Despite a plethora of legal frameworks to address the issue of corruption, it has barely helped address it on the ground
A Lokpal report on Monday painted a grim picture of how corruption in high places has been endemic in India, where even members of Parliament — who are otherwise expected to maintain the highest levels of decorum in public life — have fallen in its grip.
According to a report on News18 citing official data, “As many as 110 complaints, including four against Members of Parliament, were received by anti-corruption ombudsman Lokpal during 2020-21, registering over 92 percent decline from the number of plaints received in 2019-20. The Lokpal had received 1,427 corruption complaints in 2019-20.”
The report further said that of the total complaints received in the last fiscal, 57 were against Group A or Group B central government officials, 44 against chairpersons, members and employees of different boards/corporations/autonomous bodies wholly or partially financed by the Centre, and five were in the others category. A total of 220 complaints were requests/comments or suggestions and as many as 613 complaints were related to state government officials, public sector undertakings, statutory bodies, judicial institutions and autonomous bodies at state level.
Corruption in high offices
Although corruption in high places is shocking, it is nothing new, even outside India.
On 3 June, the White House released the Memorandum on Establishing the Fight Against Corruption as a Core United States National Security Interest which said, “Corruption threatens United States national security, economic equity, global anti-poverty and development efforts, and democracy itself. But by effectively preventing and countering corruption and demonstrating the advantages of transparent and accountable governance, we can secure a critical advantage for the United States and other democracies.”
It goes on to say, “Corruption corrodes public trust; hobbles effective governance; distorts markets and equitable access to services; undercuts development efforts; contributes to national fragility, extremism, and migration; and provides authoritarian leaders a means to undermine democracies worldwide. When leaders steal from their nations’ citizens or oligarchs flout the rule of law, economic growth slows, inequality widens, and trust in government plummets.”
In February last year, the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment had ordered political parties to publish the entire criminal history of their candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections and why the political parties were compelled to choose such candidates.
“It appears that over the last four general elections, there has been an alarming increase in the incidence of criminals in politics. In 2004, 24% of the Members of Parliament had criminal cases pending against them; in 2009, that went up to 30%; in 2014 to 34%; and in 2019 as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them”, Justice Nariman wrote, a report in The Hindu said.
This judgment is important from the point that right from choosing candidates to fight polls, the political parties are more inclined to reap political benefits rather than going through a process of strict scrutiny of the honesty index of the candidates.
Besides, India’s ranking on the corruption front is far from impressive. In May this year, India ranked a pathetic 86th out of 180 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index for 2020. This was a slip of six places from the last report.
“The index, which ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people, uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean,” said a report in The Economic Times.
In 2019, India’s score was 41 while in 2020 it was at rank 80 as per the Transparency International index.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission in Australia while examining issues of graft in public life, observed: “Corruption erodes the trust we have in the public sector to act in our best interests. It also wastes our taxes or rates that have been earmarked for important community projects – meaning we have to put up with poor quality services or infrastructure, or we miss out altogether.”
Despite a plethora of legal frameworks to address the issue of corruption, it has barely helped address it on the ground.
According to PRS Legislative, “Public servants in India can be penalized for corruption under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988 prohibits benami transactions. The Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 penalises public servants for the offence of money laundering. India is also a signatory (not ratified) to the UN Convention against Corruption since 2005.”‘
Perhaps the worse among all corruption is political corruption which essentially reflects a lack of serious political intent to end this menace.
“Political corruption was there even during the time of Pandit Nehru. But later a rapid erosion in the selfless dedication of leaders led to the growth of corruption in the entire body politic. National interest became nobody’s business. Welfare schemes turned the biggest source for siphoning off public funds,” KC Mehta wrote on The Hindu.
What Lokpal is
Lokpal is a national anti-corruption ombudsman to look into complaints against public servants which are defined under the Lokpal Act 2013. This body is constituted to check the menace of corruption in India.
According to the Jurisdiction And Functions Of Lokpal as defined on its website: “The Lokpal has jurisdiction to inquire into allegations of corruption against anyone who is or has been Prime Minister, or a Minister in the Union government, or a Member of Parliament, as well as officials of the Union Government under Groups A, B, C and D. Also covered are chairpersons, members, officers and directors of any board, corporation, society, trust or autonomous body either established by an Act of Parliament or wholly or partly funded by the Union or State government. It also covers any society or trust or body that receives foreign contribution above ₹10 lakh (approx. US$ 14,300/- as of 2019).”
The office of Lokpal comprises a chairperson and up to eight members. The chairperson of the body can be a current or former judge of the Supreme Court or the chief justice of high courts, a Jagranjosh piece said.
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