Corruption in India and the role of the investigative agencies
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S. Gurumurthy, B.R. Lall, A.K. Doval

‘Let every politician declare publicly that he is honest – he can then be faulted for being corrupt: That is the first step!’

The above statement was the core of the message on corruption in public life that Shri S. Gurumurthy put across during his discussion on the 2G Spectrum Scam. It would not suffice, he indicated, to merely lament the state of things, as a first step a proactive citizenry must instead compel its elected public representative to state publicly that he (she) is honest. It is only when such a declaration is made that the elected representative can be questioned, taken to task and faulted whenever he (she) indulges in corrupt practices. This activism was an essential pre-requisite for creating an ethical-moral binding force in the nation’s public life.

While welcoming the distinguished panelists and members of the audience Shri Ajit Doval, Director, Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) said corruption is not just about exchange of money but at a deeper level it is a poison that contaminates all systems. A corrupt internal security agency and corrupt police system increases the load on civil society. Corruption is one virus that has a negative impact on all developmental initiatives and projects thus affecting large numbers. It becomes much worse when the virus reaches at the most critical levels of governance and decision making is regulated and influenced by the power of money – that is what the country is witnessing at a massive scale. Corruption is the biggest contributor to the country’s security vulnerability. It is also a major a contributor to our non-development even where there exists resources, expertise and technology because the right type of people with integrity are not in the right place.

Shri S. Gurumurthy discussing the 2G scam began saying that corruption is very powerful. Highlighting the issue of how investigating agencies are used with impunity and how it becomes a crime to pursue the corrupt he gave a personal example of the day when he was arrested by the CBI - and made the observation that here was a case of the corrupter getting him arrested by the very agency which was supposed to pursue him.

  • Today, he said, the corrupter has emerged more powerful than any agency that can pursue the corrupt and a systemic deficiencies to pursue corruption is the manifestation of the corrupt over the system.
  • And also referring to the judiciary he said of all forms of corruptions in the country – judicial corruption inflicts the most serious damage to institutions of anti-corruption and you cannot even talk of it.
  • He made the observation that corruption had eaten into the vitals of this country right up to the Supreme Court of the land and it required great levels of high moral standards by at least one newspaper or institution to take the issue head on.
  • He saw the institutionalisation of corruption happen the day in 1983 when the then Prime Minister made a remark that corruption was a global phenomena and that nothing could really be done about it. In fact the remark led the Delhi High Court to observe that if the leaders of the country talked in such a manner how corruption could be tackled. But it did serve an end because from then onward till 1987 corruption could be made into an issue.
  • In support of his observation that all politicians must be asked to swear and declare publicly that they are honest and then faulted if they act dishonesty, he said, it was because in 1984 the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi declared that he was honest that he could be brought to task, questioned and exposed in the 1987 Bofors case. Had he not conceded his honesty in the beginning corruption with him could have never become an issue? Today, the problem is that no politician claims he is honest and therefore he can never be faulted and corruption can never really become an issue. The first step therefore in the battle of tackling corruption was to make politicians declare before citizens that they are honest.
  • Post-liberalisation corruption in this country has acquired a much wider and subtler meaning. And the scale has undergone change. And one of the worrying trend is that the media which is supposed to act as a vigilante against corruption is itself becoming a part as a key actor – several media houses regularly lobby on behalf on interest groups. This reflects the depth of corruption.
  • Unfortunately no newspaper can afford to fully expose corruption as it will have serious economic consequences for the paper.
  • Shri S. Gurumurthy then gave a detailed exposition of the 2G scam, its various stages of development, various actors, power-brokers and interest groups and said it was basically the loot of national resources to the extent of thousands of crores.
  • One of the revelation that emerges from scams such as these - the issue of networking at various levels – nobody seems to be beyond reach, nobody is beyond capacity to be bought and the reach, extent, the definition of corruption has become the peddling of power at various levels. The media, for obvious reasons is silent, it cannot proceed beyond a certain point because advertising is involved and its loss is the biggest pinch. So they divert the attention on focusing on other problems and allow the intensity to dilute.
  • The entire political system seems to be compromised with no practically no political party being the exception. And there is no newspaper, no Ramnath Goenka to pursue corruption relentlessly for nearly five years in face of an onslaught of charges, false cases and imprisonment.

Referring to points and questions made by the members of the audience Shri S. Gurumurthy reiterated the point that in 1983 the Prime Minister of the country through her statement rationalized corruption and thus no charges could be brought against any person. That is why the first task of the public was to make the politicians swear that they are not corrupt, they must be made to declare in front of televisions that they are honest, it must be said before the people – let them first say that and then corruption will be an issue. Today corruption does not become an issue because nobody says he is honest. Even a dishonest and wrong man wishes to be seen as good because goodness is respected in society. Today, he observed, goodness is ceasing to be respected and wrong qualities are being tolerated and ‘we are legitimizing corruption by not asking people to profess that they are honest even when they are dishonest. Today to be corrupt is not a matter of dishonour, an MLA or MP who comes for votes must asked “will you declare in public you are an honest man”. We must start with this. A man who says he is honest will be caught if he is dishonest.

Shri B.R. Lall talking about the role of investigation agencies in combating said that the condition was indeed extremely critical. Discussing the economics of corruption through elaborate statistics and figures he said that there 84 major scams in the country in the last six decades and no investigation on these has reached the logical end of conviction. He highlighted the fact that a number of countries had legislated stringent laws to deter and tackle corruption. He cited the example of George Washington who had got the Public Servants Integrity Act passed strengthening laws against corruption in public life. He argued that Prime Minister Lee of Singapore did the same thing nearer our times as did Hong Kong in 1974 but India failed to take any such measures. Referring to the 1951 A.D.Gorwala Committee Report on administrative reforms he said the report contained 26 pages on integrity by public servants and confirmed the point that corruption was an issue in this country as far back as 1951. Talking of the 1963 Santhanam Committee Report on Corruption he pointed out that the committee had recommended the strengthening of the legal framework to bring serious offences to task. It has listed eight such offences – e.g. evasion of taxes, misusing of positions by public servants to award contracts, black marketeering, adulteration etc. But no laws have been enacted to control and those that exist are not stringent enough. In the last 60 years the stringent laws have been diluted. The following points emerged from his discourse on the topic:

  • Unfortunately for this country the investigating agencies are the command of the executive and ironically it is against the executive that it has often to launch investigations on issues of corruption.
  • The realization that they taking on the higher-ups will serve no purpose and the process shall inevitable lead to a dead end develops in the investigating officers a certain diffidence, demoralisation and paralyses his functioning.
  • When it comes to the powerful and mighty in this country the investigation is not allowed to go very far. From the word go itself immense effort is made to scuttle the whole process – statements are recorded leaving gaps that allow the offender and his cohorts to get away, searches are not conducted as searches make it difficult to escape, time is given for the evidence to be tampered with and if a chargesheet is filed sanction for prosecution is almost never given. Repeated bail applications are made even after remand orders in order to hamper and delay the investigation
  • Mr. Lall saw the very crucial issue of judicial delay as an informal conspiracy of the judiciary with criminals.

In conclusion he made certain suggestions to stem the rot:

  • First was freeing the investigating agencies from the clutches of the executive
  • Making more stringent the existing laws on corruption. Present corruption laws provide for punishment for a maximum period of three years.
  • A reassessment of the judiciary is called for. Unfortunately the judiciary does not allow a re-evaluation of itself and insists on running the show following the old rut. Such a re-look is necessary in order to stem judicial delays.

During the interventions Shri J.S.Rajput, former Director, NCERT made the point that emphasis on value education was an extreme and urgent imperative. Unless a long term strategy is evolved in this regard from the primary and secondary education stages nothing will really change he argued. He called for the implementation of the recommendations of the 1999 S.B.Chavan Committee on Value Education. Professor Kapil Kumar of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) vocally highlighted the issue of corruption in the country’s educational sector.

Event Date 
June 25, 2010
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