Skip to main content

Corruption: Strong judiciary, civil society must fight political complacency


By Moin Qazi*
Bribery and corruption continue to pose a significant challenge in India. India’s ranking in the annual corruption index, released by Berlin-based non-government organisation Transparency International (TI), slid to 81 among a group of 180 countries In 2016 India was 79th among 176 countries. The index uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. India’s score in the latest ranking, however, remained unchanged at 40. In 2015, the score was 38. The Corruption Perception Index also singled out India as one of the “worst offenders” in the Asia-Pacific region.
Corruption is harmful in different ways. It is anti-national. It is anti-poor since the resources meant for poverty alleviation schemes get syphoned off by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. It is amongst the most debilitating economic illnesses that afflict large parts of the world. It erodes the quality of life for ordinary citizens, devastates the moral fabric of society, and impedes growth. India is now caught in a situation where many sectors are steeped in endemic corruption, including those charged with controlling the corruption itself, from the politicians who write the laws to the police charged with enforcing it.
In the last four decades, despite several government programmes for the welfare of the rural poor, poverty remains endemic. Either the nets were not cast wide or there were too many holes blown in them. The cruel reality is that money is irrelevant. Even the government feels that 85 percent of the spending does not reach the poor. It is either sponged by the ‘delivery mechanism’ — the consultants, advisers, their equipment and studies — or it gets pocketed.
This has become a touchstone for all government programmes and is now parroted in all Indian development literature. Much of the Western world aid is running down bureaucratic ratholes. Corruption is a huge, insidious problem in India that has eaten into every aspect of life. It can lead to pervasive distrust in the government, generating civil strife, violence, and conflict. The results, moreover, are disastrous for people.
No political or administrative theoretician has come up with methods “to flush out the cholesterol of partisan politics” especially in the field of maintenance of law and order. Disruptive political practices and partisan enforcement of laws abetted by “committed bureaucracy” with the active connivance of the intellectuals trading in law have been responsible for the people losing faith in the system and becoming gradually nonchalant towards good governance. The people learn by the example of their leaders—not by the precepts they hypocritically profess and proclaim.
The police system at the village level is too ineffective to provide security. Many would tend to agree with the often made comment of villagers about police: “these tormentors whether living or dying, it makes no difference to them. When alive, they suck our blood and when dead, they bake their bread on our funeral pyres.” The arcane laws and the brute power that police enjoys, make it very difficult for people on the ground to work with total freedom.
This is where the local politician fits in. While the poor do not have the money to purchase services that are their right or to bribe the public servant, they have a vote that the politician wants. The politician does a little bit to make life a little more tolerable for his poor constituents– a seat in a good school for the lucky few, a government job for the even luckier, on occasion the unexpected munificence of a loan waiver, or more commonly, a phone call that helps them get a police case registered. For all this, the politician gets the gratitude of his voters. However, he then also has little reason to improve their lot more broadly by reforming the system—for that would do him out of his current job. No wonder so few politicians express enthusiasm about reforms..
Moreover, the poor understand that the politicians need money to offer them these services. So they are willing to look the other way if he extorts bribes from corporations or the wealthy, or if he is a criminal. Moreover, the system is self-sustaining. Every village official must be paid not just to expedite the application-form for development schemes but specifically not obstruct it. A middle-class idealist can stand for office promising reforms, but the poor voters know there is little one person can do. Moreover, who will provide the patronage while the incorruptible, but consequently poor, the idealist is fighting the system? Why not stay with the devil you know.
There is no easy solution to the problem. The corrupt police officials have a rollicking time at the expense of helpless citizens. In fact, there is no link between corruption and poverty. It is easier to convert a corrupt constable rather than a rank officer into an honest person. Rank officers get so carried away by the glamour of and competition evident among their peers, and the aspirations of their family and wives, that corruption and bribes become a part of their lives. Surely education is a failure here.
The police system at the village-level is too ineffective to provide security. Many would tend to agree with the often-made comment of villagers about police, “these tormentors whether living or dying, it makes no difference to them. When alive, they suck our blood and when dead, they bake their bread on our funeral pyres.” The arcane laws and the brute power that the police enjoys, make it very difficult for people on the ground to work with total freedom. Indian voters favour a familiar family pedigree, partly because of a cultural reverence for the family and because of habits in some regions that trace back centuries.
These are more important in politics than individual qualities or merits in India and they strike at the very core of democracy. Grassroots activists and student leaders with no patronage matter little, and given the huge money and muscle power involved in elections, non-family upstarts can only dream of power from the sidelines. In fact, its impact goes beyond politics, with the reign of dynasties extending to most businesses.
Like the mythological hydra, corruption is a many-headed foe that insinuates itself into every part of the social fabric—weakening the body politic and jeopardising prospects for economic growth. It can wither only after the heads are lopped off. Petty corruption includes slipping banknotes to the police and to officials to get paperwork done. Businessmen have to offer “seed money” to avoid red tape.
Corruption has been a long-standing problem in India that successive regimes and governments have battled and mostly failed. In his magnum opus, Arthashastra, written nearly three centuries before the Christian era, Kautilya, the classical master of statecraft observed: “Just as it is impossible to know when a fish moving in water is drinking it, so it is impossible to find out when government servants in charge of undertakings misappropriate money.”
The phrase, ‘probity in public life’ has become an oxymoron. Although national anti-corruption agencies can be crucial in preventing corruption before it becomes rampant, not only are they difficult to set up but they often fail to achieve their goals once they have been established. They may be so beholden to the political masters that they dare not investigate even the most corrupt government officials; they may lack the power to prosecute or they may be poorly staffed.
The time to start popping the corks would be when corrupt officials are actually convicted and penalised. Unfortunately, India’s criminal justice system has a truly pathetic record on this front. As long as that remains true, much-publicised arrests serve little or no purpose. They certainly do not act as effective deterrents to potential bribe-takers or bribe-givers. Corruption is too often seen as merely a moral issue. Not enough people realise just how crippling an economic factor it can be. The cost of the bribes clearly must be factored into the business model and hence into the costs.
The government must realise increasing corruption can act as a speed-breaker in the Indian growth story. There is a need for a strong political will to disrupt the grim calculus. Without a strong civil society or an independent judiciary to check government power, the political class can become complacent. It may be true that every journey begins with a single step. However, we have a long distance to cover to rid the society of the termites of corruption and it may require longer sprints as time is running out.
*Development expert

Comments

TRENDING

CAG’s audit report creates a case for dismantling of UIDAI, scrapping Aadhaar

By Gopal Krishna  The total estimated budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project and its cost: benefit analysis has not been disclosed till date. Unless the total estimated budget of the project is revealed, all claims of benefits are suspect and untrustworthy. How can one know about total savings unless the total cost is disclosed? Can limited audit of continuing expenditure of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), an instrumentality of Union of India be deemed a substitute for total estimated budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project of UIDAI? It has been admitted by CAG that the audit of functioning of the UIDAI is partial because of non-transparency. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India arising from performance audit of functioning of the UIDAI for the period from 2014-15 to 2018-19 is incomplete because it is based on statistical information “to the extent as furnished by UIDAI” upto March 2021. There is also a need to compa

Women for Water: WICCI resource council for empowering women entrepreneurs, leaders

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  The Water Resources Council of the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry is formed for 2022-24. A National Business Chamber for Women, the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry ( WICCI ) is a premier association empowering women entrepreneurs and leaders in all walks of life through advocacy, pro-active representations to government, implementing projects for women via funds allocated by various government agencies and corporates, plus bringing awareness on all issues that concern women. WICCI boosts and builds women’s entrepreneurship and businesses through greater engagement with government, institutions, global trade and networks. WICCI enables fundamental changes in governmental policies, laws, incentives and sanctions through proper channel, with a view to robustly encourage and empower women in business, industry and commerce across all sectors. WICCI is supported by the massive global networks of ALL Ladies League (ALL), Women Eco

75 yrs of water in India: whither decentralised governance to sustain the precious resource?

By Shubhangi Rai, Megha Gupta, Fawzia Tarannum, Mansee Bal Bhargava Looking into the last century, water resources management have come a long way from the living with water in the villages to the nimbyism and capitalism in the cities to coming full cycle with room for water in the villages. With the climate change induced water crisis, the focus on conservation and management of water resources if furthered in both national and local agenda. The Water management 2021 report by NITI Aayog acknowledges that water and sustainability are of immense importance for the sustenance of life on earth. Water is intricately linked to the health, food security and livelihood. With business as usual, India’s water availability will only be enough to meet 50% of its total demand and 40% of the population in India will have no access to drinking water and sanitation by 2030 . Its Composite Water Management Index 2021 states that ‘India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and mil

Grassroot innovations in water management: Policy challenges amidst climate change

By Shubhangi Rai[1], Megha Gupta[2], Mansee Bal Bhargava[3] India despite of having a vast traditional water management history continue to struggle with water crisis from disasters like floods and droughts but more with social distress leading to asymmetric access to water goods and services. The rising water crisis in a country that is abundant in water resources and wisdom is worth questioning and resolving. The knowledge that was passed on by our ancestors who used a diverse range of structures that helped harvest rainwater locally besides replenish and recharge the groundwater along the way. Formal and informal rules were locally crafted by the community on who to use the water, how much to use, when to use, how to penalise for misuse, how to resolve conflicts and many more. As a nation, we need to revive our dying wisdom of the traditional water management systems and as water commons, enable the governing mechanisms towards sustainability. In the session on ‘ Grassroot Innovatio

Need to destroy dowry, annihilate greed and toxic patriarchy in India

By IMPRI Team Talking about an evil ever-persistent in our society and highlighting the presence of toxic patriarchy, #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a panel discussion on Destroy Dowry: Annihilation of Greed and Toxic Patriarchy in India under the series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps on May 4, 2022. The chair for the event was Prof Vibhuti Patel, Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai and a Visiting Professor, IMPRI. The distinguished panel included – Asha Kulkarni, General Secretary at Anti Dowry Movement, Mumbai ; Kamal Thakar, Sahiyar Stree Sangathan ; Adv Celin Thomas, Advocate at Celin Thomas and Associates, Bengaluru; Shalini Mathur, Honorary Secretary, Suraksha Dahej Maang Virodhi Sanstha Tatha Parivar Paraamarsh Kendra, Lucknow and Secretary, Nav Kalyani Foundation, Gender Resource and Training Centre; and Dr Bharti Sharma, Honorary Secretary, Shakti Shalini

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and emerging geopolitics

By IMPRI Team In the backdrop of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, #IMPRI Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted a panel discussion on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and Emerging Geopolitics. The event was chaired by Ambassador Anil Trigunayat (IFS Retd.), Former Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Libya, and Malta; Former Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of India, Moscow. The panelists of the event were Prof Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Clinical Professor, Center for Global Affairs, New York University; H.E. Freddy Svane, Ambassador, Royal Danish Embassy, New Delhi; Maj. Gen. (Dr) P. K. Chakravorty, Strategic Thinker on Security Issues; and T. K. Arun, Senior Journalist, and Columnist. Ambassador Anil Trigunayat commenced the discussion by stating the fact that wars are evil. He opines that no war has ever brought peace and prosperity to any country and

Impact of climate change on Gujarat pastoralists' traditional livelihood

By Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Karen Pinerio* We are sharing a study[1] based learning on climate resilience and adaptation strategies of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat. There are two objectives of the study: (i) to examine the impact of climate on traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Gujarat state; and (ii) to explore and document the adaptation strategies of pastoralists in mitigating climate adversities, with a focus on the role of women in it. In order to meet these objectives, the research inquiries focused on how pastoralists perceive climate change, how climate change has impacted their traditional livelihood, i.e., pastoralism in drylands (Krätli 2015), and how these pastoral families have evolved adaptation strategies that address climate change (CC)/ variabilities, i.e., traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat state. Pastoralism is more than 5,000 years old land-use strategy in India; it is practised by nomadic (their entire livelihood r

Making Indian cities disaster, climate resilient: Towards actionable urban planning

By IMPRI Team  Three-Day Online Certificate Training Programme on “Making Indian Cities Disaster and Climate Change Resilient: Towards Responsive and Actionable Urban Planning, Policy and Development”: Day 1 A three day Online Certificate Training Programme on the theme “Making Indian Cities Disaster and Climate Change Resilient: Towards Responsive and Actionable Urban Planning, Policy and Development”, a joint initiative of the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) , Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, was held at the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. Inaugurating the session Ms. Karnika Arun, Researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panellists. Day 1 of the program included Prof Anil K Gupta, Head ECDRM, NIDM, New Delhi and Mr Tikender Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla; Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI as conveners, an

Gender gap: Women face disproportionate barriers in accessing finance

By IMPRI Team Women worldwide disproportionately face barriers to financial access that prevents them from participating in the economy and improving their lives. Providing access to finance for women is crucial for financial inclusion and, consequently, inclusive growth. To deliberate and encourage dialogue and discussion for growth, the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) of IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a web policy talk by Mr S. S. Bhat, Chief Executive Officer Friends of Women’s World Banking India, Ahmedabad on ‘Access to Finance for Women’ as a part of its series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps. The session was started by the moderator, Chavi Jain, by introducing the speaker and the discussants and inviting Prof. Vibhuti Patel to start the deliberation. Importance of access to finance for women Prof. Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI, New Delhi; Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, began by expre

Environment governance in small cities: Need for external intervention, capacity building

By IMPRI Team  The debate over environmental degradation has acquired substantial traction in recent years. Governments, civil communities and international organisations are all working to mitigate the environmental costs of economic expansion and growth. These reforms have also brought to light the concept of environmental governance in emerging towns, which refers to political changes aimed at influencing environmental activities and outcomes. It is under this backdrop that the #IMPRI Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted a talk on Small Cities and Environmental Governance in Gujarat and West Bengal: Need for External Intervention or Capacity Building? as a part of #WebPolicyTalk series- The State of Cities – #CityConversations on January 28, 2022. The talk was chaired by Dr Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, an Associate Professor, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan and a Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI, New Delhi. The