South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

A word that has been used so often that its meaning has been blunted – now it causes no reaction and creates little interest, let alone concern. And yet it is present in every part of the numerous systems and institutions through which society functions; in our municipal bodies and in practically all public agencies that issue permits or licences or no-objection certificates or, for that matter, any certificates of any kind.

It exists in hospitals, educational bodies and in the very systems meant to prevent it and apprehend those who are guilty of it. It exists, as we have sadly discovered, in our armed forces, even at very high levels.

Recently, the World Bank issued a report in which it has said that a good deal of India’s much-vaunted development is ineffective as projects and schemes are corroded by this crippling disease of corruption; benefits do not go to the actual beneficiaries.

The BBC quoted this report in a story on May 18 in which one of its correspondents, Jill McGivering, said: “Attempts by the Indian government to combat poverty are not working, according to the World Bank.

The governing coalition spends billions of dollars – more than 2 per cent of its gross domestic product [GDP] – on helping the poor. But a new World Bank report says aid programmes are beset by corruption, bad administration and underpayments.

As an example, the report cites the issue of grain distribution: only 40 per cent of grain meant for the poor reaches them. India’s coalition government is spending massively on programmes to reduce poverty. This was the first time India’s major schemes had been evaluated. The World Bank says the public distribution system, which takes almost half the money, has brought limited benefits.

It gives subsidised food and other goods to the poor. The report says one landmark scheme, launched more than five years ago, aims to guarantee government work for the rural unemployed.

But the World Bank found that it was failing to have an impact in the poorest states because of underpayments and bad administration.”

The reference is, of course, to the projects undertaken under the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), a flagship project of the United Progressive Alliance government.

Nor is this all, by any means. Just consider the instances of thievery and downright cheating that have recently come to light (thanks in no small measure to the vigilance of the media): the alleged stealing of money during the Commonwealth Games, the bribery involved with the allotment of the 2G spectrum, and the looting of public money from the state-owned Air India – three instances that have made right-thinking Indians hang their heads in shame, and provided derisive amusement to the rest of the world. “Emerging economic superpower, indeed” is what many around the world would be saying. “Established super-thieves who blithely rob their own country”, more like.

Venality seems to be a part of our social traditions. Mir Jafar, one of the generals of Siraj-ud-Daula, Nawab of Murshidabad, was bought over by the East India Company’s Robert Clive, who realised that it was a simpler thing to do than plan a strategy to defeat the Nawab’s armies in battle. So Mir Jafar’s army held back from the Battle of Plassey and the depleted forces of the Nawab were routed by Clive’s forces and the course of India’s history changed. And this is not the only instance of such venality.

Our history is replete with them – the impregnable gates of Chittorgarh were opened from within, as were the gates of Golconda Fort. This is what we have, it seems,

There was, and probably still is, a saying in Bengali among government employees: Ashi jai, mainey pai. Kaj korle upuri chai. (I get paid for coming (to the office) and going back. To work I need a bribe.)

Brave efforts are being made, we are told, to bring thieves and bribe-takers to book.

Dramatic arrests are made, investigations started with several television statements given by sundry police officials, and then – nothing. Years pass. Nothing happens.

Arvind and Tinoo Joshi of the Madhya Pradesh cadre of the Indian Administrative Service were arrested and many statements given of the crores of rupees seized from the couple. That was last year. What happened since then?

One needs to ask the Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan just what he intends to do. Sit on his hands, or tell his policemen either to prosecute them or let them go. If the case is with the Central Bureau of Investigation, this is what the Prime Minister needs to do. What is stopping those in authority from acting?

And what of the thousands in municipalities, municipal corporations, in the public distribution system, in the hospitals, schools and in every government office who are busy thieving? Is anyone doing anything about it? If the present laws do not permit action to be taken, can the laws not be changed swiftly and the guilty identified and punished? And, equally important, can the money stolen not be recovered, if necessary by selling whatever those found guilty have, down to their clothes and personal belongings?

How many from among the hundreds of thousands who are thieves masquerading as government or public officials have actually been tried, found guilty and punished? How many police officials have been tried, found guilty of thievery and bribe-taking and punished? Not more than one can count on the fingers of one hand.There are many in the government who are genuinely concerned about the widespread thievery and bribe- taking. They need to realise one simple thing. The answer to this is to act. Not to make brave statements of what they will do, of terrible punishments and all such rubbish, but to act. Try those arrested or identified as thieves, see that the cases against them are strongly argued, that they are found guilty, and punish them. If this becomes common practice, thievery and bribe-taking will come down. This is plain common sense. Stop talking and, in the name of all that is sacred, act.

Does the Prime Minister, the leader of the Congress party, and all those responsible for the elimination of the looting of public money and assets, not realise that if they think inaction is politically clever or necessary (to keep coalition partners happy) it automatically makes them criminals, as they are then guilty of conniving with thieves and wrongdoers? And wrongdoers are not really those whose names attract media interest; the real wrongdoers are the thousands and thousands in public offices across the country.

The evil lies there; that is the next Battle of Plassey, and one will watch with interest if those in power keep their armies ineffective, for whatever consideration.

Source: Daily Mirror – 13.06.2011