Ranjit Sinha Is the Symptom
The malaise of corruption and influence-buying is deeply ingrained in the system
Activist and advocate Prashant Bhushan has rendered yeoman service by informing the Supreme Court of India about the goings-on at the residence of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Ranjit Sinha. He added substance to his allegation that CBI’s Mr Sinha was going slow on various mega scam investigations by revealing the list of visitors to Mr Sinha’s home; and the list is truly startling.
Key functionaries of the Anil Ambani group allegedly met Mr Sinha 50 times in 15 months. The accused in every major scam under CBI’s investigation, including controversial meat-exporter and alleged hawala-dealer Moin Akhtar Qureshi, have been frequenting Mr Sinha’s home; some even thrice a day. This is gross impropriety. The Supreme Court has issued a notice to Mr Sinha even as CBI tried to gag the media.
As an aside, we also discover the CBI chief’s maharaja-like lifestyle. The Economic Times says he has seven cooks, 22 domestic helpers and a cobbler at his disposal, all paid by the exchequer. That the CBI director, who is lower than a joint secretary in the pecking order of government, can live like a king, tells you how our public funds are being misused.
The sordid episode throws light on the various investigating arms of the government. The CBI director has immense power over the lives and reputations of individuals, companies and institutions in India. He can initiate, or close, investigations at will; arrest people or destroy careers without accountability, to please political masters. The income-tax and enforcement departments and the department of revenue intelligence (DRI) are equally willing handmaidens when it comes to working on political instructions.
A slow judicial system with its propensity to remain silent about judicial corruption, as has been revealed by Justice Makrandey Katju on his blog, dissuades people from fighting back. The few, who do, often end up broken and frustrated by the system at every turn.
The misuse of government investigation agencies began almost immediately after independence but peaked under United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. We saw a decade when unbridled corruption and mind-boggling scams were allowed to flourish in the name of ‘coalition dharma’.
The lay public may be shocked at reports about the CBI chief’s visitors, but many of us in the media have been helpless spectators of this gross corruption over the decades. Helpless because those who blithely give out details about corrupt people and practices will do nothing to stop it nor provide proof to allow publication.
€ Consider some reactions that I have heard in the week that Mr Sinha was making news.
An IIM professor who conducted a training programme for senior income-tax officers was reportedly told by one attendee “some of us are losing Rs1 crore a day attending this programme.” We frequently hear from government insiders that top income-tax and police appointments, especially in Delhi and Mumbai, are auctioned. How do we prove it, when there are no whistleblowers?
€ A senior RBI (Reserve Bank of India) official names a couple of bank chairmen who, he thought, were more likely candidates for CBI’s sting operation on Syndicate Bank and Bhushan Steel. He claims that one chairman was cautioned by RBI after reports about his corrupt ways escalated. He cannot say why no action was initiated against him, instead of issuing a mere word of caution. The rise in corruption at banks is in direct proportion to the ballooning of bad loans even as RBI remains a silent spectator.
€ We have been hearing about a finance ministry bureaucrat who was exceedingly rude and humiliating to bank chairmen. Rampant corruption was also one of his qualities that has attracted the PM’s attention. Is the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) only a bugbear for mid-career bureaucrats? Isn’t it curious that neither CVC nor CBI has such corrupt bureaucrats in its crosshairs?
€ The Serious Frauds Office of the United Kingdom brought corruption charges against Alstom (UK) for allegedly paying a bribe of over three million euros to the Delhi Metro Rail officials in 2001 to secure a contract for a train control, signalling and telecommunications system. It reminds us of how the Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI) under CB Bhave wound up an investigation into the round-tripping of a massive $250 million into Reliance Communications with a consent order and no admission of guilt. Anil Ambani’s Reliance ADAG paid just Rs50 crore and managed a vague and opaque public disclosure without admission of guilt, even though the Financial Services Authority (FSA) of the UK issued a far more explicit order and also fined the UBS bankers $2 million.
Can we expect this to change? Prime minister Narendra Modi has made several clear commitments to the people of India. “We have to create systems where there is no injustice against anybody,” he tweeted. More specifically, he promised to act as a ‘chowkidar’ (guard) who would prevent the plunder of national wealth. “I will neither take a bribe not allow anyone else to accept one,” he has said.
We know this is easier said than done. Other than a rumour about the PM having actually asked the son of a senior leader to return a bribe, we have yet to see any change down the line, especially in regulatory and investigation agencies.
Conflict of interest often breeds corruption. The government is working on the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013, but who really believes it will make a difference? Then there is the lapsed private member’s Bill on conflict of interest introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Dr EMS Natchiappan.
A multi-disciplinary group of NGOs called the Alliance against Conflict of Interest (AACI) is working to resurrect and improve on it by putting together a detailed note with documented cases of how conflict breeds corruption and skews policy-making and regulation in diverse areas—from education to public health, food, safety, environment or finance.
Transparency International, a global NGO that tracks corruption, defines ‘conflict of interest’ as “any situation where an individual or an entity, whether a government, business, media outlet or civil society organisation, is confronted with choosing between the duties and demands of their position and their own private interests.”
In India, every position is influenced by corruption or nepotism and duty is never a consideration. This is at its worst when it comes to public servants and bureaucrats. While politicians face the ballot every five years, corrupt bureaucrats can damage the system for decades, especially when they are due to retire.
Even the most egregious cases of conflict, where retiring bureaucrats or chairmen of nationalised banks, insurance companies or regulatory bodies have immediately accepted lucrative advisory positions or board directorships with private and foreign companies, are rarely questioned. The mandatory cooling-off period is usually invoked only as an act of revenge rather than regular discipline.
The AACI points out how policies that decide people’s livelihoods and set standards for their food and health are set by advisory bodies/groups/committees that are riddled with conflict of interest. Powerful corporate influence is visible everywhere. This was legitimised over the past decade under the guise of public-private partnerships, such as the PHFI (Public Health Foundation of India), which also obtained huge tracts of land and funding from Union and state governments.
Conflict of interest is just as destructive when it works in a covert fashion, where powerful corporate and vested interests influence policy-makers to engage only with NGOs under their control and influence.
The consequence is bad law, unfair systems, more litigation and, in the worst case, public anger and protests. Suppressing any discussion on these issues in the mainstream media is another manifestation of the conflict-corruption nexus which is even harder to break.
Sucheta Dalal is the managing editor of Moneylife. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2006 for her outstanding contribution to journalism. She can be reached at [email protected]
Sankara Narayan
9 years ago
Our corruption cases are brought to light by foreign Govt agencies!e.g Westland helicopter Deals , Delhi Metro....It is not very difficult to make crime does not pay . But how a corrupt machinery will bring about anything like that ? In the not too distant future corrupt ones may form even a trade union as shown in a cartoon some years back !
Maninder Singh
9 years ago
Instead of arranging domestic matter Mr. Modi is busy in building foreign relations. Why CBI is keeping all convicts in custody for years? This shows no sense.
Dayananda Kamath k
Replied to Maninder Singh comment 9 years ago
do you mean to say they should be let off free to do further scams. you can not run a country by looking at domestic matter only. congress did it looking at their personal welfare only.
Ramesh Bajaj
9 years ago
The malaise of corruption and influence-buying is deeply ingrained in the system.

It is unbelievable, how an ordinary common man can suffer the injustice because of "use" of influential people.

Here you are writing about people in high places, but I am talking about the common man, like me, who has no influence and does not know influential people .
Ramesh Bajaj
vihari patel
9 years ago
A disturbing article by Sucheta who deserves kudos for her boldness and content with evidence. If Supreme Court appeared to be the last hope, we now find not so? That leaves the current PM only. Yes, let us see if Mr. Modi shows finesse in changing and reigning in the corrupt system, corrupt ministers, corrupt bureaucrats of India.One great example, like sacking the CBI Director, will raise our hopes.
9 years ago

You have rightly hit the bulls eye by pointing what is ailing the system.

The whole system is designed in such a way that those in power are not accountable for their actions while they can make life miserable for ordinary people.

Judiciary which is supposed
to go after the corrupt is
asking the identity of the
messenger instead of finding
about the truth in the message.

When the ruling class appoints
to powerful posts only those who will subserve their
interest, how one can expect any change.

Unless the Prime Minister takes
some drastic action and live
by his promise, nothing will change.
Dayananda Kamath k
Replied to PRAKASH D N comment 9 years ago
but media is against modi initiating action about the corrupt practices of previous regime by finding technical points and highlighting inconsequential aspects of the action and trying to show him as authoritarian and hindu fanatic
jaideep shirali
9 years ago
Mr Sinha's attempt at trying to get the whistleblower is ridiculous and the arguments given by his lawyer even worse. It's shocking that the source of evidence is given more prominence than its implication, that too by the SC. Tomorrow, a lawyer will question the evidence given by, say a prostitute, on the grounds that given her 'character', the evidence is questionable,forget whether it nails the accused. As a citizen, I support Prashant Bhushan. There are clerks and other persons in the SC whose connivance can be easily bought to disclose whistle blower identity. In sum, the fact is that across the neta babu spectrum, we need more stringent punishment, mainly confiscation of all assets, because money is the backbone of their arrogance. The moot question is how to expect this class to punish themselves? As a country, we have become so used to corruption, that those who stand against it are termed fools. One can expect nothing from the BJP, there is no difference, no urgency to expedite trials and punish the guilty. We are still in the "setting kar diya" mood.
Uday Sheorey
9 years ago
It is wishful thinking to expect BJP to do anything substantial about this rapidly spreading disease - its just not in their DNA, for example, the speedy transfer of the CVC officer from AIIMS. The only way is for all of us is a) enter adequate details on a websit (IndiaScams.in ?) via the web, and b) to wholeheartedly support brave people such as Prashant Bhushan & the AAP.
Dayananda Kamath k
Replied to Uday Sheorey comment 9 years ago
they are also selective in their protests and actions. i have mailed to both of them how the country is looted in gold imports through nominated agencies but they do not have any response.
Clue Dance
Replied to Uday Sheorey comment 9 years ago
I also agree.
Let us wait and see how many people of our Nation who happen to read this agree also!
sivaraman anant narayan
Replied to Uday Sheorey comment 9 years ago
I agree
Dahyabhai S Patel
9 years ago
Corruption could be brought under control if bribe giver is not considered the culprit primarily unless proven otherwise and punished stringently; onus of proving the bribe giving must be put on the government officials/office bearers as they are supposed to get things done for the common people and for that they are handsomely paid with perks!!!!
9 years ago
Why Supreme court is interested in the name of whistle blower but not in the truth of allegations? This says it all
Dayananda Kamath k
Replied to captainjohann comment 9 years ago
cvc rajana kumari revealed the name of central bank of india general manager to cvc for being whistle blower and he was harassed by cmd and defend his case bank spent public money of more than 60 lakhs and gm was to be reinstated on his last working day by court order. what action has been initiated against the cvc and cmd who wasted the public money. i my self has sent a complaint to CJI as to how in karnatak high court justice is delayed and denied, and rather legal stamp is being given to illegal intentions of powerful and rich.
Dayananda Kamath k
Replied to captainjohann comment 9 years ago
that is the independence of judiciary advocated by CJI
Clue Dance
9 years ago
Dear Sucheta,

Your article "The malaise of corruption and influence-buying is deeply ingrained in the system", I just read. People like me are thankful to you. I haven't read you before. Our system is depressingly corrupt, many people like me have left reading news even, I think. But this is never the answer to corruption, but brave attempts at trying to stop it by people like you, Shanti Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and a few others.

I and people like me have now revived hope in recovering our system from corruption, thanks to the AAP's tireless attempts at the same.

I would like your opinion on AK & AAP. Can they do some good?

Thanks and congratulations for your bold and well covering anti corruption article.
Clue Dance

9 years ago
it is the fact that why people choose a GOVERNMENT JOB ? no has to QUESTION , live life KING-SIZE.
Simple Indian
9 years ago
It is amazing that the country's premier investigating agency doesn't have sufficient statutory backing, but instead was setup and exists under a Delhi police Act. When other major institutions like SEBI, RBI, and even SBI can be created & maintained with exclusive Acts of Parliament, why not one for our so-called 'premier' investigating agency ?
Also, CBI must be made accountable to a Parliament Standing Committee to enable it to function free from political interference from the govt of the day. The Director ought to be chosen by a similar committee comprising of PM, CJI, LoP-LS, & Home Minister, with a veto power to each of them (so only consensus can prevail, to avoid the P.J. Thomas as CVC episode). Though politician-bashing for all ills of the country is a fashionable hobby for most people, we forget that it's the highly-qualified and competent civil servants who are equally big crooks, and both netas and babus swindle with each other's connivance. Perhaps, our MPs should visit Singapore and some Scandinavian countries which have excellent governance models, with minimal corruption. But then, those models may suit those countries due to their cultures and their limited population, enabling a more equitable distribution of resources. Gross overpopulation in India has never been taken seriously, but remains our biggest bane, and hurdle towards progress.
Replied to Simple Indian comment 9 years ago
Couldnt agree more, especially the last point. Overpopulation is something no one seems to be worried about. We seem smug about our 'demographic dividend'- but what about all the additional houses, clean water, transportation and other resources required?
Dayananda Kamath k
Replied to Abhishek comment 9 years ago
we are also increasing demography of regulators. instead of correcting the functioning of existing regulators we are going for super and double super regulators, lokayukta and what not, to regulate the regulators. this is not the solution. more the number of regulators more confusion as everybody want to show it is functioning but not in the interest of public good.
Dayananda Kamath k
9 years ago
it is not symptom it is the legacy of congress. for making such appointments they need leader of opposition post when people have rejected them.
Sudhir Kamath
9 years ago
Eye opener!!! Awesome article... Hats off lady..keep it up.
Praveen Sakhuja
9 years ago
it is rightly said - The malaise of corruption and influence-buying is deeply ingrained in the system. details mentioned and un-covering of past appointments during UPA prove boosting corruption through corrupt appointments of corrupt officials at top levels. Story has a gap which I fill. Director Export Inspection Council appointed in 2009 carries record of those educational qualification declared and taken on records course of which is not run by the university he did the course. AMU debnies of running any such course. Exposure to this plus misuse of power by permitting sub standard rice consignments not meeting the required parameters as laid down y EU countries and GOI plus allowing purchase of aquaculture products from non registered bodies over ruling GOI instruction proves - In India, every position is influenced by corruption or nepotism and duty is never a consideration. It is also rightly said - “any situation where an individual or an entity, whether a government, business, media outlet or civil society organization, is confronted with choosing between the duties and demands of their position and their own private interests.” Concluding PM and team be given time of at least 2 years to take over such positions which have been breading since last more than 50 years. I am sure all mentioned will be taken on records for remedies with others mentioned.

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