Babus enjoy bribes, country bears cost

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Bureaucrats, with the blessings of their political masters, are an expert in extracting their pound of flesh. It does not matter to them if national interests are damned in the process

Admitting that corruption is the biggest issue that is “bleeding the people dry”, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, while addressing a gathering at Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, on December 21, minced no words. He made clear that “arbitrary powers” were holding up projects.

“I am in complete agreement, with the need for a regulatory system, to be rapidly and radically, modernised. Frankly, there are no excuses, for the length of time required to clear some of these projects. We are a fast-moving economy. We cannot allow you to be held back by slow decision making. Accountability has to be clear, fixed and time-bound”, said Mr Gandhi. Yet, there has hardly been a year in India wherein corruption scams have not surfaced. The list is too big to be recalled.

Ironically, the Congress-led Government of Maharashtra has recently rejected the judicial commission’s report on the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam. The panel had painstakingly recorded oral and written evidence after cross-examining witnesses at length. This resulted in an almost 700-pages-long report. It is true that sometimes, under coalition compulsions, the Government in power denies the commission of any offence. However, the facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

Our politicians believe in Joseph Goebbels maxim: If a lie is repeated a thousand times, it will become the truth. A Union Minister laughably claimed in September that there is no corruption in the Government. According to him, Press reports suggesting otherwise are propaganda pieces unleashed by the Opposition to stop the Government from functioning.

The World Bank brings out a report every year on how easy or difficult it is to do business in different countries of the world. Nations are ranked from one to 185 according to the ease of doing business. This year’s report points to the various bottlenecks that exist, like getting a plethora of permissions and sanctions before starting a business. In this regard, India stands at 182nd position, while with respect to enforcing business contracts, we are at 184th place. Our overall ranking in the world is 134.

According to information revealed in Parliament by the Union Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, 35 bribery case were registered against IAS officers  by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the four years between 2009 and 2012; 200 IAS officers were suspended over the last two decades; 47 IAS officers are now facing cases punishable with dismissal.

The Minister added that the CBI has registered over 2,000 corruption cases in the last three years and 758 of them are pending investigation. The agency had registered a total of 2,283 cases of corruption between 2010 and June this year. A total of 7,157 cases have been filed by the CBI under the Prevention of Corruption Act and they are pending trial in various CBI courts across the country.

Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha and Pondicherry alone account for 1,608 (22.46 per cent) of the pending corruption cases. What’s more, several of the cases have been pending trial for more than 20 years.

All the above information is a matter of public record, having been revealed in Parliament. The cases mentioned above are generally against gazetted or other senior officers. This is apart from the action taken by the State Governments’ anti-corruption wings all over the country. To say that there is no corruption in India is a travesty.

On Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index last year, India was ranked 94th out of 174 countries. Such endemic corruption has caused not only a decline in India’s attractiveness as a foreign direct investment destination but also led to withdrawal of several proposed investments by rich Indians settled abroad.

In one of the biggest foreign investment pull-outs, the world’s largest steel magnate Arcelor Mittal has scrapped its $12 billion steel plant in Odisha this July after inordinate delays and problems in acquiring land and securing iron ore linkages. The development came just a day after South Korean steel major Posco cancelled its Rs 36,000 crore steel plant in Karnataka.

According to news reports projects worth crores of rupees have been stuck with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. Bureaucrats, with the blessings of their political masters, are an expert in extracting their pound of flesh before doing any jon. It does not matter to them whether the country is damned in the process.

I once addressed a meeting of the top industrialists urging them to maintain the highest integrity and ethical standards. The richest man in the audience stood up and said: “For you, this is easy to say. But there are 65 inspectors visiting my industry and any one of them is capable of closing my establishment.” Our country is over-regulated and over-legislated but grossly under-governed.

Simply because a Minister says that there is no corruption and it is all propaganda, does not alter the fact. In the meantime, the Government should waste no more time and use the big stick to weed out the corrupt from its ranks, so that people get some relief.

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