Most people remain at the mercy of a venal administration that, encouraged by the absence of an independent watchdog, exploits them relentlessly
The state of affairs in the country is characterised by rampant corruption at all levels leading to a breakdown in the rule of law and lack of accountability all around. One can say that there is a complete collapse of governance in the country. Something drastic needs to be done soon, else the country will become an ungovernable anarchy.
The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments of 1992 were intended to empower the people to plan for their development themselves by providing for the establishment of self-governing panchayat institutions in villages and municipal institutions in towns. Unfortunately, even 20 years later, the promise of local self-governance remains largely unimplemented. Consequently, most people remain at the mercy of a corrupt administration imposed upon them from above, which has continued to exploit them. It is this failure which has given rise to militant Maoism in large areas of India.
The country is blessed with significant natural resources and mineral wealth. Unfortunately, instead of being used in the public interest, most of this wealth is being looted by a corrupt government and its band of crony capitalists. If these natural resources were to be treated as belonging to the people living in those areas, the people would cooperate with others for their exploitation for mutual benefit. We will have to repose our trust in these people if we want to rid India of militant Maoism.
Let us consider the deficits in governance which have led to this alarming state of affairs.
Corrupt, insensitive organisation
The police impacts the lives of all of us, particularly the poor, in a big way. The Indian Police is universally regarded as a corrupt, insensitive, immoral and indisciplined organisation of oppressors, which led Justice A.N. Mulla to comment even 50 years ago that it is the largest organised gang of armed criminals in the country. That is largely because the police in India was set up by the Imperial British government for preserving British Rule and not to serve the Indian people. Several commissions, including the Dharam Vira police commission in 1982, have recommended the comprehensive restructuring of the Indian police. The Supreme Court ordered such restructuring six years ago. But successive governments have resisted these reforms, not willing to let go of their control over the police, which they have abused in their own interests.
There is tremendous corruption in every department of the government. The tax authorities often use their powers to extract bribes rather than honestly collect taxes. Yet there is no independent ombudsman to check their corruption. Since this suits the politicians who get a part of the bribes collected, they have done nothing to remedy this. If an independent ombudsman had been set up, the menace of black money would not have become so huge.
Does the Prime Minister not know that virtually no building plan is sanctioned without payment of bribes, that no electricity connection is given to new houses without payment of bribes, that hardly anything moves in any government department without the greasing of palms? What has this Prime Minister or, for that matter, his BJP predecessor, done in the past 14 years to change this? Everyone knows that the main reason for this is the lack of an independent anti-corruption agency. That is why the U.N. Convention against Corruption required every country to set up anti-corruption agencies (which we named Lokpal) which would be independent of the government.
Of what use is his honesty?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh does not take any money for himself while others in the Congress as well as in other political parties make money for not only the party, but also for themselves. But what is the use of such honesty to the people if the Prime Minister allows his ministers to make money by corrupt means, even if only for augmenting party funds? Does the Prime Minister not know the reason why coalition parties insist on so-called lucrative ministries? If such are the compulsions of coalition politics, how do the people benefit from such a coalition remaining in power?
In the 2G case, was the PM not aware that his government was giving away spectrum to private companies at a tenth of its market price, allowing them to make profits of thousands of crores at the expense of the public exchequer? In the “Coal-Gate” case, there is clear evidence that the UPA government permitted corruption in the allocation of coal blocks for private parties to go on for years, causing a loss of about Rs. two lakh crores to public funds.
The documents referred to in the CAG’s report make it clear that the Prime Minister’s Office knew about the huge undue profits being given to the chosen allottees of coal blocks. Does it require a Sherlock Holmes to tell us that where one official allows a private party to make huge undue gains, it must be for taking from such person a share of their gain in the form of a bribe?
It was for this reason that Section 13 (1) (e) was enacted in the Prevention of Corruption Act, making a public servant guilty of corruption even when no evidence of bribery surfaced but an act of a public servant caused the receipt of undue gains by some person. The documents and notings in the files of the Coal Ministry — which the Prime Minister himself headed from 2006 to 2009 — show that he kept postponing the implementation of the coal secretary’s 2004 recommendation to auction the coal blocks, even after the Law Ministry clarified that no legislation was needed to give effect to it. The PM was fully aware that the coal secretary submitted a note on September 25, 2004 highlighting the different kinds of pulls and pressures experienced by the screening committee during the decision-making process and stressing that it was desirable that all pending applications be decided on the basis of competitive bidding.
Is the Prime Minister also not aware that the coal secretary put up a note to him on March 7, 2005 stating that if the proposed procedure for allocation of coal blocks was not put in place quickly enough, pressures would again mount on the government for continuing with the present procedure, which might not be desirable in the interests of bringing about total transparency in the allocation of coal blocks? And yet the Prime Minister overlooked these concerns and continued with arbitrary allocation of coal blocks, causing huge losses to the government and undue gains to all kinds of private companies.
It is obvious that the common man has ceased to matter for those who govern and what matters to them is the growth of GDP and the massive opportunities for political parties to make money. It is apparent that the country needs a peaceful revolution in the country to change this. The question is, when and how?
(The author is a Senior Advocate and a former Union Law Minister.)