This debate takes place at a time when a popular movement against corruption has provided us with a historic challenge. The message of these extra-Parliamentary protests is loud and clear. India is no longer willing to accept corruption as a way of life. India expects the Parliament to take effective steps so that corruption and graft in society can be eliminated.
There is a crisis of credibility. The credibility of Government is at an all time low. People are losing faith in the Government. It is therefore time for us to seriously introspect. We must restore the credibility of politics and governance. We must eliminate discretions and wage a war on corruption. Time has come to penalize the corrupt so that there is a deterrent against it.When de-licensing took place and controls were eliminated, one expected that with the role of Government coming down, corruption would be eliminated. Unfortunately, it did not happen. The expansion of economic activity, expanded the areas and quantum of corruption. Land became a major source of corruption. From acquisition to release, to change of Land users, to sanction townships, discretions in relation to land became major source of corruption.
Mining transferred a natural resource, belonging to the people, into a few hands. Taxes and royalties were meager. The ‘First Come First Serve’ policies in relation to mining, placed these resource in the hands of those, who traded in minerals rather than use it for value addition. Allocation of natural resources like Spectrum, Oil and Gas, allotment of tenders and contracts in relation to highways, ports and other areas became matters of Government discretion. The exercise of discretion gave way for arbitrariness and corruption. Private sector education expanded the base of education but resulted in huge capitation fees, in disciplines where the capacity was scarce. Allotment of liquor contracts was another area where corruption flourished. In the environment of corruption and graft, dealing with revenue departments, municipalities, ration department became a nightmare for citizens.
Other institutions: Institutional health, in terms of integrity, suffered. Accountability norms in judiciary are much lower than needed. Paid news has corrupted a section of the media, which was originally intended to safeguard public interest. Investigative agencies like the CBI are now used for political purposes. There are innumerable cases where investigations are used for political purposes.
Sixty four years after independence, we are still far from a mature and transparent method of political funding. Even though donations to the political parties was incentivized by tax breaks, a large part of the politics of the world’s largest democracy is funded through black money.
The UPA rule: The track record of the UPA Government has worsened governance. It inducted tainted ministers. It got CBI to collude with the BOFORS investigations. The cash for Oil coupons in the Volcker case brought discredit to the Government. Two continuous votes of confidence succeeded in Parliament on account of monetary influences. The 2G scam remained covered up for three years, and it shook the public consciousness. The CWG and its accompanied corruption shocked the public mind.
The enormity of corruption, in the UPA Government is directly proportionate to the public anger that resulted in the enormity of protests that ensued. Instead of addressing the problem, when Round one of Anna’s fast took place, the Government practiced deception on the Civil Society. After the initial dialogue, they discarded team Anna, and brought out a Ministers’ draft. The Ministers’ draft lacked vision. If this draft had been reasonable, the problem of this enormity would not have occurred. Why was the appointment mechanism tilted in favour of the Government so as to rig the appointment of Lok Pal. It was logical to include the Prime Minister without his national security and public order functions in the Lok Pal. Some states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have drafted citizens’ grievances mechanism. Why should the Government be reluctant to adopt such a mechanism? There is a strong rationale to make the CBI and CVC independent. How can the Government alone have the power to remove the inconvenient Lok Pal.? This power should be with the Supreme Court or through an impeachment process. Why should the whistleblowers not get protection? Why there should not be special bench in every High Court to deal with corruption cases? Why should the punishment to a complainant who makes false complaint be higher than the punishment accorded to the guilty for corruption? How do you include NGOs, which are not funded by the Government into the ambit of the Lok Pal? These are all serious defects of the draft, which after consultations with the political parties, should be rectified provided everyone bears in mind that the final bill should be compatible to the Constitution of India.
Today Anna Hazareji’s fast has entered the 9th day. His health has steadily deteriorated. We are all concerned. Its high time the Government put its act together and arrive at a mutually acceptable position that inspires confidence of the public.