An imperative overhaul

Recent spate of corruption charges at the governance level indicates institutional failure; no less than reforms in politics and administration can help

An imperative overhaul

The recent raids by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) at the residences of associates of two Bengal Ministers have resulted in recovery of more than Rs 40 crore cash. Both Chatterjee and his close aide Arpita have been arrested. In June 2022, Vijay Singla, a Punjab Minister, was arrested along with his aides for demanding money soon after he became minister. In June, another IAS officer from Punjab, Sanjay Popli, was arrested for demanding bribes. A few months ago in May 2022, the residence of Jharkhand Mining Secretary Pooja Singhal — an IAS officer — and her Chartered Accountant were raided and the ED recovered more than Rs 19 crore.

In April 2022, former Home Minister of Maharashtra, Anil Deshmukh, was arrested by the CBI on corruption and money laundering charges. The police inspector Sachin Waze and the minister's personal secretary and assistant were arrested. It was alleged that the Minister had directed Waze to collect Rs 200 crores every month. The Health Minister of Delhi was arrested by ED for Rs 4.8-crore money laundering case after the CBI filed a case for corruption in 2017. One Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer of Orissa cadre, Abhay Kant Patnaik, was arrested in November 2020 for spending Rs three crores for travelling on chartered flights. Also, a huge amount was found in the bank account of his son.

For the past 15 years, Uttarakhand Subordinate Service Commission has always been in the news for recruitment scandals on the one hand, while the youths are trapped in outsourced sandals for manpower engagements on the other. There is no accountability, and everything is buried under the politics of mutual blame game. Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh, one Public Service Commission Chief was found to be of dubious qualification, which openly created a big scam in the recruitment of officers in the provincial services.

No one it seems is taking such arrests of Ministers and crumbling of institutions seriously. The purpose of pointing out these cases is to prick the core conscience of the nation that the system of governance in our country, especially in states, has started rotting. The degradation of the system is not attracting the attention of lawmakers and the judiciary to the extent it should. Such news items have become very common these days and, it seems, the people have accepted them as a new normal in governance as society is not bothered about honest and efficient governance. It is also a symbol of cultural degradation. The people now give importance to anyhow meeting the ends.

Now the question is why this has happened and where it will lead us as a nation. If we take into account the prevailing scenario, the democratic institutions in India do not seriously bother about the sanctity of accepting the truth and accountability. This will ultimately erode the faith in the present democratic system, and history is replete with examples that those societies which do not learn from the mistakes, give way to dictatorial forces or disintegrate. Sri Lanka is a recent example of how divisive politics and corruption prevailing for over 40 years ruined the nation.

The British takeover at the end of Mughal rule did unite India as a political entity and as a nation; and the present democratic governance makes India the largest democracy. Corruption by the people in power — including politicians and bureaucrats at all levels — is openly practised. It is impossible for the common man to get work done without a 'facilitation fee' — a euphemism for extorting money. The economy is growing; budgets of Central and state governments are expanding — opening up scope for more schemes, and thus, more corruption and ultimately more suffering for the disadvantaged sections. The judiciary is busy in solving the umpteen squabbles of political parties around anti-defection law, urgent cases, economic disputes etc. Huge pendency of cases is a reflection that poor and middle-class people either silently give up or make a compromise.

In short, the country's institutions of governance are crying for reforms. To counter the vote bank politics and corruption, the agenda for political and administrative reforms should be on the top. Criminalisation of politics and checking the money power and cash flow during elections are the gravest threats to democracy. For honest politicians, it is next to impossible to contest even an urban body election — what to say of assembly and the Lok Sabha elections. In an era of media and rising literacy rate, there should not be much of a gap between the final date of filing nominations and the election date. The Prevention of Corruption Act should be amended to provide for confiscation of property disproportionate to the known source of income. Political parties should be brought under section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act so that in money matters, and while ticket distribution to criminals, the voter has the right to know. The anti-defection law has totally failed and it should be scrapped altogether. To check unruly behaviours of MPs and MLAs, a strong code of conduct must be evolved and the presiding officers should be empowered to expel such members from the rest of the session; and habitual misconduct shall be sufficient to debar such members for contesting elections for another six years. Similarly, sudden and indiscriminate blockage of roads and damage to public property in the name of democratic protest should be made a punishable offence, and for democratic protests, some specific place should be assigned by the administration, like the one we have at Jantar Mantar. The local area development fund of MPs and MLAs should be linked to pre-approved schemes in district development plans so that these schemes are included in the budget. There is a need to amend the Constitution and create a provision of 'referendum' so that direct democracy can be practised to decide on certain national issues like population control and national security. This will ensure that fruits of development are not frittered away. The civil services must be made accountable, and a process of periodical review should be undertaken to weed out the inefficient, insensitive and corrupt bureaucrats. A civil services bureau may be created for this purpose, and also to punish civil servants for misuse of powers. The remits of corruption should be redefined beyond financial corruption to include delays, procrastination and deliberate arbitrary acts. Indian genius shall rise again for sure and we must get that genius to rise fast.

The writer is Chairman of the Centre for Resource Management and Environment. Views expressed are personal

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