Should we worry about graft in India?
Fighting corruption has emerged as a key development issue, writes Mohammad Ansari.india Updated: Apr 11, 2007 19:03 IST
Corruption has many meanings, but generally it entails misusing one's office for a private gain or unofficial end. It involves both a monetary and non-monetary benefit. Bribery, extortion, influence peddling, nepotism, scams, fraud, grease money, and opportunism readily spring to mind. The main forms of corruption are bribery, embezzlement, fraud and extortion.
India's rate of economic growth in the nineties has been the highest in the last 50 years, but there are signs that it is slowing. Experts think the country could have done better had it not been for widespread corruption in its system. According to Transparency International, Corruption Perception Index, India has been continuously ranked as one of the most corrupt country in the world. Let's understand corruption as faced by the common man in India in every sector whether it is police, education, health, power, land administration, taxation, judiciary, ration, railways and telecom.
Fighting corruption has emerged as a key development issue in India in recent years. More and more policymakers, businesses, civil society organisations and also media, have begun to confront the issue openly. A number of factors explain this growing emphasis on fighting corruption. Expansion and consolidation of democracy at the grassroots level has enabled citizens to use the vote and newfound civil liberties to confront corruption, prompting leaders and opposition figures to show a stronger anti-corruption commitment.
Internationally, since the end of the cold war, donor governments have focused less on ideological grounds for foreign assistance and concentrated more on trade and development, both of which are undermined by corruption. Countries with high levels of corruption, like India, have found themselves less able to attract investment and aid in a competitive global market. At the same time, business within the country has faced stiffer competition with the globalisation of trade and capital markets, and has become less willing to tolerate the expense and risk associated with corruption.
There is little doubt that corruption in present-day India pervades all levels and all services, not even sparing the Indian Administrative Service and judicial service. The bureaucracy of the British India was considered to be largely untainted with corruption. Compulsions of electoral politics in independent India changed this image and the administrative as well as the police and judicial services came to be charged with colluding with the political leadership to indulge in systemic corruption, making a mockery of democratic governance.
The scams and scandals of the nineties revealed that among the persons accused of corruption were former prime ministers, former chief ministers, and even former governors. India's experience with corruption has shown that laws, rules, regulations, procedures and methods of transaction of government business, however sound and excellent cannot by themselves ensure effective and transparent administration if the political and administrative leadership entrusted with their enforcement fails to do so and abuses its powers for personal gain.
The widespread practice of corruption can be attributed, directly or indirectly, to the strength or weakness of the socio-political and legal systems in the country in question. Studies have pointed out that corruption does not flourish in countries with a stronger legal system that incorporates the principles of accountability and transparency. This indicates that the absence of accountability, transparency or existing inefficiency of the law enforcement bodies and the judiciary offer fertile grounds for its growth.
Corruption is also often imported by multinationals, foreign investors, and expatriates. They introduce it at all levels of governments, in order to expedite matters or secure a beneficial outcome. In international negotiations, it has become common to companies to wine, dine, entertain and bribe officials, especially across international borders, to obtain business both illegally and unfairly. Low pay of officials; absence of incentives for efficient and honest performances; high tax structures/customs duties; prevalence of contract systems, practice of offering concessions/waivers; unchecked election expenses; vote-buying; very inefficient management of the queue system; absence of effective information, monitoring systems and above all, the utter lack of collective political and public will and bold initiatives to check the monster, help corruption get entrenched in our systems and harm ordinary citizens and their rights to development and prosperity.
India is undoubtedly the political leadership at the helm of affairs in the country. From this fountainhead of corruption flow various streams of corrupt practices, which plague the political, economic and social activities in the country. The post-independence political leadership has risen from the grassroots level in the form of regional, caste, linguistic and other protest movements. They have transformed the nature of politics and administration. Amoral politics, self-aggrandisement, disregard of the constitutional norms in the pursuit of power, political survivals at any cost are their rules of the game. They interfere with the administration of justice and have bent bureaucracy to do their bidding. The judicial system is so expensive, dilatory, and inefficient that it takes years and years for corruption cases to be decided.
In present day India, corruption has found an acceptance in the social psyche and behaviour. Social evils like bribery, nepotism and favoritism have come to be accepted in the society. People often approach someone known to them for favours, which they know, are not legally due to them. Jumping the traffic lights or a queue or getting the benefits not due to one has become part of social ethos. A person who has acquired wealth through unfair means is often accorded the same, if not higher, status in Indian society as that given to persons of excellence.
Whatever the people may say in coffee houses or in seminars, they show awe and respect to the corrupt. Such people are repeatedly elected or appointed to positions of power, and they go on to distribute the spoils of office to their near and dear ones. This group psyche is very infertile soil for public morality. In the ultimate analysis the corrupt politician or the corrupt administrator is a creation of the public and is a concrete manifestation of the psychologically corrupt men in the street with whose approval corruption flourishes with impunity. It is no surprise, therefore, that at times the corrupt political leaders walk majestically to the court and acknowledge their supporters' greetings as if they were to receive award for public service.
In the final analysis, the octopus of corruption has spread its ugly tentacles over the whole India and as a result, the corruption endemic commands a reprehensible country presence. The undeniable fact, therefore, is that, corruption cannot be reckoned as a mere country or region specific problem; it is far wider phenomenon now. Whether developed or developing nation, corruption is omnipresent; may be with varying force and venality.
Experience has shown us that existence and spread of evils in any society is bound to harm the well-being and growth of such societies. Corruption is one such evil, the mere existence of which can bring havoc to any society. We have to understand that the voice of corruption is capable of being more dangerous than the viruses of HIV/AIDS. It affects the economy and destroys the cultural heritage. Unless nipped in the bud, it is likely to cause turbulence shaking of the socio-economic political system in an otherwise healthy, wealthy, effective and vibrating society.
People have to be put on high alert that the collapse of humanity's very existence in health, order and peace is imminent, if the spread of corruption is not controlled effectively and early.
Mohammad Isa Ansari is a social scientist with Intercontinental Consultants & Technocrats (ICT) Pvt Ltd. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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