Imagine the India that can be without corruption. It may sound far-fetched. However, I strongly believe that if appropriate reforms in our political and bureaucratic systems are made, India can be free of at least the pervasive corruption about which everyone, including readers of Hindustan Times, are familiar.
Politicians, including chief ministers, are found with wealth accumulation of unprecedented magnitude. Bureaucrats, including chief secretaries are reported in newspapers of similarly amassing vast quantities of undeclared land, money and other assets. Any ordinary citizen who has to deal with any administrative or government office for even the simplest of task reports about corruption.
What is particularly striking in India is that despite the great progress that we have made in ensuring freedom of speech and media, the prevalence of corruption is accepted in our daily lives as unavoidable.
Looking ahead, as part of the laudable initiative taken by this newspaper about the India of the future and what can be done with effective leadership, I believe that, all of us, whatever our professions, should deliberate on what can be done to eliminate acceptance and prevalence of corruption, particularly political and bureaucratic corruption.
I should emphasise that the demand for corruption creates its own supply. If corruption is demanded, those who supply it from industry, trade and other professions generally can have access to unintended benefits.
In thinking about what can be done, the first priority to my mind is to reduce the powers that we confer on the political and administration in all spheres of the economy. It is true that controls have been lifted, the economy has been liberalised and trade opened up. Yet, according to all surveys, including the recent one by the World Bank on doing business, India ranks at the bottom of the lead table. The reason for this is, while macro-level constraints and controls have been reduced, at the micro level there is nothing that can be practically done, (except perhaps telephone calls), without approval of multiple agencies of the government, which in turn are controlled by the politicians, on the ground that they are elected representatives of the people.Political supervision over policy matters that are of concern to the people is certainly desirable and necessary. It is, however, not clear, why, say land allotment, location of industries or preferential treatment in terms of power should be decided at the level of political authorities.
It is also not clear why an independent supervisory network for public sector undertakings that are dominant in certain sectors cannot be created with due accountability with the committees of parliament and the state assemblies. In other words, accountability may be made to a collective body of representatives rather than to individuals who head different ministries and take specific decisions in all areas.
Anybody familiar with our bureaucratic system will testify that on any matter of importance, multiple ministries and administrative departments are involved, resulting in enormous delays. My favourite example in this regard is that if there was a proposal to set up a sports facility for young students of rural and urban areas, it would require the approval of at least 10 ministries including the ministries of women and child welfare, social empowerment, rural development, urban development and sports, in addition to, of course, the finance ministry and the planning commission.
Is it not possible to reduce this quagmire and assign specific responsibilities to a particular ministry with respect to different classes of people to whom the programme is likely to be beneficial? There are many, many areas where reforms can be brought about including taxation, adherence to various laws and filing of returns of various kinds. In most of these areas, self-certification would provide a workable and more effective alternative.
Let me stop here. I share the view that India is likely to emerge as one of the most dominant and fastest growing economies in the world. I also share the view that it will be an economic challenge before us for removal of poverty, providing of social security and generating faster employment.
At the same time I believe that if India is to realize its full potential, bringing about institutional reforms to reduce the demand and supply of corruption would be an important challenge for the future.
(Bimal Jalan, Rajya Sabha member and former RBI governor, is one of India’s best-known economists)