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Beyond “Name & Shame”

Beyond “Name & Shame”

Every minute someone is cheated due to corrupt practices and unscrupulous people. The worst victims of corruption in administration and governance are the common people. Leakage of resources earmarked for developmental activities like housing and healthcare has been robbing millions of people of their right to a dignified life.

The cause for concern is that quite a number of public servants seem to be misusing the system. According to a recent statement made in the Parliament, for the period July 2014-May 2019, after a review of performance of a total of 36,756 Group-A and 82,654 Group-B central government officers, 125 Group A and 187 Group B officers have been recommended to compulsory retirement over allegations of corruption and other wrongdoings.

Since June this year, around 85 senior government officers were removed from service after government ordered a crackdown on corrupt and errant officials. Of these, notably 64 were high ranking officers and 12 of them were from the income tax department. Similarly media reports indicate that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister has removed a whopping 1000 persons from the State Government service.

While the drive against corruption and corrupt persons should show results, for every case discovered there must be many more.

We have seen how Ms. Runu Ghosh a senior government officer and former Telecom Minister Mr Sukh Ram compromised the system but were ultimately made to cool their heels in jail. Same has been the case with former Chief Secretary to the Uttar Pradesh Government, Mrs Neera Yadav who was convicted and imprisoned for misusing her authority besides gaining pecuniary benefit for her family.

Last December, the Delhi High Court while awarding a three-year imprisonment  punishment to three bureaucrats including former Coal Secretary Mr HC Gupta said: "Such white collar crimes are in fact more dangerous to the society than ordinary crimes, firstly, because the financial losses are much higher, and, secondly because of the damages inflicted on public morale. The average loss from ordinary crimes such as burglaries, robberies and larcenies etc. may run into few thousand rupees only but the loss which the 'white collar crimes' may run not only in lakhs but in crores of rupees”.

In KC Sareen vs CBI, the Supreme Court of India observed in 2001 that corruption by public servants has now reached a monstrous dimension in India. Its tentacles have started grappling even the institutions created for the protection of the republic. Unless those tentacles are intercepted and impeded from gripping the normal and orderly functioning of the public offices, through strong legislative, executive as well as judicial exercises the corrupt public servants could even paralyse the functioning of such institutions and thereby hinder the democratic polity.  When a public servant who is convicted of corruption is allowed to continue to hold public office it would impair the morale of the other persons manning such office, and consequently that would erode the already shrunk confidence of the people in such public institutions besides demoralising the other honest public servants who would either be the colleagues or subordinates of the convicted person.

A former Lokayukta of Rajasthan and a retired Chief Justice, Mr M C Jain, once remarked that capitals of states have become the capitals of corruption, where deals are made and settled and power brokers rule the roost. Seats of power of whatever status and at whatever level have become seats of corruption. For corrupt persons to suffer public disgrace, his suggestion was the need to create a social climate.

Rightly as former Central Vigilance Commissioner Mr N Vittal stated, corruption flourishes because it is a low-risk, high-profit activity. Credited for introducing innovative practices in governance, according to him, there are five major players on the domestic corruption scene, interdependent, strengthening and supportive of the vicious cycle. They are the neta, the corrupt politician; the babu, the corrupt bureaucrat; the lala, the corrupting businessman; the jhola, the corrupt NGO; and the dada, the criminal of the underworld. Apart from putting in place simplified rules and procedures, during his tenure he introduced a ban on post-tender negotiations in government purchases except the lowest bidder.

Well, making e-tendering mandatory for all central ministries and public sector units for procuring goods and services exceeding 2 lakh, was aimed at bringing transparency in government purchases. However, e-tendering can be tampered with. An alleged breach of software in Madhya Pradesh state electronic development corporation had led to the unearthing of a massive Rs 3,000 crore scam, forcing the government to revoke nine of its major tenders floated in 2018.  

It is appalling that corruption has not spared that latest Government of India’s flagship scheme, Ayushman Bharat – Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojna launched last year, which aims to achieve universal health coverage. Official reports indicate 111 hospitals that were found involved in corrupt practices have been de-empanelled and their names have been made public under the “name and shame” initiative for preventing fraud.

The tentacles of the corruption malaise is widespread. It may appear petty, but such corruption affects every one of us badly. For instance, some public transport agencies fix the fare involving small change. Both the customer and the agency involved are cheated as the intermediaries pocket such small change. Even assuming that every customer is cheated of just a Rupee, it is unimaginable the loss incurred to the public exchequer and the public at large. When application based taxi and auto service got introduced in our cities, many of us were elated because of its easy availability. But then a deeper look will show that when need most the rates would get surged. Online air booking, hotel reservation to name a few would show different fares within a span of few minutes. So how transparent are the online systems is a different story.

Surely every small effort being undertaken to fight corruption is appreciable because corruption is the biggest enemy of not only development but also democracy. The growing recognition of the extent of corruption at various levels is significant but effecting drastic steps in the right earnest to check the evil should show results. Zero tolerance in dealing with corruption in letter and spirit will spell success.

(Published on 02nd December 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 49)