Our corrupt babus

Joginder Singh ji
(Former Director -CBI )

A Hong Kong-based political and economic risk consultancy, which conducted a survey of 12 Asian economies recently, says that Singapore’s civil servants are the most efficient among their Asian peer, though they tend to clam up unhelpfully when things go wrong.
The survey ranked India’s “suffocating bureaucracy” as the least-efficient. The appraisal said that working with Indian civil servants was a “slow and painful” process. That the bureaucrats are a power-centre in their own right, at both the national and state levels, and are extremely resistant to reforms that affect them or the way they go about their duties. The survey’s ranking in descending order of efficiency was: Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, China, Philippines, Indonesia and India.
This is in conformity with the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2008, prepared by Transparency International, which ranked India as the 74th most corrupt country among the 180 countries of the world.
The government is by far the biggest culprit and contributes a large part to the staggering backlog of civil suits, over 10 million at last count, clogging the courts. The Centre, states and public sector companies determinedly appeal every adverse verdict despite winning only a small minority.
The extent of government involvement in litigation was acknowledged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a conference of chief ministers and Chief Justices in 2004. He revealed that a sample survey conducted in Karnataka found that in 65 per cent of civil cases, the government was a litigant, sometimes on both sides, and that “government litigation crowds out the private citizen from the court system”.
The Prime Minister, in the same speech, also confirmed that the Karnataka survey found that most of the government’s litigation was in the form of appeals and that 95 per cent of government appeals fail. He observed: “In a way, they are appeals that shouldn’t have been made in the first place”.
There is little reason to assume that things have changed since then. In fact, the Chief Justices of India themselves have drawn attention to government litigiousness on numerous occasions.
Incidentally, the Law Commission also observed nearly three decades ago that there was much avoidable litigation by the state. It exposed many instances where the judges found that citizens were compelled to litigate because of the “utter indifference” of the government, where government pursued litigation on “frivolous” grounds, as a “matter of prestige” or with an attitude of “vengeance” or “callousness bordering on vendetta”, displaying “arrogance and a superiority complex”. About the officials responsible for avoidable litigation, the Law Commission said that “the lack of accountability of the officer in whom the power vests to initiate litigation or perpetuate the same by preferring appeal, is largely responsible for mounting litigation …cases are not unknown where corrupt motives may be at the root of the tendency to continue litigation so as to exhaust the other side in the fond hope that he/she may, out of exasperation, be willing to grease palms”. There is a third independent cause generating this tendency to initiate or perpetuate litigation and that is to avoid taking decisions.
But, regrettably, even after such an incisive report, there does not seem to be any change in the profligacy of government litigation. India has seen major transformations in many areas during these years. But few of these changes have been in the government itself, and the colonial mindset that set the bureaucracy apart from and above the ordinary citizen still continues.
The Second Administrative Reforms Commission, headed by Union minister for law and justice M. Veerappa Moily, observed that bureaucracy in India is generally perceived to be “unresponsive, insensitive and corrupt” and a common complaint against it pertains to excessive red-tapeism.
It’s not that there is a lack of data or inputs as to how to make the bureaucracy more effective and responsive. It is because there is so much over-protection in the law that we seem to have reached a dead-end. It is not that the government does not know how to deal with the deadwood. It is just that it won’t. The government has the absolute power to sack anybody. But there is not a single case where an inefficient or a corrupt official has been shown the door. Everybody wants a government job, as it gives lifelong job security, whether you work or not. At the end, you get pension for life.
This is apart from the corruption which a vast majority of bureaucrats indulge in. As per the statistics, 24,130 cases, under the Prevention of Corruption Act, were pending trial in Indian courts at the end of 2007. A large number of them range between 15-20 years.
Incidentally, 153 of the newly-elected MPs have criminal cases pending against them.
Rajiv Gandhi once said, “Only Re 1 out of Rs 10 allocated to the poor is reaching them”. His son Rahul Gandhi, just before the 2009 elections, had said, “Only 10 paisa out of Rs 10 allocated to the poor is reaching them”. No amount of tall talk or big schemes is going to ameliorate the lot of the poor if all this money is to end with middlemen, bureaucrats, in a nexus with corrupt politicians.
The present laws have failed to either deter or prevent corruption and make India’s bureaucracy effective in its delivery system. The leaders should govern well and the lethargy and corruption should be weeded out by it, instead of waiting for the court judgments to come.
The government should put its own house in order before it can put the country in order. It should end the reign of clerk-o-cracy and substitute it with develop-o-cracy.