Eradicating Corruption: Beyond Cosmetic Measures

Kamal Sangra
Behind every great fortune lies a great crime– Honoré de Balzac
Vigilance Awareness Week is being observed by the Central Vigilance Commission since 2000 with a view to promote probity in public life and achieving a corruption free society. The week beginning October 27 shall see numerous activities revolving around this year’s theme: ‘Satark Bharat, Samriddh Bharat’ (Vigilant India, Prosperous India). The Central Vigilance Commission is of the considered view that corruption is a serious unethical practice that undermines trust and confidence in public officials and that public confidence can only be gained by promoting integrity in governance. Looking back, ‘Eradicate Corruption – Build a New India’ and ‘Integrity – A way of Life’ has been the theme of the Awareness Weeks in the year 2018 and 2019 respectively. Evidently, twenty years on, corruption continues to remain at the centre stage in Vigilance Awareness Week year after year.


Vigilance Awareness Week

This year the week coincides with some significant happenings globally and back home wherein the issues pertaining to corruption are being debated robustly. It has come at a time when abrogation of Article 370 and the newly formed Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh completes one year of their formation. Union Home Minister Amit Shah may be recalled having said that special status of the erstwhile state of J&K was the root cause of corruption. Globally, US elections are less than a fortnight away in which US President Donald Trump in his speeches has been attacking his Democratic challenger Joe Biden saying he is a ‘disaster’ and a ‘corrupt’ politician while Biden is charging Trump with the same.
Despite the fact that vigilance awareness week is being celebrated every year, corruption in different areas of administration has not shown any relent. J&K continue to rally amongst the top corrupt states and UTs in India and this ranking has not shown any downward trend though different political parties remained on the scene all this while. The reason is simple. The crusade against corruption continues to target and focus on the middle and lower rung tainted Government officials but the political-bureaucratic-business elite remain untouched.
Let’s take a stock of the efforts made by successive Chief Ministers in tackling the menace of corruption in J&K. Mufti Mohd Sayeed started the process of dismissing middle and lower ranks tainted government officials. Gulam Nabi Azad in 2007 called for a social sanction against people responsible for inducement of corruption and underlined the need for a legislation to deal with such elements. Omar Abdullah in January 2009 began by paying a surprise visit to police station Gandhi Nagar Jammu and suspended the Munshi for not updating the Roznamcha. Mehbooba Mufti dismissed 63 middle and lower ranks Government officials after being booked by anti-graft bodies in different cases. Former Governor N. N .Vohra in 2008 had expressed his concerns over the menace of corruption and had called for restoring the trust of the people in the administration by making it more transparent and corruption free. Ten years later, his successor Satya Pal Malik during his brief stint as Governor J&K showed his serious concern at every platform and admitted, “those in power, be it political, administrative or business live like Mughal emperor Jahangir and the poor mule owner of Kashmir even doesn’t have a sweater to wear.” He even called corruption as one of the main causes of terrorism.
One can infer that successive Heads of J&K though honestly felt concerned about the issue of corruption but, unfortunately, erred in their understanding of the Government’s role in eliminating the same. Almost everyone agrees that corruption is rampant but ignores to fix the fundamental responsibility of the same on the Government. Their rhetorical statements doesn’t soothe the sufferings of the commoners visiting patwarkhana, police stations, municipal offices, courts and other Government offices for their day to day needs where they encounter corrupt officials one way or the other.
The incumbent Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha too has observed that corruption free and transparent, accountable, people-centric governance is the priority of the present dispensation. There is no monosyllabic answer how he would ensure transparency and accountability in his desired people-centric governance but there is a thumb rule ‘corruption never takes place in isolation and it flows from top to bottom’ which he must keep in mind while formulating the policies and assessing the performance of the departments.
While considering the way forward, first and foremost, there must be a ‘Will’ to deliver and the crusade against corruption has to be ruthless irrespective of rank and the status of a person. With those having accumulated disproportionate wealth or misused their official positions in the past must be punished as there is no deterrence if past corrupts goes scot-free. We must bear in mind that a corrupt produces more corrupt and unpunished corrupt undermines public trust as well. The drastic reforms and legislations to fight corruption must be made as there has not been a single case of a politician, bureaucrat, businessman or a man in uniform who has been transparently investigated, effectively charge sheeted and fairly prosecuted in J&K.
It’s also important to bear in mind that corruption thrives in a legal flux; any lapse in investigation always go in favour of the corrupt. Almost all the 63 officials declared deadwood and prematurely retired by the Government few years back joined back after their termination orders were struck down by the courts on various grounds. Many tainted officials facing serious charges of corruption have even been elevated and given prime postings by successive Governments ignoring the honest and dedicated public servants.
Investigating agencies must bear in mind that big fishes always float in the influential and privileged deep water of power where politicians and bureaucrats have absolute discretion in the ‘decision’ making process in which middle and lower rung officials have no say at all. Making lower or middle rung officials as accused may give some media glare but the menace of corruption through the political-bureaucratic-business elite will continue to thrive. Had the previous dispensations gone beyond the cosmetic measures of handling corruption, we wouldn’t have had to ride on the bumpy roads, we wouldn’t have seen the bridges collapsing, we wouldn’t have seen elitists running to private hospitals for Covid-19 treatment, we wouldn’t have seen riches turning to fake NPAs for enjoying the loan settlements. There is still a hope but only if we succeed in going beyond the ritualism.