It is a sad reflection of the state of affairs that we have to celebrate a week to be made aware that corruption is bad and needs to be weeded out.
It is that time of the year when all government departments and public sector undertakings (PSUs) are directed to observe Vigilance Awareness Week, the week in which the birthday of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (October 31) falls. This year, it begins on October 26.
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It is a sad reflection of the state of affairs that we have to celebrate a week to be made aware that corruption is bad and needs to be weeded out. That corruption is an ugly reality of life in India. Nothing exemplifies its extent better than the candid statement in the very first line of the mandatory pledge prescribed by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) - ‘I believe that corruption has been one of the major obstacles to economic, political and social progress of our country’.
It is worthwhile to recall the letter dated June 23, 2000, of the then Chief Vigilance Commissioner when the idea of a vigilance awareness week was first mooted. The letter mentions the UNDP Report on Human Development 1999 on South Asia. The report states if the corruption level in India goes down to that of Scandinavian countries, the gross domestic product (GDP) will grow by 1.5 percent and FDI will go up by 12 percent. While going on to say that corruption is anti-national, anti-poor and anti-economic development, the letter mentions that India has been ranked 73 out of 99 countries in the Corruption Perception Index.
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It would appear that very little has changed. The UNDP report on human development in 1999 ranked India at 110. As per the 2021 report, India is ranked at 131. And with regards to the Corruption Perception Index, we have fallen down to 86 with a score lesser than the global average.
Having said that it must be emphasised that the survey is only a perception index- the methodology is typically based on surveys conducted with MNCs and big businesses. This is a segment that generally knows the ropes, the system as it were. The results perhaps would have been worse had the survey been extended to the ordinary citizens who grapple with daily challenges.
So, we do have a lot of work to do and yes, unfortunately, need to be reminded about the dangers of corruption, about the need to fight it, about the need to eliminate it. Building integrity and curbing corruption are key elements in the fight.
How then do you develop integrity, which means doing the right thing irrespective of consequences, in yourself and in others? While education is a key requirement, religious values also contribute to character building, a person who will not stray from the right path.
But then ironies never cease. We are a nation of believers. As per the 2011 census, only 0.27 percent are atheists. And you would justifiably think that this would mean a society big on ethical values and morals is less corrupt.
As per the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion, and other illicit financial flows cost developing countries $1.26 trillion per year.
Prof. Arun Kumar, who has written extensively about black money in India, has suggested that the extent of black economy in the country is estimated to be 62 percent of the GDP-generating (at 2016-17 prices) about 93 lakh crore of revenue. To put matters in perspective, this is larger than the income generated by agriculture and industry put together which is about 39 percent of the GDP. Evasion of taxes or an acceptance of bribe are major contributors to the generation of black money. And, this is nothing but a lack of integrity and corruption at its most basic level.
On a larger macro level, transparency and democracy are vital antidotes against corruption. The preamble to the Right to Information Act, a major weapon against corruption, puts in succinctly. It highlights the need for an informed citizenry and transparency of information as being vital for the functioning of democracy and to hold governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed. And we would also need to notify, The Whistle-blowers Protection Act that was passed by both houses of Parliament in 2014. Neither of these is panaceas, which will ensure there is no corruption. It is just that it would make being corrupt a little bit difficult.
It is imperative that laws are clear and unambiguous. Compliance requirements and procedures should be simplified. The tendency of policymakers stipulating procedures with conditions that even the law does not envisage has to be curbed. And laws are meaningless unless effectively enforced-yet another ingredient in the fight.
Technology with an emphasis on faceless interaction with the authorities is essential. What this presupposes is that technology is simple, can be accessed by the ordinary citizen and works. Technology should facilitate and not become an impediment.
Every organisation should assess corruption risks. To ensure adequate checks are in place to prevent corruption. There is empirical evidence to suggest that corruption impinges economic growth. So, if we are to meet the goal of Aatmanirbharta, we would obviously need to control corruption.
To conclude with the words of the Prime Minister in his recent October 20 speech to the officers of the CVC and CBI, “ न्यायमूलं सुराज्यं स्यात् !’ That is, ‘suraj’ (good governance) is possible only when everyone gets justice. Corruption, whether small or big takes away the rights of someone or the other. It deprives the common citizen of the country of his rights, hinders the progress of the nation and also affects our collective energy as a nation. “
We would all need to join hands, both government and civil society, to collectively fight and curb this menace.
— Najib Shah is the former chairman of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs. The views expressed are personal
Read his other columns here
(Edited by : Kanishka Sarkar)