There are few experiences in history that demonstrate the self-transformation of corrupt societies into ‘cleaner’ ones. The case of Hong Kong is one such telling experience for India, though the two societies are dissimilar. Transparency International, the global corruption watchdog, has ranked Hong Kong 13 in its Corruption Perceptions Index, while India is ranked at 87, making the latter one of the most-corrupt nations. But Hong Kong wasn’t always a beacon of good governance.
Till four decades ago its administration was plagued by high levels of corruption. The early 70s saw a wave of community consciousness and widespread public resentment against corruption. Like the recent incidents of corruption galvanised Anna Hazare’s social movement in India, allegations of corruption against Peter Godber, chief police superintendent of Hong Kong, brought people, especially students, together to fight corruption.
The problem of corruption in India is one of absence of independent institutions to fight it. A major policy change is required to make anti-corruption initiatives effective. At present, the police and other law enforcement agencies pursue cases related to corruption. In many cases, there is an overlap of functions. Also, people involved in these cases are often simultaneously involved in other aspects of policing. If fighting corruption needs to be prioritised, it must be differentiated from maintaining law and order and investigating non-corruption-related cases.
In India, both central- and state-level agencies are entrusted with the task of fighting corruption. But, given the size of the country, there is an urgent need to re-examine the nature, scope, functions, jurisdiction, composition, and overlap of the powers of various law-enforcing bodies with a view to infuse a greater degree of transparency, accountability, autonomy and effectiveness in our fight against corruption.
Establishing an Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC), similar to the ICAC in Hong Kong, could be an effective way. The ICAC should be an autonomous institution and should not be under any ministry, including the Prime Minister’s Office. It should be established through an amendment to the Constitution, which will give it a constitutional status. Alternatively, it may be established by a separate legislation under the Lokpal Bill.
The powers, functions and independence of the ICAC should be in conformity with the guarantees provided to the Election Commission of India. The process of the appointment of the members of the ICAC should be similar to the one used to appoint members to the National Human Rights Commission. But it needs to put greater emphasis on the participation of civil society. The work of the ICAC should be limited to cases of corruption of some significance either in terms of financial implications and their impact on the administration or abuse of power. But while its independence from government agencies and politicians is crucial, it’s equally important to ensure that the ICAC doesn’t lack accountability. Thus, the need for a foolproof system of checks and balances through an independent board of the ICAC.
There is also a need to strengthen the human rights machinery, as the efforts of the ICAC to curb corruption can potentially infringe upon human rights, which can lead to politicisation. Selective or partial enforcement of the law violates the principle of equality and non-discrimination, and threatens the foundations of the rule of law. We need the ICAC to protect India and Indians against the scourge of corruption.
C Raj Kumar is the vice chancellor of OP Jindal Global University and dean, Jindal Global Law School, Haryana. The views expressed by the author are personal.