Transparency International defines corruption as an abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amount of money lost and the sector where it occurs. Corruption more often than not greases administrative wheels, benefitting only a few individuals or groups and in the long run is detrimental for the society. In the Modi era, high-profile corruption scandals would certainly appear to have come down. But has corruption disappeared? The answer is a big ‘no’.
N. Vittal, former Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) in his article ‘Combatting corruption’ writes, “....... I am aware of the challenge which the forces of corruption in our country pose to individuals and organisations who want to fight it. Everyone in India pays lip service to the principle of honesty. We belong to the land of Gandhiji for whom truth and non-violence were the fundamental principles of existence. Going back in time 2000 years, I quote the Vedic dictum, ‘satyam vadhadharmam charah’. Our nation’s motto is Satyameva Jayate. Therefore, at the level of lip service, we are all for truth and honesty. Our government believes that truth will prevail and all our religions advocate that we should tell the truth. But, the reality is that India is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.”
It is a universally accepted fact that corruption corrodes the fabric of society as it affects economic development in terms of economic efficiency and growth. It also affects equitable allocation of resources - increasing income inequalities and undermining the effectiveness of social welfare programmes and ultimately resulting in lower levels of human development. Corruption has a negative impact on the quality and quantity of public services.
In a country like ours petty corruption has an impact on people’s perception of corruption as it affects their daily lives, eating away public confidence in state institutions, democratic processes and government legitimacy. From getting a certificate to getting an application processed at a reasonable time, to treating a person being investigated leniently to wining contracts, the need to pay a ransom has become the common experience.
India scored 41 on Transparency Internationalʼs 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, which uses a scale that goes from zero, for highly corrupt, to 100, for very clean. And the country ranked 78 among 180 countries in Transparency International’s index on corruption in 2018. The way out of corruption is paved with good governance. Pursuing the path to good governance is often difficult and protracted.
But, there is no acceptable alternative. Since good governance is tightly linked to the fight against corruption, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan “Na khaoonga, na khaney doonga” (neither will I be corrupt nor will I allow anyone elseʼs corruption on my watch) was indeed inspiring.
But, the signals emanating from the system continues to be mixed, at best. For example, while since June this year, around 64 employees including commissioner-rank officers got compulsorily retired by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) on various charges, including corruption, there are civil servants who have been shunted out by political executives for carrying out their responsibilities diligently. For instance, Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Ashok Khemka, considered an upright officer, was transferred again recently, for the 53rd time in 28 years. This was his sixth transfer since 2014 when the current BJP government came to power.
Similarly, it’s no less inspiring when the central government reportedly asked over 40 ministries to send details of non-performing and corrupt officers for their compulsory retirement. But there has been little serious attempt to weed out deep-seated organised political or systematic corruption. Political funding is a case in point. Therefore, quelling mixed signals is an integral element of good governance.
India sadly continues to remain in a situation where many areas are steeped in endemic corruption, including those entrusted with controlling corruption itself: from the politicians who write the laws to the police charged with enforcing it.
Coming back to the good governance issue, in 1996, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) declared that “promoting good governance in all its aspects, including by ensuring the rule of law, improving the efficiency and accountability of the public sector and tackling corruption, [are] essential elements of a framework within which economies can prosper.”
It’s the lack of good governance that threatens rule of law, civil liberties and basic political rights. Promoting good governance and fighting corruption provides diverse range of perspectives on increasing transparency in public services. The intricacy of the challenges should compel governments to work with other stakeholders including the civil society to govern openly and fairly to improve governance and combat corruption.