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14 February, 2011

Tracking corruption at top

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

There are hopeful developments on the anti-corruption front. Prodded by the Supreme Court, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is pursuing cases against political leaders with some vigour. For the time, a former state minister faces the possibility of having to spend a year in jail.

Corruption of different kinds afflicts traditional and modern societies. In India, where the old and the new coexist, both kinds of corruption exist.

The corruption stories making big headlines in the media these days reveal graft of the kind that is familiar in the modern societies. They involve siphoning off of resources to corporate entities.

Corruption of this kind has grown alarmingly since India, under prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, took to the path of economic liberalisation in 1991. Some captains of Indian industry who figure in the Forbes list of the rich are beneficiaries of this trend.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, the constitutional authority mandated to look into government spending, reported last year that the manner in which the government allocated 2G spectrum to mobile companies had resulted in a loss of Rs1,760 billion. He is now examining a deal between the Indian Space Research Organisation’s commercial subsidiary and a private company floated by a former ISRO official, which, according to media reports, has inflicted an even greater loss. The deal gives the private operator free access to costly S-band spectrum.

At government establishments, including hospitals and police stations, citizens often encounter corruption of another kind. This involves having to pay bribes to get services which they are entitled to get free of cost. This kind of corruption hurts the poor directly and immediately. Transparency International’s India chapter, which studied the working of 11 government services, including the police, three years ago, estimated that people living below the poverty line paid over Rs9 billion annually as bribes to get basic need-based services.

Throughout the country the police was thought to be the most corrupt department and primary school education the least corrupt, it said.

The burden of corruption at higher levels also falls mainly on ordinary folks since manufacturers and distributors routinely transfer their costs to the consumers. However, people do not realise that the bribe component is also worked into the prices they pay. When the government bestows concessions on companies, normally they do not pass the benefit on to the consumer.

Unlike the other major countries of Asia like China, Japan and South Korea, India has a poor record in tracking down corruption at the top. Narasimha Rao, who was tried after he laid down office, was found not guilty. A Supreme Court judge who was impeached got away as members of parliament, voting according to party dictates, gave a majority verdict in his favour.

Against this background, the ongoing CBI investigations hold out some hope of action. Former Central minister A Raja and senior officials who worked with him were arrested recently in connection with the 2G scam. The net is closing in on Suresh Kalmadi, who was chief organiser of the Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi, and his close associates.

Raja is a leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which is Tamil Nadu’s ruling party and a constituent of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance which wields power at the Centre. Kalmadi is a leader of the Congress party.

The CBI, the premier investigative agency of the country, is directly under the prime minister. Opposition parties have alleged that it is often guided by political considerations. The Supreme Court’s monitoring of highly sensitive cases has limited the scope for political interference in the investigation.

Last week, the apex court awarded a year’s rigorous imprisonment to Kerala Congress (B) leader R Balakrishna Pillai in a case relating to the period when he was the state’s power minister. He is the first minister in the country to be given a jail term by the highest court of the land. His party is a constituent of the Congress-led United Democratic Front, which is now in the opposition.

Sukh Ram, a former Union Communication Minister, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on corruption charges by the trial court two years ago. The last word in that case is still a long way off. His appeal is now before the high court. If he loses there, he can go to the Supreme Court. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 14, 2011,

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