Sukumar Mukhopadhyay: Corruption in India – Boiling and Bubbling

This expression boiling and bubbling in respect of corruption is from Shakespeare.   In his Measure for Measure  Vincentio, the Duke said to Escalus,  about Vienna, which was the Scene of the drama about the state of affairs there the following,

            “My business in this state

            Made me a looker-on here in Vienna,

            Where I have seen corruption boil                     and bubble

            Till it o'errun the stew: laws for all                      faults,

            But faults so countenanc'd that the                     strong statutes

            Stand like the forfeits in a barber's                     shop,

            As much in mock as mark.”

            The significant thing here is the fact that in Vienna at that time there were laws for every violation but there was no implementation.  This is precisely the situation in India today.  There are too many laws but too little implementation.  There is a law that the smugglers' properties will be confiscated.  But in the last twenty five years there has been no confiscation although there are very senior officials in position in their air-conditioned comfort.  There is enough legal provision against black money but when it comes to implementation,  the situation is such that the Supreme Court had to observe the following in the case of  Ram Jethmalani and ors v UOI ,SLP no 11032 of 2009 decided on 4.7.2011 relating to black money.

            The Court observed that it was the “laggardly attitude of the Government” which was responsible for such a sorry situation.  I am quoting below some of its observations.

            “These matters before us relate to issues of large sums of

 unaccounted monies, allegedly held by certain named individuals, and loose associations of them; consequently we have to express our serious concerns from a constitutional perspective. The amount of unaccounted monies, as alleged by the Government of India itself is massive. The show cause notices were issued a substantial length of time ago. The named individuals were very much present in the country. Yet, for unknown, and possibly unknowable, though easily surmisable, reasons the investigations into the matter proceeded at a laggardly pace. Even the named individuals had not yet been questioned with any degree of seriousness”.

The Supreme Court ordered for a Special Investigation Team (SIT) but the Government filed a review petition in the Supreme Court which is still pending for decision.  So the so called High Level Committee in the meantime is languishing.  There have been several SIT 's appointed by the Supreme Court in the past but the Government did not object since it was directed against the opposite party.  Now that the purpose of the SIT has recoiled on the Government (in the sense that there are  rich and politically powerful people  whom the Government wants to protect), the Government is now trying to stall the investigation by the SIT headed by Supreme Court judge. 

            This is how the crisis of the confidence in the Government has been generated.  If there are powerful people, financially and politically, the Government will support them and even punish the officers who venture to tackle them.  If there is a Minister coming from abroad who brings as his baggage twenty times more goods than the permissible limit, the officer who  tries to impose duty and fine on him gets a transfer the next day.  The concerned Finance Minister does not lift his little finger to support the officer but goes on swearing inside and outside the Parliament that he stands for honesty and he will root out corruption.  The biggest joke! 

            So today nobody believes the Government.  Nobody even has the same confidence in the higher judiciary which I as a young student in the school had about the Munsif (junior most judge) in our town.  It is a great reflection on the performance of the judiciary that Shanti Bhushan, a senior lawyer, has openly declared in the Supreme Court that fifty percent of the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court were dishonest and he has proof of that which he was ready to provide before the Court.  We have not heard much about any contempt proceeding progressing against him even after such an astounding statement. 

            Here I am not going to enumerate the various scams which are abounding in number.  However, I must put on record that Financial scams are not the only instances of corruption.  Intellectual corruption is also very relevant and as much damaging as financial corruption because it eats into the vitals of the integrity of the society.  I know of occasions when Secretaries of the Union Government have personally coaxed the junior officers to file prosecution cases against importers and income tax assessees on flimsy grounds at the instance of their political bosses who had scores to settle against them.  These political bosses were also being goaded by their business opponents.  It cannot be a coincidence that after achieving such laurels, these Secretaries have later mastered posting in International Financial Institutions where there legal earnings run into crores and their eligibility to international tours are nothing less than safari to fairy land.  All these look like white earnings for them but in reality their hands are smeared with blood.  This is just one type of intellectual dishonesty which very much constitute the corruption that is part and parcel of life today.

            One may wonder how the country is running then if all walks of  life are laden with corruption.  The answer to this is that in one institution everybody is not corrupt.  In any service such as IAS, IPS, IRS, CPWD, judiciary and politicians there is a hard core of honest people who would dare “to take arms against a sea of troubles. …..”.   There is another set of people who are much larger in number, who would at least not benefit from corruption but would not dare to oppose corruption if it is risky to do so.  These two sets of people actually run the country in the sense that they still make the country float, though precariously. 

            Now I come to the solution.  As we know there is no easy solution.  We also know that there are several solutions which have to be put together to be effective.  Corruption cannot be eliminated but reduced considerably.  The major controversy now is whether reduction of corruption can be achieved by only the existing democratic method or by what some people called “street justice”.  This expression has been used by Prof. Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate in Economics, while delivering the key note address at the launch of UN ESCAP's sub regional office for South and Southwest Asia on 15th December, 2011.  He said that “the judgement and penalty for correction cannot be a matter for street justice, and must come through a democratic procedure that we cherish in India, including the Courts and the Parliament.  This is an indirect reference to the movement of Anna Hazere who had millions of supporters on the street.  I, for one, cannot agree that this is a street justice.  While the justice was demanded on the street, what they wanted is a legislative sanction for Lok Pal which will work within the framework of democracy.  It will have an investigative agency which will probably be the CBI and thereafter prosecution will be filed.  The jurisdiction is not only over the bureaucrats but also over the politicians including the Ministers and the Prime Minister.  At the time of writing this,  the situation is still fluid and more of it will be known in the next few days.  Those who have doubt about the efficacy of Lok Pal should do well to keep it in mind that the Lokayukta, which is the counterpart in the States, has done enormously commendable job in Bangalore by putting B S Yeddyurappa Reddy, ex-Chief Minister of Karnataka,  behind bars for his involvement in illegal mining.  Even S M Krishna, another ex-Chief Minister and a present Central Minister is being investigated seriously.  These are no mean achievements which could not have been possible by the State Vigilance Agencies because that is under the Chief Minister himself.  Lok Pal is nothing but the Central version of the State Lokayukta.  There is no reason why the Lok Pal should not succeed when its provincial version, that is Lokayukta has so succeeded.  If it succeeds,  and it is very likely to, this will be a great step towards reducing corruption.  Many naysayers ask a question, “Will Lok Pal remove corruption completely?”  The answer to it is, “it will reduce and not remove corruption completely”. 

            India cannot suddenly become as honest a country as Norway, Finland or Singapore.   In Finland a top official of a private company had to resign his job because he was exposed having evaded an amount of customs duty which in India we would have called peanuts.  In Singapore a Minister had to commit suicide when he was exposed defalcating an amount which was equivalent to just about thirty thousand rupees in  early 1990's.  Compare it with India where an ex-Finance Minister, being a party in a paternity case, has refused to give his blood sample for DNA test.  The case is dragging for more than a decade.  In India, the people at large are extremely tolerant of corruption.  If they come to know that a person is rich and corrupt, they will flock around him to get a hefty subscription for next Puja rather than despise him for his corruption. The whole psyche has got corrupted in India.

            There are many more ways of reducing corruption such as simplification of laws and procedures both for Police, General Administration, Tax Administration, etc.  I refrain from elaborating them due to shortage of space.

            The conclusion is that corruption in India has now become all pervasive but we have to try to retrieve the situation through efforts by individuals and by groups.   I know of many young men and women who are fighting hard against corruption by simply not giving bribe and therefore suffering delays and harassment. We should support the moves by Anna Hazare and by good NGOs which promote the cause of reducing corruption.  Social ostracism of corrupt people is a must in order to succeed in removing corruption.  If we know a person is really dishonest we should not go and have dinner in his house.