“Corruption refers to the act of misuse and abuse of power especially by those in the government for personal gains either pecuniary or a favour”. Corruption in public life is a means of obtaining personal benefit through illicit means and the abuse of public office and property. People in the public and private sectors employ corrupt methods and unfair methods to complete a variety of large and minor tasks. This is because people desire to make a lot of money without putting in a lot of effort. The menace of corruption is pervasive in India, from petty bribes demand by the policemen to multi-crore scams at the highest political level like 2G scam. It is not only limited to government authorities but can be seen within the private sector as well. In 2021 under Corruption Perceptions Index ranked the country in 85th place out of 180, on a scale where the lowest-ranked countries are perceived to have the most honest public sector. This shows the picture that our country is in hands of officials and administrators who are not taking ethical ways to fulfil their duties.
- Corruption in India is an issue which affects economy of central, state and local government agencies in many ways. Corruption is blamed for stunting the economy of India.
- A study conducted by Transparency International in 2005 recorded that more than 62% of Indians had at some point or another paid a bribe to a public official to get a job done.
- In 2008, another report showed that about 50% of Indians had first-hand experience of paying bribes or using contacts to get services performed by public offices.
- Examples include the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Actand the National Rural Health Mission.
- The causes of corruption in India include excessive regulations, complicated tax and licensing systems, numerous government departments with opaque bureaucracy and discretionary powers, monopoly of government controlled institutions on certain goods and services delivery, and the lack of transparent laws and processes.
- There are significant variations in the level of corruption and in the government's efforts to reduce corruption across India.
Reasons for corruption in India
- Political reasons:
- Use of black money in elections: The rising expenditure is rather seen as investment by the candidates who then misuse their power to misuse the illegal wealth. Assets of some MPs have even seen a jump of more than 1000% between successive elections.
- Criminalization of politics: More than 30% of the legislators in the country have pending criminal cases against them. When law breakers become the law makers, rule of law is the first casualty.
- Capitalism clashes: With the economic reforms undertaken in the aftermath of the BoP crisis of 1991, private sector has become a prominent player in the market earlier monopolized by the state. This has led to growth of unholy nexus between Politicians and businessmen.
- Economic reasons:
- High share of informal sector: In India more than 80% of the workforce is in the informal sector and therefore do not come under the ambit of tax or labour laws. Such enterprises usually bribe the officials to keep out of the ambit of laws where the compliance is costly and complex.
- Ease of doing business: lengthy procedure of approvals required to start a business with no transparency and legal accountability related to matters such as time limits force the entrepreneurs to overcome the red-tapism through bribery.
- High inequalities: In India 1% of the rich holds about 60% of the total wealth. At the upper income levels it leads to crony capitalism, at lower income levels it forces people to bribe the officials even to get their basic needs fulfilled.
- Administrative reasons:
- Colonial bureaucracy: The bureaucracy essentially remains colonial in nature characterized by 19th century laws e.g. Police Act 1861, complex rules, wide discretion, secrecy, moral responsibility devoid of legal accountability and the ivory tower attitude.
- Failed reforms: Lack of political will and resistance from within the bureaucracy has led to failure of major reforms like citizen charter, RTI and e-governance.
- Low wages: The remuneration in the public sector remains below par with the private sector along with poor career growth opportunities for those working at the lower levels and harsher working conditions.
- Judicial failure: The judiciary has failed to bring to book the corrupt officials including politicians. The excess protection provided under Article 309 and 310 of the constitution to the civil servants and need of taking the government permission before the prosecution of civil servants further compounds the problem
- Social and Ethical reasons:
- Changes in lifestyle: Increasing shift towards individualization and materialism has led to increased penchant for a luxurious lifestyle. To earn more money people are willing to adopt even the unethical means with no consideration of others.
- Social discrimination: The poor and marginalized due to their lack of awareness and high dependence on the state become the easy target of exploitation by corrupt officials
- Failure of education system: The value education has failed miserably in India to inculcate the value of empathy, compassion, integrity, equity etc. in the young generation. The lifestyle changes induced by the globalization have further degraded the moral fabric of the society
Consequences of Corruption
- It degrades the social and moral fabric of the society, erodes the credibility of the government and leads to exploitation and violation of fundamental rights of the poor and marginalized by the state. For instance, diversion of PDS ration deprives poor violate their Right to food.
- It hampers ease of doing business. As the recently released Global Competitiveness Index has pointed out “The private sector still considers corruption to be the most problematic factor for doing business in India”. This obstructs private investments which creates jobs and hampers innovation leading to brain drain from India.
- The rising inequality due to poor outcomes of the welfare schemes such as ICDS, NRHM (scams have been unearthed in many states like UP), NREGA etc. is another result of the leakages and diversion of the resources to ghost beneficiaries.
- Corruption in the tax administration leads to high tax evasion generating black money – an offspring and food of corruption. According to various estimates the size of parallel economy in India is as much as 50% of GDP.
- As many CAG reports which were instrumental in unearthing major scams like 2G and coal mines have pointed out, state bears huge losses due to the nepotism and corruption – money which could have been used in social sector or infrastructure creation.
- Corruption increases the cost of production which ultimately has to be borne by the consumer. In the project execution such as roads and bridges it leads to adoption of poor quality of material claiming the lives of many due to the collapse.
- Illegal lobbying has led to elite bias in the state policies. For instance, tertiary healthcare and higher education receive more political and policy attention than the primary health and education.
- Poor efficiency of the government in executing major developmental projects is another shortfall of the corruption.
- Corruption in the defence deals in the past has led to delays in the modernization of the armed forces in the era of increasing hostility in the neighbourhood. It does not augur well from the perspective of the national security.
- Corruption in police leads to under-reporting of crime encouraging the criminals and judicial corruption compels people of adopt extra-legal methods to get the justice.
- It helps in overcoming the red-tapism in the overburdened and lethargic government machinery especially for the businesses which cannot wait for long to get the approvals thus avoiding the opportunity cost of waiting.
- The ‘gift culture’ helps officials build the networking which can help overcome the long drawn processes involving tenders thus expediting the work.
- Corruption has helped many refugees from being deported to the places where they are persecuted.
- Horse trading in the politics has helped bring the stability in the government especially during the coalition era of government e.g. JMM bribery helped PV Narsimha Rao government to survive.
- It helps people at the lower level of the bureaucracy to survive in their job.
- However, these positive effects in no way match the negative cost of corruption to the society and economy.
- It leads to inequality, discontent and resentment in the society which promote lawlessness and fuels the growth of negative tendencies like communalism and regionalism.
Measures taken to tackle corruption
- Legal steps:
- Prevention of corruption Act 1988
- Benami property Act
- Central vigilance commission act
- Right to Information act, 2005
- Whistleblower protection Act 2014
- Lokpal and Lokayukta Act 2013
- Administrative reforms:
- E-governance initiatives: Initiatives like service delivery through CSCs, digitization of the land record, JAM, DBT, E-biz (single window system), e-marketplace etc. help prevent corruption
- Citizen Charters and Public Service delivery and Grievance Redress Acts in states: Many states like Karnataka (SAKLA initiative) and Rajasthan have enacted such acts to make bureaucracy legally accountable for delivering quality service within stipulate time periods.
- Economic reforms:
- Liberalization and Privatization: Recent efforts in improving the ease of doing business such as FDI liberalization will further erode the power of bureaucracy over the functioning of the market.
- GST: Reduced cost of compliance by simplification and digitization of the tax architecture and e-waybills that remove the need of check posts on the state borders are some of the ways through which GST can help reduce the corruption.
- Demonetisation: It will expose the people having black money and illegal transactions.
- Electoral reforms:
- Cash donations: to set a specific amount for campaigning and other purposes for a political party.
- Disclosure norms: As earlier mandated by SC, politicians are required to make disclosure about their financial assets, education and criminal records thud helping the voters to make an informed choice and helping clean the politics of criminals.
- Judicial Interventions: Recently SC asked courts to complete the cases pending against the legislators within a year.
Why these measures have failed?
- Lack of political willingness to bring serious electoral, administrative and legal reforms.
- Laws like PCA 1988 have been used more to protect the corrupt rather than punish them.
- E-gov initiatives have only proved to be a tool for administrative convenience and recentralization of power rather than empowering citizens.
- The electoral reforms have only been nominal and political gimmicks.
- Political executive continues to micro manage the functioning of bureaucracy via suspension, promotion, transfers etc. e.g. recent Panchkula violence.
- The administrative structure and attitudes essentially continue to be colonial in nature.
- Decentralization which was supposed to bring the government closer to the people has been rendered ineffective by the apathy of the states.
What needs to be done further?
- Various commissions such as SARC and Santhanam committee have made important and feasible recommendation what is required is a strong political will.
- Following steps are required to empower the citizens and make the government accountable for its performance:
- Reforms in bureaucracy:
- Establishing the Civil Service Board to curb the excessive political control over administration.
- Reducing the hierarchy levels in the governments
- Conducting periodic sensitivity training for the civil servants
- Simplifying the disciplinary proceedings and strengthening preventive vigilance within the departments to ensure corrupt civil servant do not occupy the sensitive position
- Objectivity in performance evaluation and linking pay and promotion to it
- Using the new technologies such as AI and big data to automate routine procedures in government such as issuance of certificates.
- Electoral reforms:
- Barring the criminals from entering the legislatures by amending RPA
- Banning the cash donation to political party and imposing limits on the overall expenditure of the political parties
- Empowering ECI by giving legal force to MCC and making paid news a criminal offence
- Exploring the idea of state funding as recommended by Indrajit Gupta committee
- Changes in governance:
- Bringing Transparency of the Rules Act (TORA) as recommended by Economic survey to increase transparency and awareness about rules
- Giving citizen charter and social audits a legal force and creating GRMs at all levels to ensure their enforcement
- Empowering the local body so as to make them a potent tool for direct democracy
- Judicial reforms to expedite trials against the corrupt officials so that these laws remain a strong deterrent
- 7-point Police reforms as suggested by SC in Prakash Singh case to establish rule of law and ensure impartial investigation in cases of corruption
- Amending the anti-defection law to strengthen legislative control over the executive as envisaged under constitution and not the other way round.
Integrity, transparency, and fight against corruption have to be part of the culture. They must be thought of as fundamental values of the society we live in. A practical approach is required to see it as obsession to be cured. An incremental approach to the problem will lead to an achievable target-setting and faster completion. There has to be continuous checks and balances in the system. Corruption can be tackled effectively. But it needs home grown solutions that eliminate indigenous problems.