The basic cause for corruption is that our government is not designed for accountability and delivering services to its citizens. Fundamentally, we are still unable to punish the few corrupt persons identified by the investigating agencies, within a specific time limit
Many of us believe that corruption is the biggest problem in India and therefore if we can fix the corrupt by catching them, it would solve a lot of our problems. I would like to take a look at some of the root causes of corruption in India. The basic cause is that the government is not designed for accountability and delivering services to its citizens. This is a larger problem which can be resolved if adequate effort is made to streamline its administrative processes.
Presently if we leave this out of the discussion, a reality which most of us recognize is that we lack the wherewithal to catch the corrupt. There is some truth in this belief and I would like to give some evidence of this. The Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) in Maharashtra registered 654 cases during 2011. The instances of corruption each day must be in thousands and if only 654 cases are registered in a year by the ACB, it is only tokenism. There is great need to find a way of raising this figure to at least 20 times this, if the ACB is to have any meaningful impact.
Similarly, a look at the performance of the Lokayukta in Maharashtra shows that with a staff of over 80 persons, it received 11,153 allegations during the 25-year period between 1981 and 2006 and could find only 57 instances where it recommended any action by the government! If this is the performance of two of our institutions in one state, can they have any impact on corruption?
However, I would submit that there is another more fundamental cause of corruption: Our inability to punish the few corrupt persons which our investigative agencies identify. To illustrate this I am presenting data which has been published in the Indian Police Journal (Vol LVII-no. 2 of April-June 2010). A study was done of the performance of an anti-corruption branch of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for the period 1980-1984 (mean year 1982) in the year 2008, i.e. after 26 years. I would first like to present the raw data which I have extracted.
During the four year period 698 accused had been investigated and out of these 273 persons were charge-sheeted. Out of these, the CBI was able to get conviction in 144 cases. The average time for investigation was 13.4 months whereas the average time to get the convictions was seven years and four months. Out of these only four persons have been to prison for over 20 days, since most of those convicted went in appeals while some of the convicted persons had died. In 2008, 71 appeals were still being contested in the higher courts! The nation is spending money in 71 cases to try and prosecute 71 persons after 26 years! Is it not obvious that the process is irrelevant?
It is a reasonable assumption that this study is representative of the actual ground realities in India. It appears to indicate that getting the investigative agencies to become more efficient or bigger may not be the solution to our corruption, since it will get stalled at the judicial process.
Justice BN Kirpal, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of India, has in an affidavit in a New York Supreme Court stated that justice cannot be obtained in India because of the long time it takes. This affidavit was used to show that justice cannot be obtained in India. Perhaps he was lending credence to the famous Hindi film dialogue that our courts can only give “tareekh pe tareekh” but not justice.
We need to find a way to decide on cases of corruption within a reasonable time, by getting our judiciary to accept that decisions need to be given in some reasonable time if the justice system is to be meaningful. Some citizens are saying that there are 164 MPs in our Parliament with charges of corruption. Does this mean they are corrupt, unless the courts pronounce them guilty? The only answer a civilized society can give is a resounding ‘NO’ unless the judicial system finally pronounces them guilty. If we have a judicial system which cannot pronounce corrupt persons as guilty, no Lokpal or any amount of chest beating will reduce corruption.
A functional judicial system which delivers in a reasonable time is an essential prerequisite for any reduction in corruption in India and for a rule of law to prevail. Talking of fast-track courts is no solution. We must realize—as Justice Kirpal did—that the justice system is not functioning effectively, and we need to find a way to change this. This can be changed, if we consider an effective judicial delivery system which delivers in any court in less than 18 months. This is possible and must be considered non-negotiable.
(Shailesh Gandhi served as Central Information Commissioner under the RTI Act, 2005, during 18 September 2008 to 6 July 2012. He is a graduate in Civil Engineering from IIT-Bombay. Before becoming a full time RTI activist in 2003, he sold his packaging business, Clear Plastics. In 2008, he was conferred the Nani Palkhivala Memorial Award for civil liberties.)