spiriting away their ill gotten money to New Delhi, Jaipur, Amritsar and other places and even to Dubai and Switzerland. The insurgents transfer their shares of ill gotten money to gun-runners from China, Korea and Western Europe from whom they buy arms and ammunitions. Consequently, the money which should have been utilized for economic development in these states have actually been converted into black money. Therefore, improvements, commensurate with fund allocations, have not taken place in the interiors of the NE states. It is the educated and politically active elite who have siphoned off money and have gained from the misdirected plan expenditure. In a majority of cases, development has been in the Government files only and not in the field. In one case, the former Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Gegong Apang, who had held that high office for 23 years, has been arrested in July 2010 and is now in police custody. He has the distinction of being India’s longest serving Chief Minister next to Jyoti Basu who served in West Bengal for 24 years. Apang has been accused of illegal acts in a Public Distribution System (PDS) scam. Even otherwise he is known to be one of the richest politicians of India. How he acquired so much wealth is a subject for detailed research.
In Assam, many scams have been unearthed involving thousands of crores of rupees in recent years. The very first case taken up by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is that of the Dima Hasao (formerly North Cachar Hills) district where the then Chief Executive Member of the Autonomous District Council is alleged to have passed on money from the Government Treasury to the local insurgent outfit called Black Widow. In the same case one Social Welfare Officer, R.H. Khan, was arrested for misuse of public funds. Cash worth Rs. 13.45 crores was found hidden in between false walls in the garage of one of his relatives. Several unauthorised bank accounts were also discovered where large sums of such funds had been deposited. According to media report some of the money had been converted into US dollars via the hawala route through Kolkata and Nepal. Similar scams have been alleged almost in each district of the state. The former Chief Minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, was charge-sheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the Rs. 400 crores LOC case. But curiously enough the then Governor, LT. Gen (Retd.) S.K. Sinha, refused to give sanction for Mahanta’s prosecution. The other accused persons in that case are also free on bail pending their trial. There are hundreds of allegations against hundreds of politicians and officers which are of equally serious dimensions. The progress in these cases is not known. There are 26,000 audit objections made by the Comptroller and Audit General (CAG) which Assam Government have not been able answer or respond to. The situation is not far different in the other states of NE.
Government funds are allocated for expenditure on various heads at the time that the Annual Budget is approved. When the fund allocated for a particular purpose is reduced by siphoning off of a portion of it the work in that area suffers. Either the quality is compromised or the number of beneficiaries gets reduced. More often both the phenomenons occur. False voucher and reports are submitted in order to cover up the illegalities. In the case of plan funds such siphoning off results in virtual alteration of plan priorities. For example, when funds meant for rural development are siphoned off the welfare of the rural people, mainly, the below poverty line (BPL) people, suffer. Normally the ill gotten money gets invested in entertainment, hospitality and housing sectors. What people see are the high-rise apartment buildings, luxurious hotels, malls, multiplexes, gourmet restaurants and other places of entertainment built for the unscrupulous people. By this process the rural people are denied their dues while the perpetrators of crime are benefited.
Many suggestions have been advanced for adoption in order to reduce and control corruption. Vigilance Commissions have been established, special courts have been set up and investigative agencies have been organised. But the general perception is that corruption could not be reduced even after all these measures had been taken. On the other hand, the number of cases and the intensity of corruption have increased many fold. This has resulted in worries and frustrations to the concerned people.
Many people see a direct link between corruption and poverty. They contend that the most important consequence of siphoning off of welfare funds is perpetuation of poverty among already poor people. This sometimes shoves impoverished people into insurgency. The result is the Maoist type of unrest in which the poor and deprived people revolt. In India to-day probably half the people are steeped in abject poverty mainly because their greedy rulers are corrupt. The Central Vigilance Commission is now in the process of drafting a national anti-corruption strategy which, they are hoping, will be “a blue print for commitment and action by the various stakeholders in the governance process” The stakeholders have been identified as citizens, civil society organisations, private business sector, media, political entities and judiciary.” This is welcome. My personal feeling, however, is that the only way out is for civil society to become active and fight a determined war against corruption by utilizing all available means and forums.