Forsaken in his own land

Joginder Singh ji
Former Director – CBI

Unchecked and uncontrolled, corruption continues to eat away at the innards of our country as a callous Government refuses to act against this deadly disease The extent of corruption and bribery, which are major problems in our country, is well known all over the world. A study done by Transparency International in India sometime back found that more than 50 per cent of the people had firsthand experience of paying bribes or peddling influence to get a job done in a public office. India has been ranked at 87 among the 178 most corrupt countries in the world with an integrity score of 3.3 out of 10 as against 3.5 in 2009.

Nothing moves in India without bribes being paid, a fact acknowledged even by the Supreme Court. About half of international business executives polled by Transparency International have said that corruption escalates project costs in India by at least 10 per cent — in some cases even more. Unchecked and uncontrolled, corruption has increased and spread farther — whether it be the Commonwealth Games, the 2G spectrum scandal or the Adarsh Cooperative Housing scam involving top Army brass. Those wanting to do business in India willingly or unwillingly have bribed Indians and jacked up prices. No businessman, whether an Indian or a foreigner, pays bribe unless he makes enough money out of the contract to pay for it.

Take for instance a reported scam in which the CBI has found evidence that Rs 100 crore was allegedly paid as kickbacks by a Russian firm, Technopromexport, to secure a Rs 2,066 crore contract. The 2005 contract was for the supply of power equipment to NTPC’s 1,980 MW supercritical thermal power project at Barh in Bihar.

In another case, a chargesheet filed by the CBI on the basis of information furnished by the US authorities to the Government of India in response to a letter rogatory reveals that a senior Union Government official and his aides were given $32,000 in cash and jewellery as bribes and their travel and hotel expenses were also
picked up by a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals, which took over Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, to push its sub-standard pesticides in the Indian market.

The the US Securities and Exchange Commission, in a ‘cease and desist’ order to Dow Chemicals on February 13, 2007, charged the company with violations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for letting a subsidiary use funds for illegal activities in a foreign country. The order was passed after Dow Chemicals voluntarily approached SEC staff with the results of an internal investigation. The SEC had simultaneously filed a complaint in the district court of Columbia against Dow Chemicals, alleging violations of the Securities Exchange Act. Dow Chemicals later agreed to pay a civil penalty of $ 325,000 which the SEC accepted.

In May this year, the Americans brought to the notice of the Prime Minister’s Office the details of US-based firms that have paid bribes to officials in the Indian Navy, Railways, Maharashtra State Electricity Board and other Government agencies in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Anti-Corruption Enforcement Act for the second half of 2008 and early part of 2009. There are several references in the report to illegal payments having been made to officials in India.

This state of affairs has brought disrepute to our nation. Part of the problem lies with our Government. All over the world outmoded, outdated, obsolete and archaic laws on all subjects, including corruption, have been changed. But we continue to stick to them.

Such is the situation that no centralised list of cases of corruption all over the country is available. Nor is any information available on the time taken to deal with these cases or their disposal rate, except those handled by the CBI. According to available statistics, the CBI handles about 1,200 to 1,300 cases of corruption, most of them against Union Government employees, every year.

Unrestrained corruption that is manifest in the various scams and scandals that keep on surfacing every few days is a sign of misgovernance. Cumbersome, exhausting procedures and rules are the causes of corruption; despite proclamations of zero tolerance towards corruption, these remain unchanged.

The criminal justice system is so slothful in our country that complainants and witnesses lose interest in cases and at some point these fall apart or are shelved. For instance, if a person helps track down corrupt officials by laying a trap, his or her money is locked up for years together till the case is decided in the courts. This is
done on the specious ground that the money used for entrapment is a part of the evidence in the case! In the process, the complainant faces double jeopardy: He is harassed by the system and his money is held up for years. All this for wanting to improve the quality of administration. Hence, few are willing to step forward to lodge complaints of corruption against officials. What adds to this reluctance is the absence of a whistle blower and witness protection laws.

Strangely, the Government has no problems with spending Rs 70,000 crore on the scam-tainted Commonwealth Games held in Delhi in October, but it says there are no funds for improving the criminal justice system which would cost not even a third of the money spent on the 11- day extravaganza.

A report covering 2006-2007 shows that in the previous three years foodgrains worth Rs 31,500 crore were siphoned off from the public distribution system, turning it into a state-sponsored bonanza for black marketeers, corrupt babus, ration shop owners and others.

Of the eight north-eastern States there, wheat supplied to Sikkim, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Assam did not reach the targeted poor. Arunachal Pradesh can claim to be a little less corrupt as 96.2 per cent of its PDS wheat was diverted. Manipur topped the list with 97.7 per cent of its rice allocation being siphoned off, with Nagaland following close behind at 88.6 per cent of rice being diverted.

In 2006-07, Rs 3,289.71 crore worth of rice and wheat was stolen in Uttar Pradesh. The corresponding figure for West Bengal was Rs 1,913.76 crore and for Madhya Pradesh it was Rs 1,038.69 crore. This is apart from letting foodgrains rot in Government godowns rather than give them to the poor.

Unless the Government wakes up and acts now, it may prove to be too late and we, as a society and a nation, will be consumed by the cancer of corruption. Ironically, the level and extent of corruption continue
to jump from one high to another in a country whose people and politicians make a fetish of Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of honesty and integrity in public life. Are we then to believe India has forsaken Gandhi?