(Sample Material) Study Kit on Current Affairs for UPSC Mains Exam: Ethics & Integrity: Galloping Corruption: Need for Effective Vigilance U.C. Agarwal

(Sample Material) Study Kit on Current Affairs for UPSC Mains Examination

Ethics & Integrity: Galloping Corruption: Need for Effective Vigilance U.C. Agarwal

The Present Level of Corruption

Rampant and wide-spread corruption, both in the public services as also among holders of high political offices, is undoubtedly a matter of serious national concern. Although brave words to “wage war” against corruption, “no compromise” on corruption and “not to spare any corrupt person, however high” have, time and again, been voiced by all top leaders of different political parties in power at the Centre and in the states, there has been little dent on corruption or corrupt individuals. In fact, corruption has become more common and deep-rooted. It has also engulfed larger number of persons holding high public offices during the last one decade. It is now galloping unchecked and unhindered. Many scams and scandals recently reported in the press in great details are enough proof of this ever-worsening situation due to near total lack of effective vigilance. The deterioration has undoubtedly become a matter of national shame as among the corruption tainted persons are some former Prime Ministers, high profile Chief Ministers, a host of former Central and state cabinet ministers, good many top officials of government and the PSUs. If such key figures among public men and administration become corruption-prone and corruption accused, what is the way out? How to save the country and the people from moral degeneration, administrative chaos, injustice and financial bankruptcy? The recent scandalous political happenings in Bihar arising out of the Rs. 950 crore fodder scam involving the Chief Minister, Laloo Prasad Yadav, have seriously undermiried the faith of the people in their leaders and elected governments. The corruption-charged Laloo Prasad Yadav installing his wife as his dummy Chief Minister, with the support of his party MLAs and others, made a mockery of democracy. It also exposed the hollowness of all the talks and claims of punishing the corrupt by the Central leaders of the UF government. It is time to ponder over such developments and to devise appropriate political, legal and administrative measures to halt any further fall in the standards of political decency and conduct.

Corruption during Second World War Times

The problem of corruption in administration and the public services initially became glaring during World War II years (1939-45). Massive war supplies and contracts running into lakhs of rupees (huge amounts for those times), war time shortages and rationing of essential articles of daily use provided unprecedented opportunities to make quick money by unscrupulous suppliers, contractors and traders. Many government servants were tempted and bribed by them to obtain speedier approvals and payments for completed works and supplies of even low quality and substandard goods. To check this kind of corruption, a special police force at the Central level, known as “The Delhi Special Police Establishment” (DSPE), was set up in 1941 and was given statutory status by enacting the DSPE Act 1946. In April 1963, creation of the CBI, the DSPE became a part of this larger anti-corruption police organisation. More legal powers to punish corrupt public servants were also taken by enacting “The Prevention of Corruption Act 1947”. Corruption during this pre-Independence period, was, however, generally confined to lower or middle level functionaries of few departments, like the Civil Supplies, PWD, Police, Excise, Forest, Revenue, etc. The new anti-corruption law and the special anti-corruption police were, by and large, considered adequate to cope up with the degree and level of corruption prevalent at that time.

Corruption in Post-Independence Period

This position, however, changed radically after Independence and assumption of power by the elected leaders. The launching of the economic development Five Year Plans from 1951 onwards phenomenally increased government spending. Government also entered into all kinds of economic and trading activities. Banking and Insurance sectors came under government ownership and control. Numerous large and medium size PSUs were set up. “Licence, Quota, and Permit Raj” came into being in areas of economy left open for the private sector. All these provided ample opportunities for making large illegal gains by corruption-prone ministers and public servants at all levels by abusing their offices and powers. Numerous ‘middle men’ and peddlers of influence too emerged to facilitate corruption and to share the booty at the cost of the public exchequer. Many kinds of ‘White Collar’ or economic offences in violation of the numerous new fiscal laws, like the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA), The Import Export (Control) Act, The Customs and Excise Act, The Income Tax Act, The Industrial Licencing Act, etc., provided additional avenues of corruption. The higher level economic offenders of these years established nexus with higher categories of politicians and bureaucrats due to the bigger sizes of their illegal transactions. Their corrupt activities could not be adequately dealt with by the existing law enforcement agencies, like the CBI, the Directorate of Enforcement, or the various Income-Tax, Customs and Excise Authorities. These authorities were all under the control of the Executive wing of government and seldom dared to set the appropriate laws in motion against persons holding high political offices even when any of them were duly suspected to have made illegal gains. As a result, huge, unaccounted wealth was amassed by dishonest ministers and high officials without much fear of detection and punishment. Many were suspected to have kept such money in secret Swiss Bank accounts.

Measures Necessary to Effectively Tackle Corruption

Thus, at present, neither for prevention of political nor administrative corruption is there any effective and independent vigilance mechanism which may inspire public confidence. Although, there have been frequent and plenty of talks and promises to prevent, fight and eradicate corruption, these have not led to establishment of institutions and creation of instruments with legal powers to suo moto investigate and prosecute corruption cases. If Government of the day is serious to tackle the problem of “wide-spread” corruption, the following measures need to be considered and taken speedily:

1. Establishment of the Lokpal Institution to deal with political corruption with suo moto powers of initiating action against corruption suspect central ministers and MPs.
2. The Lokpal should have its own independent investigating and prosecuting agency without having to depend on the CBI.
3. The Lokpal should have legal powers to prosecute an accused minister in specially designated courts after a prima facie case is established against him by the Lokpal’s own inquiry.
4. The charged minister must compulsorily resign after filing of the charge-sheet in the trial court.
5. The CVC should also be made a statutory body by a Parliamentary Law and redesignated as the Central Lokayukta.
6. The Central Lokayukta could be appropriately linked to the Lokpal by making provisions of sharing or having common officers, staff, investigating and prosecuting agencies.
7. The proposed Central Lokayukta should have the powers to finally decide on initiation of disciplinary action or prosecution against any public servant after a prima facie case is established by his own inquiry.

Creation of Independent and Empowered Vigilance Bodies with Supporting Agencies

Unless such independent and duly empowered vigilance bodies are established, there is little chance of preventing or controlling high-level corruption. Experience so far has shown that neither the existing anti-corruption law nor the CBI, nor anti-corruption police have been of much use in investigating, preventing and penalishing corruption among holders of high political offices. This has necessarily given rise to the so-called “judicial activism” of recent times. The higher judicial courts had to exercise their writ jurisdiction to deal with political corruption cases. The helplessness of the CBI in initiating action against ministers and other corruption accused politicians necessarily brought the judicial courts into the picture. As a result, several cases of alleged corruption, which were lying dormant, could be investigated by the CBI more speedily after the High Courts and the Supreme Court started monitoring the progress of their investigations and took the CBI under their protective wings. The higher judiciary cannot, however, be expected to continuously perform this task of overseeing the CBI’s investigations. It may not be a practical and feasible task considering the vast corruption related workload alone. Again, the CBI cannot, on a long-term basis, continue to be a government agency and yet report to the judicial courts directly bypassing the government and without government supervision over its functioning. This would not be a sound administrative arrangement and may make the executive government helpless. The governments’ accountability to Parliament for the CBI’s functioning will be undermined.

After the Lokayukta in the States and the proposed Central Lokpal are installed, with their own independent investigating and prosecuting agencies, the CBI could continue to be under Government with its limited role of exercising internal vigilance on the lower and middle categories of public servants with the knowledge and approval of their heads of departments. The more senior level functionaries should come under the Lokpal and Lokayukta’s vigilance supervision.

Empowering Heads of Departments

The ultimate responsibility to check administrative corruption of their subordinates should lie with the Secretaries to Governments and the Heads of Departments. For this they have to be given adequate legal powers not only to punish the guilty but also to protect the honest. Under the present arrangements and practice, the CBI-an entirely police organisation-has overshadowed the Secretaries to Government and the Heads of Department.

They have become lukewarm towards corruption prevention. This has not helped the cause of corruption prevention but has, on the other hand, demoralised the higher officers reducing their morale, risk taking capacity, efficiency and effectiveness. This has helped to fuel more corruption at the lower levels as even the honest functionaries at higher levels have been virtually made powerless onlookers being put under the fear of the CBI.
They are accordingly afraid of their own security and reputation and have become hesitant to take bold steps and decisions. Ascendancy of the police in its corruption prevention role has only undermined administrative efficiency without any improvement in corruption control. The police cannot be the competent judge in deciding on ‘bonafide’ or ‘malafide’ mistakes in decision making before initiating any vigilance action. Such decisions ought to be left to the Department Secretaries and their Heads for all their subordinates subject to final arbitration of the CVC, if required in cases of disagreements with the CBI. The need is to bring the higher level administrative heads to the centre-stage of corruption prevention in their organisations. They alone should use anti-corruption police, where necessary, after mutual consultations and discussions.

Their own conduct, as mentioned earlier, should come within the purview of the Lokpal/Lokayukta. It is undoubtedly important to prevent and eradicate corruption by punishing the guilty speedily and sufficiently. But it is no less important to protect the honest, who are becoming fewer in number, and give them a sense of security to improve their own initiative, drive and performance.

Use of Police only Under Judicial Control

The police’s use for surveillance, detection and investigation of corruption suspect persons should be on the approval of the appropriate civil or judicial authorities only.

Unfortunately, the police in India, validly or otherwise, does not enjoy the reputation of being objective, just and fair-minded. There are allegations and fears that police do often foist false cases, extract false confessions, and fabricate false evidence against innocent victims. The police seldom admits its mistakes. It would accordingly be unwise and unsafe to allow the police to initiative vigilance action against very senior public officials on their own.

The police could be a useful instrument only when it is made to act by and report to higher judicial or civil administrative authorities. They should have the last word and not the police in any sound administrative arrangements. If, out of panic, the police becomes the dominating force in setting the corruption prevention law into motion and neutralises the higher civil services, the end results would be administrative catastrophy. This was the sad experience of the Emergency years from June 1975 to March 1977 when the police appeared to have assumed for itself loyalty surveillance role over other higher civil servants. In those years, a general sense of insecurity among officers had prevented free expression of views by more matured individuals in the administration and the police appeared to have gained the upper hand. That kind of unhealthy administrative situation need to be avoided and more rational ways ought to be evolved to fight corruption.

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