Addressing Corruption: Beyond the Rituals

Kamal H Saangra

Behind every great fortune lies a great crime-Honore de Balzac

As we conclude the Vigilance Awareness Week (VAW) 2022 today, we need to ask some basic fundamental questions? What has really changed in last twenty two years that Vigilance Awareness Week has been in existence or if at all there has been any change? Do we continue to beat around the bush without addressing the core issues bringing the week to mere annual ritual?
I certainly do not wish to be pessimistic for those at the helm of affairs including the Prime Minister and the Lieutenant Governor of the UT of J&K have been out rightly voicing their concerns.
The Prime Minister recently issued a stern warning that no person or institution indulging in corruption will be spared showing unflinching support to anti-corruption agencies. “If you are working for the welfare of the country, there is no need to live with guilt. When you take action with conviction, the whole nation stands with you,” he reiterated while addressing the “Vigilance Awareness Week” organised by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi.


Back home, we saw some practical action on the ground by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha in July and August this year while he ordered the cancellation of a selection list for the appointment of 1200 sub inspectors, finance account assistants, and junior engineers and referred the matter to the CBI for investigation into the entire recruitment process. Further, in his Independence Day speech this year, he also urged people to take a pledge to make the Union Territory Nasha-Mukt (free of drugs), Bhrashtachar-Mukt (corruption free), and Rozgar Yukt (employable). Sinha also shared the administration’s decision to celebrate August 5 as ‘Freedom from Corruption Day’ every year in J&K and that the continuous drives against the corruption shall be carried out throughout the year. While speaking on Vigilance Awareness Week, Manoj Sinha said that taking financial items is not the only means of corruption; delaying genuine public work is a more serious form of corruption than financial one.
Undoubtedly, Manoj Sinha’s administration has taken some concrete steps for providing robust service delivery mechanisms and increasing citizen’s participation in governance at various levels like the shifting to e-offices, implementation of the Jammu and Kashmir human resource management system (JKHRMS), monthly progress reports of each employee, making online filing of property returns compulsory for all employees, requiring biometric attendance in all offices, the Jammu and Kashmir Public University Bill, 2022, etc. Further, addressing the issue of anonymous and pseudonymous complaints against public servants has given a big relief to the honest and dedicated employees for which the office of the LG deserves all appreciation. However, these decisions are more of a step towards good governance and do not really ensure transparency and accountability, particularly in the decisions taken at the top in mega projects, in which the citizen’s participation is minimal.
What has so far been done about the big scams that are very much in public eye today? Understandable that a corrupt is a corrupt but how come, that we catch a corrupt patwari taking a few thousands and let go of someone causing the loss running in hundreds of crore to the bank and corresponding unlawful gain to self. A mere notice, an Ishtihar is what we can place on the defaulter’s gate and consider the action taken. Are we trying to befool public? For the sake of reference, let me bring upon what I deciphered in one of my write-ups in 2021. An ex-Chief Minister’s sister cheated upon one of the leading banks in J&K causing a loss to the tune of ?8 crore to the lending bank. The housing loan was to be repaid in 8 years with a monthly installment of ?7.65 lakh. The said housing loan was shortly turned NPA. To date, the borrower has repaid nearly ? 2 crore, and the outstanding balance, including the unapplied interest has crossed over ?10 crore. Even today, the status of the said loan is the same, and the bank is okay with this daylight robbery covered up by the management of the bank as “non-performing assets.” The question is, can we address these issues and restore the trust of the public in the system?
The point is that the sum total of corruption having taken place at the lowest strata of administration in whole UT is less than one big corporate loan, which becomes an NPA not by the act of God but by the arbitrary discretion exercised by the management of the bank.
It is an uphill task for Manoj Sinha’s administration to eradicate the menace of corruption for six reasons. One, citizens have conceived that corruption has become structural in the UT of J&K. Second, there is a serious dearth of investigative journalism. Third, corruption was never a political issue in J&K. Fourth, there is not one instance where anyone of significance in the political class or in the bureaucracy has been successfully booked without having his or her FIR quashed by the court or their conviction upheld on appeal. Fifth, elites par excellence are enjoying wealth, power, and authority no matter which party is in power, and sixth, there is absolutely no pressure from the civil society, the media, or within the bureaucracy on the government to act against corruption involving the high and mighty. In the absence of the above, this land of temples and shrines has become the perfect breeding ground for the corrupt.
Hopefully the present dispensation will focus on delivery but until and unless the age old business-political-bureaucratic nexus is dwindled and punished, corruption is here to stay. The LG administration must ensure three preconditions for the fight against corruption: political will, transparency, and accountability. But selective accountability and selective transparency are a deadly combination. It will only breed more corrupt.
While I do not in any way undermine the importance of generating awareness against corruption through seminars, debates, and discussions along with the mass use of social media, public in general need some practical actions and lessons. The day we will muster the courage to bulldoze an asset of a high and mighty that is disproportionate to his/her income, the day we will be able to remove a high and mighty for the misuse of official position, we will be setting an example for the public at large and moving towards corruption free environs.
(The writer is a free lancer)