Even as Anna’s movement against corruption gathers more and more steam, we need to put things in proper perspective and understand what measures are needed to tackle this multi-faceted phenomenon
First, we have to define corruption . In my opinion, it is a very complex phenomenon and its roots lie deep in the functioning of political, bureaucratic, commercial institutions involving a variety of stakeholders encompassing individuals in the public and private sectors.
In definitional terms, corruption is any action (or set of actions) where institutions/people abuse their (public/private) office for a private gain. It requires two or more parties acting in concert—parties who are misusing the office and parties who benefit from such misuse. Such an abuse of office for private gain happens when the individuals/institutions concerned accept, solicit, and/or extort a bribe. It is also abused when intermediaries/agents actively offer bribes to circumvent policies and processes for competitive advantage and profit. The office can also be misused for personal benefit even if no bribery occurs at all—for example, through patronage and nepotism based on family/other relationships, the theft of state/private institutional assets by people in positions of power, and/or the diversion of state/institutional revenues to private parties. Corruption can further be categorised as either spectacular corruption (like in the case of the 2G or Commonwealth Games or Bellary Mines or Adarsh Housing Society) or regular corruption (bribes to get things done on a day-to-day basis). Of course, one must also not forget fraud and associated evils that can and do take place in the private/public sector, often with disastrous and costly results. Weakly regulated financial systems permeated with fraud can undermine savings of people, increase transaction costs, enhance indebtedness and impose very high economic costs when they collapse.
This, in many ways, suggests the broad context of corruption in India and the key question is how can this multifaceted phenomenon of corruption be fought? Can one institution like the proposed Lokpal help fight this menace? What then are the implications for the design of the Lokpal?
First, let us clearly recognise the fact that the Lokpal is perhaps but one crucial step in the fight against corruption. More importantly, the RTI (Right to Information) Act was perhaps the first step in this process and the Lokpal Bill, if and when it gets through, could be the second crucial step.
Second, that said, to be effective, the Lokpal must be appropriately designed. Specifically, the scope of the Lokpal must be clearly thought out in terms of whom it will cover and for what kinds of corruption. Careful thought must be provided to this and a proper balance needs to be achieved, keeping in mind practical feasibility: (a) A very large (bureaucratic) organisation could become unwieldy and perhaps even counterproductive; and (b) A very narrow scope for the Lokpal could reduce its effectiveness, especially from the perspective of tackling corruption at the aam admi level. Therefore, deciding on the scope of Lokpal is a very critical issue and it would be prudent to have wider country-wide consultations on the same and ensure that it has the proper scope to be an effective institution on the ground in terms of tackling country wide corruption.
Third, the Lokpal must be truly independent and also seen to be independent in terms of the process of selection of its members as well as its larger accountability as an institution. Without question, the Lokpal must therefore be established as a fully autonomous body capable of fulfilling its mandate. And under no circumstance, should the Lokpal be under the tutelage of the people/institutions who are to be investigated (by it) in the first place. Thus, there should be no conflicts of interest what-so-ever and the Lokpal must be made accountable to people/institutions who do not fall under its jurisdiction. All of the above would have to apply to the Lokayuktas as well. This is a very tricky issue and must be addressed suitably—if indeed, the Lokpal is to be effective in rooting out corruption.
Last, many aspects of corruption (like bribery) call for a giver of the bribe and that calls for significant attitude change across wide sections of society in India. I hope that the Lokpal and the associated Lokayuktas, therefore, also have provisions for awareness campaigns that emphasise to the public, the need to refrain from giving bribes. This, in my opinion, is perhaps the toughest task for the Lokpal as without this attitude change among the people, very little can be achieved in fighting corruption. This issue should not be underestimated because people must then be prepared to wait in line to access various goods/services—in other words, they must be ready to not jump the queue. This is certainly a huge ask in a country of over a billion people, many of whom are in a tearing hurry. To help catalyse this on the ground, the demand supply gap in delivery of goods/services would also have to be reduced and unnecessary bureaucratic approvals/procedures (which are perhaps the cause of bribery in the first place) eliminated. Of course, India could also look at the United Kingdom and Bhutan which have just enacted an anti-bribery act, which also provides disincentives and penal punishments to the bribe-giver… let us not forget them in this whole matter as without them, much of the corruption would not exist.
iThe definitions draw on various sources including documents and papers by Civil Society Organisations, The World Bank and others
(The writer has over two decades of grassroots and institutional experience in rural finance, MSME development, agriculture and rural livelihood systems, rural/urban development and urban poverty alleviation/governance. He has worked extensively in Asia, Africa, North America and Europe with a wide range of stakeholders, from the private sector and academia to governments).
The moment it is established that there was no loss to the state exchequer, the whole case of cheating and conspiracy in the spectrum allocation will go, senior advocate Sushil Kumar appearing for Mr Raja said, claiming that the prime minister and two other ministers would be able to establish that
New Delhi: Jailed former telecom minister A Raja today told a Delhi court that he would get prime minister Manmohan Singh, then finance minister P Chidambaram and present telecom minister Kapil Sibal summoned as witnesses to prove government did not incur any loss in the second generation (2G) spectrum allocation, reports PTI.
"Aaj main bata dena chahta hu ki main prime minister, tabke finance minister or vartman ke telecom minister ko battor gawah banaunga (today, I want to state that I would get the prime minister, the then finance minister and the present telecom minister summoned as witnesses)," senior advocate Sushil Kumar, appearing for Mr Raja, told special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) judge OP Saini.
The moment it is established that there was no loss to the state exchequer, the whole case of cheating and conspiracy in the spectrum allocation will go, he said, claiming that the prime minister and two other ministers would be able to establish that.
He said Mr Raja would move an application under section 91 of the CrPC for getting certain documents from the CBI which had so far not been brought before the court.
The defence counsel also raised the issue of offloading of equity by Swan Telecom Pvt Ltd and Unitech (Tamil Nadu) Wireless Pvt Ltd to Dubai-based Etisalat and Norway-based Telenor respectively and maintained that there was no criminality involved in those transactions.
"First of all there was no sale of licences, then the offloading of equities was within the limit of 74%.
Moreover, the transactions were cleared at the highest level (the Foreign Investment Promotion Board)," he said.
DMK MP Kanimozhi, earlier while opposing framing of charges against her, too had sought to drag the prime minister in the 2G case expressing her intention to make him a witness.
"If the trial goes on (against me), I would summon the prime minister as a witness," she had submitted through her lawyer Mr Kumar, who is also representing Mr Raja in the case.
Seeking to demolish the CBI allegation that a huge loss has been caused to the state exchequer due to various acts of omission and commission by various accused, including Mr Raja and Ms Kanimozhi, Kumar had yesterday contended that the prime minister had told Parliament that no loss was incurred to the exchequer in allocation of the 2G spectrum licences.
"The moment, the loss factor goes out, the charge of cheating also goes out," Mr Kumar had said, adding, "The prime minister, the then finance minister (P Chidambaram) and the present telecom minister (Kapil Sibal) have told the House i.e. the people of India that no loss has been caused as 2G licences were not to be auctioned."
Ms Kanimozhi had also rubbished the CAG's estimation of a presumptive loss of Rs1.76 lakh crore and CBI's computation of Rs30,984 crore loss in the case.
The Pune Municipal Corporation, in gross violation of the BPMC Act under which it functions, was unabashedly giving generous donations to social organisations from taxpayers’ money until RTI activists discovered the financial irregularities and put a stop to this economic crime. In such cases, the government’s Lokpal Bill has no provisions to punish the guilty whereas the Jan Lokpal Bill has. Here’s how
One of the crucial differences between the government's Lokpal Bill and the Jan Lokpal Bill is that the former covers only 'A' group government officers, leaving the lower ladder free from investigations and action needed to be taken against corruption. This means out of about 2.5 crore government employees in our country, only 65,000 are under this net. Whereas, in the Jan Lokpal Bill, the entire government machinery would come under Lokpal; thus keeping vigil on the lowest rung of the patwari to the highest rung of the chief secretary. The chunk of the corruption takes place in the lower cadres and the example of money being frittered away by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for cultural and social programmes of private organisations is a stark example, unearthed through the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Pune's mayor Mohansingh Rajpal, the first-ever Sikh mayor of the city, decided in 2010 that the city should celebrate the Baisakhi festival in a big way with renowned singer Daler Mehndi as the star attraction. Hence, he dug into the coffers of the PMC treasure chest to magnanimously donate Rs30 lakh to a social organisation called Sangat Seva Foundation and make the municipal corporation the co-sponsor. The first instalment of Rs15 lakh was given by way of cash.
When newspapers carried the news about this donation, Vijay Kumbhar, RTI activist and founder of Surajya Sangharsha Samiti and Sandeep Khardekar, social activist and founder of Creative Foundation, decided to investigate into the legality of such a donation. An RTI application revealed that the mayor had given the money as per the provision provided in the PMC annual budget of 2010-11, specifically for the Baisakhi festival. However, both the activists studied the BPMC (the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation) Act, which clearly stated that the PMC cannot co-sponsor such events and it is a crime even under the Indian Penal Code to donate money in cash. They dashed off a letter demanding inspection of files under Section (4) of the RTI Act. The letter stated, "PMC has co-sponsored Baisakhi event of Sangat Seva Foundation by violating various sections of the BPMC Act. Now it is also confirmed that money given as first instalment to the said social organisation has been given in cash. This is a serious offence under various sections of the BPMC Act and the Indian Penal Code. So please officially declare the facts at the earliest. Otherwise we will be compelled to draw the conclusion that you are also involved in this scam. So please supply us information on: whether Sangat Seva Foundation is registered? Has money provided to the said foundation given in cash? On whose name was the money withdrawn? Who actually received the money? Can PMC give money in cash? And if so, what is the limit for that?
Why was money not given by account payee cheque? Declaring all this information under section 4 (1) (c) and (d) of RTI (Act) is compulsory for you as a head of public authority.''
Revelations were scandalous as it was found that the Sangat Seva Foundation was not even a registered social organisation; that PMC under the BPMC Act cannot give donation in cash beyond Rs2,000; that no singular social organisation can be given a grant of more than Rs3,00,000; the PMC cannot be a co-sponsor to any such events; the annual limit of donations is Rs15 lakh and; any PMC-organised event cannot be charged (tickets)-it has to be free but the Sangat Seva Foundation had issued tickets for sale. The point of this controversy is that it may not be as large as the 2G Scam or the Commonwealth Games Scam, but it showed that misappropriation of public funds begins from the grassroots and in a large way-so what is the point of having an anti-corruption law which leaves out this vital area?
With the donation issue kicking up into a major controversy, the then PMC Commissioner Mahesh Zagade called for an inquiry report from his senior officer, which Kumbhar procured under the RTI Act.
The findings of the report revealed that the additional municipal commissioner (special) had overlooked the BPMC Act and despite the deputy commissioner insisting on getting this donation approved by the state government and formulating a specific policy to allow such donations at the local level of the PMC, the money was unabashedly provided to the mayor:
However, the above inquiry report in its conclusion stated that the Sikh community is an important part of Pune's community, thus trying to qualify the illegal donation. It also quoted that large amounts had been given to the Pune International Marathon (Suresh Kalmadi's baby), Pune International Film Festival (again Kalmadi's baby), Marathi Sahitya Sammelan and Shaniwar Wada Cultural Festival (organised by opponents of Kalmadi) and so on. However, embarrassed by the controversy that the Baisakhi festival had kicked up, mayor Mohansingh Rajpal quietly put back the Rs15 lakh amount into the PMC's account. Says Mr Kumbhar, "How can the mayor take out and put back the money as per his whims and fancies? Isn't there any sanctity to this public fund?''
The RTI information also revealed that although the PMC cannot give a donation more than Rs3 lakh per social organisation and cannot give an annual donation of this nature more than Rs15 lakh per year, records show otherwise. They are as follows:
* Sarvoday Pratishthan: Rs20 lakh
* Literary Association, (Warje): Rs10 lakh
* Janseva Pratishthan, (Gultekdi): Rs10 lakh
*Pune International Film Festival: Rs17 lakh
* Mangribaba Seva Pratishthan: Rs10 lakh
* Samaj Vyaspeeth: Rs3 lakh
* Literary Association, (Warje): Rs10 lakh
* Prabhodhan Vichardhar: Rs10 lakh
* Prabhodhan Vichardhar: Rs10 lakh
* Pune International Film Festival: Rs17 lakh
Says Mr Kumbhar, "While Pune suffers from inferior civic amenities-be it roads or inefficient sewage treatment or solid waste management-the PMC indulges in illegal donations to please a privileged few and therefore I decided to find out the truth behind these donations.''
So what has been the impact of this crusade? The PMC rejected funding for the Pune International Film Festival and Pune Festival in Kashmir.
The moral of the article: RTI had helped in digging out scams but who will punish the officers responsible for such financial misappropriations? In this case, two municipal officers were denied the annual salary hike for just one year. Says Mr Kumbhar, "If the government's Lokpal Bill is implemented, such irregularities would be out of its purview. However, such issues would be investigated and action taken under the Jan Lokpal Bill. In the case of NCPRI's (National Campaign for People's Right to Information) Lokpal Bill recommendations, this issue would be outside the purview as she (Aruna Roy) suggests that an independent body be made to examine cases of other cadres of government employees except 'A' grade which has been included in the government's Lokpal Bill.''
(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected].)