India is placed 9th  from the bottom of 54 countries

A collection of essays from noted economic experts such as Mr. Madhav Godbole, Mr. A.G.Nooriani and Samuel Paul about corruption in India calls for a total rethinking on the subject. The problem in India as the authors traces is to a weak political system, over bureaucratization and lack of public faith in the working of public services, governmental and policing institutions. The book calls for the popularisation of the Lok Pal system, a code of conduct for politicians, and the sensitisation of the Indian administrative system to the ills of corruption. "A careful poll taken among business interests and financial journalists by Transperancy International, the reputed anti-corruption non-governmental organisation, placed India 9th from the bottom in its 1996 list of 54 countries with a score of 2.63 on a scale with a maximum of 10 for the totally corrupt-free country..."

Corruption can straddle the public and private sectors, getting reinforced in the interaction between the two spheres. However, given our focus on corruption in public services, it might be useful to start with the simple definition that corruption is the misuse of public power for private gain. Other definitions have been offered, based on the misuse of public office, violation of public interest, disapproval of public opinion, and the illegal use of public office for private gain. These and similar definitions have been critiqued on the ground that they tend to be too broad and indeterminate since there could be much debate on what constitutes ‘misuse’ or ‘public power’ or ‘public interest’.

Corruption can be many kinds, assume many forms, cover a wide variety of tractions, and operate at many levels. It can be related to acts of commission, omission or delay; involve the exercise of discretion; or the violation of rules, but not necessarily so since illegal gratification can be taken even whilst technically conforming to rules.

It is necessary to proceed to the causes of corruption having described its characteristics and symptoms. The extensive literature on the subject draws attention to political systems and practices, the level of economic development, economic policies, sociological characteristics and the culture milieu as the main factors which are relevant for the casual explanation of corruption.

It has been argued that democracies and the electoral cycles associated with them especially when combined with the high cost of elections, are a fertile ground for political corruption. In poor developing countries there is acute competition for the sharing of benefits. At the same time, inequality and expectations are both high. Such a situation provides an inability impetus of corruption.

Furthermore, economic policies based on administrative regulations__such as permits and licences for the allocation of investment approvals, scarce resources and the like, and administratively targeted welfare benefits and subsidies create powerful incentives for bribery. In terms of sociological factors, it has been argued that caste, kinship and patron-client relationships, especially in predominantly rural societies, generate and reproduce corruption through networks of nepotism, patronage and dependency.

The conclusion that emerges on the basis of available empirical evidence is that it would be untenable to characterize democracies or developing countries or traditional societies as immutably condemned to a state of corruption. Within each such category, there are less-corrupt and more-corrupt societies, and also those with, over time, have been able to move from a higher to a lower level of corruption. In some societies, pervasive corruption has yielded place to corruption which is more or less confined to certain sectors or types of activities.

Turning from the causes to the consequences of corruption, there is a much greater convergence of views. There is considerable agreement about the adverse effects of corruption on society, polity and economy. Corruption corrodes the moral fibre of society. It undermines the legitimacy of governments because of the widespread cynicism that breeds not only on the factual basis, but also on perceived levels of corruption and related misdeeds.

The essays in this volume provide a wide-ranging review of the problems and constraints of the public institutions, legal systems and processes, and the behavior patterns in our society that have contributed to the growing phenomenon of corruption. The focus is on the need to redesign and improve the underlying framework of our basic and public institutions that serve all sectors, their structures and systems, in order to achieve corruption control.

The propensity for corruption in any society can be controlled only by systematically reducing the incentives and opportunities to engage in corrupt practices. An agenda for action to control corruption must identify the key interventions necessary to minimize such incentives and opportunities in Indian society. Drawing upon the essays in this volume, we present four action areas as the essential building blocks for a national agenda for corrupting control:

(i) reform of the political process,

(ii) restructuring and reorienting the government machinery,

(iii) empowerment of citizens, and

(iv) creating sustained public pressure for change.

The political process needs reform at strategic points in order to create an enabling environment that is conducive to the control of corruption.

There is considerable evidence in India on the close links between political corruption and the criminalisation of politics. No person with a criminal conviction should therefore be permitted to contest in an election to the legislature. Legislators convicted for criminal offenses during their tenure should be required to vacate their seats forthwith.

Proper functioning of the government and its institutional mechanisms is bound to reduce the scope for corruption in any society. The reality, however, is that the structures, systems and style of functioning on many of our public institutions, and the orientation of the bureaucracy, have contributed directly and indirectly to the culture of corruption.

Corruption can be effectively tackled only when the reform of the political process and the restructuring of government machinery are complemented by systematic efforts to inform citizens about their rights and entitlements, and to enable them to monitor and challenge abuses of the system.

There are important directions of empowering citizens that deserve special attention. The inner urge and resolve of a person to combat corruption depend, in no small measure, on his or her basic moral values and beliefs.

If, on the other hand, the guiding values of people tolerate corrupt practices and unethical behavior, there is little hope that such individuals will revolt against corruption or help launch a collective assault on corruption in their community or society. When there is no collective urge to uproot corruption, the institutional and legal reforms proposed by the authors will not go far, and any impact they make is likely to be marginal from the larger social point-of-view.

India has not been free of corruption, whether, in ancient times (at least, as far back as the Artbasastra), the immediate pre-Colonial period, during, during British rule, or in the decades following Independence. Gandhiji was concerned with corruption in the provincial Congress ministries formed after the 1935 Act; a number of cases of corruption in the states have been documented during the critical decades after Independence, when Nehru was the Prime Minister; nor were cases of corruption absent at the Centre, itself.

Neither the incidence of corruption in India nor the concern with it are thus new. However, the current state of corruption in he country is not just a linear continuation of the experience in the 1950s and 1960s. Beginning with the 1970s, changes in the level, trend, nature and spread of corruption in the 1980s and 1990s have been such as to suggest that corruption has assumed critical proportions. In other words, it might not be an exaggeration today to talk about corruption in terms of a crisis or a cancer endangering India’s society, polity and economy.

A number of ministers and governors of states have had to resign on account of being legally charged with corrupt transactions. Leading politicians belonging to different political parties have been charge sheeted in the hawala proceedings related to violations of the Foreign Exchange Regulations and Income Tax Acts. In more than one instance, although prime ministers and chief ministers have been tainted with suspicion, the investigations have not been expeditiously or effectively pursued against them. Take the case of the present Chief Minister of TamilNadu, who inspite of being held in jail for corruption is now heading the State as CM. In any event, it is not credible that widespread ministerial corruption would have been possible without the acquiescence, if not the involvement of the head of the government.

India has acquired the unenviable reputation of being among the most corrupt countries in the world. A careful poll taken among business interests and financial journalists by transparency International (TI), the reputed anti-corruption non-governmental organization, placed India 9th from the bottom in its 1996 list of 54 countries with a score of 2.63 on a scale with a maximum of 10 for the totally corrupt-free country.