N. Vittal On Corruption In India

N Vittal (Chairman, Chief Vigilance Commisioner)

Corruption is an all pervasive phenomenon in India. We have three pillars of the state, namely, Judiciary, Executive and Legislature. So far as Judiciary is concerned, the shield of 1971 Contempt of Court Act protect them. Any attempt at even making objective criticism runs the risk of person making the comments being held up for Contempt of court. Truth is no defence against Judiciary. Executive includes the political and the bureaucratic executive. Legislature is of course the area of operation leaders.

Political corruption is seen as one of the most significant sources of corruption and the root of the culture of corruption in our country. In fact, our entire political process and the system of election depend on black money. Every candidate in an election from the lowest to the highest level needs money. 40 per cent of India’s GDP is black money. No wonder that Indian politics also has a significant association with black money. It is not as if the politicians or those who participate in politics want to be corrupt. Many of them are good professionals and would probably earn more professionally if they do not spend time in politics. There are also other genuinely committed social leaders who may not like to handle black money. But over a period of years, a new culture of "political honesty" has grown in which while the political leader, at least at the individual level may be honest, is forced for the sake of the party to raise funds even from questionable sources. This lies at the root of political corruption. If a greater degree of transparency in the financing of politics brought about, two benefits will follow. Firstly, the political process will become open and accountable. Secondly, the dependence on black money will disappear. India is a corrupt country. According to the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2000, India ranks at 69 out of 90 countries. Corruption is threatening our national security. The Hawala scam brought out the link between the corrupt neta, babu, lala, jhola and dada in our system. We must therefore examine whether any reform can be made in the funding process for elections so that the political corruption can be checked at its root. One idea which has been debated is the public funding of elections. This will be a sheer waste of public resources. Even if the resources are given not in cash but in kind in terms of TV time or advertisement space etc., still the very nature of the democratic election process is such that there will be a tendency of raise additional resources and display one upmanship. Unscrupulous people just entering the election fray to get the financial advantage of such electoral funds and then disappearing cannot also be ruled out.

The simplest idea which can work is to remove the present hypocrisy about political contributions. Under the Income Tax Law, contribution to the political parties by business houses is eligible for tax deduction only if a nexus for business advantage can be proved. This provision forgets the basic issue that after all every contribution which any businessman in his individual capacity or in a corporate capacity makes is with a view to get at least some benefits and if nothing else, advantage in the form of a more friendly approach in the corridors of power.

We should therefore aim at a more transparent system of funding of elections and the political process. We should try to emulate what the United States has done. In the current election, for example, we all know how much funds were raised by what means by both the contesting candidates on the Republican and the Democratic side. Why cannot we create such a situation in India? It is true that even the US system is not foolproof. John McCain made campaign fund reform a major issue. But, definitely the American political system is much cleaner than the Indian system.

The funding of the elections and the contribution to the political funds by individuals or corporate bodies must be freely permitted and such contributions must be eligible for tax deduction under the Income Tax Act. The information about all these contributions should be in the public domain and could be published in the web site of the concerned individuals or the oraganisations and, more important, in the web site of the political parties. Secondly, the political parties must get their accounts audited properly so that there is absolute transparency in the funding process. This will, at one stroke, eliminate the specter of black money which is haunting India and which is resulting in all round corruption.

The shift from black money based political funding to legitimate funding will not take place overnight, but the transformation process will begin. The contributors to the political kitty are the business houses. CII and ASSOCHAM have agreed that they will ask their members not to bribe.

Black money is not the only negative aspect of Indian politics. The Vohra Committee Report had highlighted one negative aspect of our politics namely the criminalisation of politics. So if we want to start a process by which we will be able to achieve corruption - free government, where the law makers play a very effective role in achieving this objective, it is necessary that we should first take steps to ensure that the law breakers and criminals do not become law makers.

Chief Election Commissioner should see how we can amend the electoral law, particularly Representation of People’s Act, to see that the law breakers do not become law makers. Following suggestions may be considered:

*No political party must be permitted to contest the elections unless it has got the latest annual accounts duly audited by an auditor as may be prescribed by a notified agency like the Election Commission, the CAG or the Supreme Court, etc.

*No political party must be permitted to context the elections unless it has cleared its income tax dues and has got the requisite certificate from the income tax authorities.

  • Complaints regarding corrupt practices during elections can be looked into by the Election Commission even before the date of polling. The Election Commission has an excellent communication system to receive complaints of this type and can immediately take action so that there will be a healthy check and deterrent effect on corrupt practices during elections. Prevention is always better than cure.

The explanation 1 below Section 77 of the Representation of People Act, which reads as follows, should be deleted.-

"Account of election expenses and maximum thereof. (1) Every candidate at an election shall, either by himself or by his election agent, keep a separate and correct account of all expenditure in connection with the election incurred or authorized by him or by his election agent between (the date on which he has been nominated) and the date of declaration of the result thereof, both dates inclusive."

"Explanation 1. Notwithstanding any judgment, order or decision of any court to the contrary, any expenditure incurred or authorized in connection with the election of candidate by a political party or by any other association or body of persons or by any individual (other than the candidate or his election agent) shall not be deemed to be, and shall not ever be deemed to have been, expenditure in connection with the election incurred or authorised by the candidate or by his election agent for the purposes of this sub-section.

Provided that nothing contained in this Explanation shall affect -

  • Any judgment, order or decision of the Supreme Court whereby the election of a candidate to the House of the People or to the Legislative Assembly of a State has been declared void or set aside before the commencement of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Ordinance, 1974 (14 of 1974):
  • Any judgment, order or decision of a High Court whereby the election of any such candidate has been declared void or set aside before the commencement of the said Ordinance if no appeal has been preferred to the Supreme Court against such judgement, order or decision of the High Court before such commencement and the period of limitation of filing such appeal has expired before such commencement."

A person who has been accused of an offence involving moral turpitude or other criminal offences should not be permitted to contest the elections. The Election Commission may identify these offences. In stead of going only by the gravity of the offence and FIR being filed, the critical test for applying the ban on the candidate contesting the election should be that the concerned judicial authority like a magistrate should have examined the FIRs and the data and gone to the stage of framing charge sheet.

If a person who has been framed in cases involving grave offences and moral turpitude as identified and notified by the Election Commission, is banned from fighting the elections, it will ensure that criminals do not enter politics and become representatives of the people.

Equally important is the need for having laws which will punish the corrupt. Corruption today in our country has become a low risk high profit business activity. The Law Commission in its 167th report has suggested the enactment of the Corrupt Public Servants (Forfeiture of Property) Act. This act has been pending with the government from 4-2-1999. It is high time that this law is enacted so that the corrupt public servants do not take advantage of the present legal process themselves to escape the punishment.

The dynamics of corruption in government starts with a systematic attempt at politicising the bureaucracy. Though in principle we are supposed to have a politically neutral permanent civil service of the British type, what we have in practice is the spoil system of USA, without the corresponding checks and balances in that country which makes that country a far less corrupt country than India. The simple instrument by which the political executive has found that the bureaucracy can be made to dance to its tunes, is the instrument of transfers and postings. The importance of insulating at least the important and sensitive posts from this transfer instrument was highlighted by the Supreme Court in the Vineet Narain case popularly known as the Hawala case. The Supreme Court pointed out that at least the two key, investigating agencies of the Government of India, namely the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate must be insultated from outside influences. This was sought to be achieved by making the CVC as a statutory body and making the CVC supervise the activities of the CBI. The CVC as a statutory body and making the CVC supervise the activities of the CBI.

This initiative of the SC so far as CBI and ED are concerned points a way by which we can systematically introduce a practice in government for de-politicising or at least reducing the possibility of corrupt elements in the bureaucracy getting posted to sensitive posts and exploiting their position. It will be worthwhile to identify all the sensitive posts in government and bring in a discipline that these posts will be filled up from a panel of names recommended by an objective and independent committee like the CVC’s Committee for CBI and ED. Unless we tackle the issue of corruption in the political sphere in a systematic manner, we are not likely to succeed.