You Cant Eradict Corruption say M.V.Kamath a noted writer in India

When a charge was levelled against the Congress that it was a corrupt party, its then president Indira Gandhi airily dismissed it, saying that corruption is a world phenomenon.

That has never been disputed. We hear regular stories of corruption in the highest quarters, whether in Japan, Indonesia, Germany or France, to mention only a few states.

But that is no excuse for India being corrupt. Unfortunately, in India corruption has reached gigantic proportions and the issue of fighting it cannot any longer be ducked.

Corruption comes in many shapes and forms. We have the Bofors case which has been under consideration since the eighties - and we have still to hear the last of it. The Bihar scams are legend, as are the scams in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Politicians who only a few years ago were considered as hailing from lower to middle classes have been in recent months flaunting their wealth, with not a care in the world.

Mulayam Singh Yadav had his son wed at a place called Sahara Shahar where the dining area was said to be the size of two football fields, end to end. Two hundred and fifty people worked in a kitchen for four days to lay out eight different kinds of cuisines for 6,500 people. It must have cost him quite a packet.

The figures for Laloo Prasad Yadav's daughter's wedding are even more mind-boggling: 1,200 stems of gladioli and 20,000 garlands of marigold flown into Patna from Calcutta, while 200 quintals of sugar lay stacked in a corner for an estimated 50,000 guests. Not even a Birla would have dared to be so extravagant.

Or take the AIADMK's Jayalalitha who spent several crores on a marriage and against whom there are 46 corruption cases, one of which she recently lost.

Displayed in court were some of the jewellery she had accumulated during her years in power, including a waist belt studded with 2,389 diamonds besides numerous emeralds and rubies valued at more than half a crore of rupees! Who gave her these little presents and what was the expected quid pro?

But that is only one face of corruption.

Ex-Ministers in Delhi refuse to vacate the bungalows allotted to them; telephone bills amounting to lakhs of rupees remain unpaid. Three former Prime Ministers have been remiss in paying for the use of government planes for private trips.

It is unlikely that the government would be compensated. Two well-known industrialists are reported to owe three nationalised banks Rs 500 crores and Rs 300 crores, and the list of corporate bank loan defaulters is public property. Some Rs 45,000 crores are due and will probably have to be written off.

The names of loan defaulters - and they are from the cream of society - have been published (Observer, Jan. 15) but obviously no action has been taken against them, or else the world would have heard of it.

So far, some 99 names of top bureaucrats have been put on the website and they hail from various wings of the Union Finance Ministry such as the Income Tax Department, and Department of Central Excise and Customs.

This is at the Union Government level. If one were to list the names of corrupt officials at the State level, they would probably fill several volumes.

More recently, the Central Vigilance Commission has recommended criminal or departmental proceedings against 17 top bureaucrats including two former chairmen of Port Trusts, a former Health Secretary of Delhi, a Director General of Home Guards, a former Inspector General of Police in West Bengal and, wonder of wonders, two Chief Secretaries, no less!

If this is the level of corruption at the highest level, one can easily appreciate what it could be at the lower levels right down to the policeman on the beat and the peon in a government office.

If we condone corruption at the highest quarters, what right do we have to speak ill of the lowly clerks who, at least, can plead that they have large families to support on low salaries?

One man, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) Mr Nagaraj Vittal, it would seem, has decided to take on the corrupt and face the consequences. He is already in trouble for doing his duty. He has been told that politicians do not come under the jurisdiction of the Central Vigilance Commission.

Fair enough. To overcome the hurdle, Mr Vittal has suggested that the CBI should investigate their cases and that has raised the hackles of politicians who feel that Mr Vittal is going beyond his brief.

But even considering that he has a point, what guarantee is there that justice will be done? The CBI is not an independent body and is under government control. If the CBI could drag its feet on the Bofors issue, what guarantee is there that it will not act similarly in the case of lesser politicians?

Mr Vittal's action in displaying the names of allegedly corrupt officials on the website has already brought him into disrepute. Isn't he condemning them before they are even tried, goes the argument.

To that the reply is that at some stage or other, the names would have had to be released anyway, and so what is wrong if they are released on the website now?

Mr Vittal's argument is that publishing names of corrupt officials would be serving a good cause as that would serve as a deterrent. But how long? And how effectively?

Sending a few bureaucrats to jail (presuming that enough evidence against them is available) or even a few politicians can at best be a temporary expedient. The event will make the headlines of the day and would, in all probability, be forgotten in no time.

Mr Vittal has an action plan, which contemplates remedial measures on administrative, legislative and societal fronts, and include cutting of red tape, insistence statutorily on a declaration of assets by MPs, MLAs, IAS and other service officers and a law for forgeiture of ill-gotten assets. But these are long-term measures.

Can we ever expect our politicians to pass legislation that is against their own interests?

Thousands of cases against Class I officers are reported to be pending with the CVC and 1,300 are reportedly being probed at the departmental level. By the time these cases are really tried, many of the accused would probably have died!

The situation, as one sees it, is hopeless. Should one, therefore, throw up one's hands and be happy with accepting the status quo?

Corruption is like prostitution; one can decry it, one can condemn it and one moralise over it, but it continues to exist. We now know that even the courts are corrupt and the highest judicial authority is only too well aware of the fact.

Salaries of judges have been raised, as they should be. Some politicians have to be tried and given their just deserts. We should acknowledge the fact that corruption cannot be eradicated. It can only be minimised. And one effective way to do so is to take government out of most decision-making situations.

Privatisation of banks would help. But we should learn to accept the limits of human behaviour.