The theme for the Vigilance Awareness Week 2016 is ‘Public participation in promoting integrity and combating corruption’.  I happened to be the Central Vigilance Commissioner from September 1998 to September 2002 and I am very happy for the Vigilance Awareness Week being celebrated from the year 2000 onwards.

In fact, the very core idea of  the Vigilance Awareness Week being observed under the initiative of Central Vigilance Commission is that the Commission realized that in a huge country like India, we cannot promote integrity and combat corruption unless there is participation of the public.  

Before proceeding further, it is better to be clear about what do we mean by the words ‘integrity’ and ‘corruption’. 

Integrity is basically the state in which there is complete coherence and no division.  From a practical point of view, integrity means honesty or straightforwardness.  As the Central Vigilance Commission deals with the issue of integrity, it looks up it in three different angles.  One of course is the integrity relating to intellectual integrity, the second is financial integrity and the third is moral or ethical integrity.  The function of the Central Vigilance Commission, as defined by the CVC Act 2003 that it should exercise supervision over the Vigilance function of the Government of India and its organizations. This covers a wide spectrum including not only the government departments but also public sector enterprises, public sector banks and organizations which receive financial assistance from the government of India i.e. from the consolidated fund of India.  

The word corruption is defined by the World Bank as use of public office for private gain.  So far as the strict legal aspect is concerned, the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 defines the objective conditions for the courts to decide whether the act of corruption taken place or not when a case come before that forum.  For our analysis in this paper we may adopt   World Bank definition of using public office for private gain is relatively accurate and broad based and easy for understanding the issues involved.  

With these concepts clear, we may examine the theme of ‘public participation for promoting integrity and combating corruption’ in the context of our country and the government of India.

First, a bit of personal history.  

In fact, the idea that we should have a ‘Vigilance Awareness Week’ was suggested to me by my senior colleague in IAS, Mr T.N.Seshan[IAS TN 1955] whom I greatly admire and who is a hero not only for me but for millions of people in our country. He brought about a revolution in the great institution of Election Commission of India, which he headed as Chief Election Commissioner from 1990 to 1996.  Today, any serious student of Indian democracy has to draw a line between Before Seshan [B.S] and After Seshan [A.S].  No one has met the challenge of money power and muscle power and widespread malpractices before him as dramatically as he did.   The greatness of the contribution made by Mr. Seshan is that he had a very sharp analytical mind and had a very deep and insightful understanding about the psychology of our people and our nation and our culture.  Based on these things, he tackled head on, the challenges of the widespread corruption and the brazen use of muscle power and money power in the general elections.  There has been a growing vicious cycle or alliance between what I used to call, the neta, babu, lala, jhola and dada i.e the corruption politician, corrupt bureaucrats, corrupt businessman, corrupt NGOs and criminals.  In such a situation, he literally brought about a dramatic change by systematically exploring and pushing the envelope of the legal and constitutional power which the Election Commission had under the Constitution and every step he had undertook had to face the challenge of the vested interest which ultimately got resolved when the Supreme Court looked into them when a matter was agitated before the highest body of the country in judicial matters.  It is how today, we can be proud as Indians, not only because of our democracy, but also for the excellent institution for conducting free and fair elections in the form of the Election Commission of India.

It was Mr. Seshan’s suggestion that if the Central Vigilance Commission were to observe one week in a year as a ‘Vigilance Awareness Week’, it will help focusing the attention of promoting integrity and combating corruption right across entire spectrum of government of India organizations which directly come under the jurisdiction of the CVC but also will have a multiplier effect by way of bringing the whole issue in the public domain and as the issue of integrity and combating corruption affects the life of every citizen of the country, it is bound to have ultimately a good impact. 

I am glad that what was visualized by Mr. Seshan, which I implemented in my capacity as Central Vigilance Commissioner has today blazed an excellent track record and as we look back at the history of the past two decades, we will find that the youth of today can immediately find resonance with the concept of integrity and combating corruption as the sine qua non for good governance.  

In a way, the Vigilance Awareness Week has set into motion of virtuous cycle, one good development following another.  It will be appropriate, on the occasion the Vigilance Awareness Week to quickly trace the developments in the area of public governance in our country since 2000 when the Vigilance Awareness Week was launched.  

To begin with, the background of the changes brought about by the Central Vigilance Commission and the focus on promoting integrity and combating corruption in public life is in reality a saga of the changes that public participation has brought about. 

Ironically, the beginning in recent times of public participation demanding accountability on governance and checking corruption was in Rajasthan, one of the most backward states in our country.  India is a state of continental dimensions and when it comes to the stages of development, India is like a snake whose head is in the 21st century and the tail may be in the 17th century.  Different states in our country are at different stages of development and though there is a cultural integrity of India, we are a multi ethnic, multi lingual and multi speed country.  From the backward States which are collectively known as BIMARU states (Bihar, Madya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh) which has vary vast population of the country, compared to other state like Gujarat, Maharastra, Tamil Nadu and Punjab, they are so advanced when it comes to development on industry or even on agriculture. 

It was in Rajasthan that a Non-Government Organization lead  by a committed lady who also belonged  to the IAS, Aruna Roy,  called Kissan Mazdur Sangarh Sangatan which spread awareness  among the people of the villages that they should know whether the huge funds which were being made available to Panchayats for the development of the villages was being  used.  The theme she focused was on Tax revenue is ‘our money, Give us an account of how our money is being spent’.  ‘Hamara paisa, hamara issab’’ was the theme under which she was able to quietly and systematically work in the villages of Rajasthan along with her husband.  This made MKSS   such a powerful movement that ultimately the government had to concede the   right to information for the citizens. This led to the enactment in 2005 of the Right to Information Act as a method to empower the citizens about their rights and bring about transparency in the functioning of the government and the decision making.

The Act was indeed revolutionary.  It was a diametrically opposite concept under which the states have ruled and especially from the colonial period. Under the British there was an Official Secret Act.  But there was no method by which the citizens were taken in to confidence and informed about what the government intended to do and how their tax funds were being spent.

The Right to Information Act is unique in the history of India as a legislation which was agitated for and piloted by the activists in drafting which the activists played a very major role. 

That is not all,

Once the public participation lead to overall awareness about how transparency can be brought out in the governmental system and government can be made accountable also it encouraged separate movements on further enforcing their accountability.  In 2010, Anna Hazare, who has been active for more than three decades in the village of Ralegan city in Maharastra, became the leader of very popular movement.  The Anna Hazare movement for India Against Corruption[IAC] grabbed the attention of the entire nation as if it was a second movement for independence.  It got an unprecedented boost, thanks to the 24/7 electronic media and the all embracing social media. 

There have been from time to time in different levels both officials as well as social activists who have been agitating for promoting integrity and combating corruption in public life.  The Anna Hazare movement in 2010 surprisingly became unprecedented movement thanks to a number of addition factors.  Perhaps, the most important has been the growth of technology, especially information technology and communication technology.  The growth of the internet and especially the social media what is SCAM(Social, Cloud, Analytical, Mobile) areas of development in communication today have virtually placed tremendous powers in the hands of practically every citizen and voter so that he/she can access information and also spread ideas and opinion on a scale not only nationally but internationally and the impact of this have been very dramatic especially in more backward place where physical infrastructure might not have developed but the accessibility of mobile and information technology have empowered people.  

The so called Arab spring of 2011 starting with the movement of citizens in Egypt in Cairo, signaled how the participation of the public can be increased by orders of magnitude unthought of in the past but can be focused towards bringing about regime change and above all, try to make governments, rulers and those wielding offices of authority accountable. 

In a country like ours, this continuous participation of the people in promoting integrity and combating corruption, especially in the last decades have led to situations that set political agendas and electoral issues.  The 2014 elections were largely shaped by the civil society agitations and media coverage of scams. 

It is, therefore, appropriate that this year’s theme of Vigilance Awareness Week is focused on public participation on promoting integrity and combating corruption.  

This can be a broad overview.  Our experience in the last two decades and more has also shown us that there are multiple aspects of public participation and one has to be clear that we do not do injustice to anyone and we are fair.  In fact, the manner in which the anti-corruption movement and public participation have evolved in the last few years seem to highlight more the negative dimensions out of  which I would like to highlight  the following:

(i)The electronic and print media play a large role in highlighting the issue of corruption and lack of integrity in public life and in all these, there is not only the ostensible objective of doing the public service but also tremendous commercial interest.  These vested interests have their own agenda and in the process, in the case of the electronic media there is a continuous competition for Television Rating Points.  Truth and objectivity get suppressed in the process. Suppressio veri suggestio falsi is more common.

(ii)In the process therefore, what is sensational is highlighted and the culture of breaking news has lead to situation where sensationalisatiion takes priority over verification and accuracy.  The same has also lead to the expected consequence of media trials by which even though we have a judicial system and authorities for various organizations and departments who are empowered legally and who are entrusted with the functions of ensuring good governance, they are sidelined and sought to be influenced by these media trials.  

(iii)The third aspect is the fact that once somebody’s reputation is severely damaged, it is virtually impossible for that person to retrieve his reputation and there have been very tragic cases of honest people being hounded out.  For example, the case of the senior scientist in the Department of Space in Kerala comes readily to mind.  The manner in which Arushi murder case in Delhi was managed by the media also showed that initial media trial can totally mislead the regular enquiries that were going on. 

(iv)With all these, we should appreciate the remarkable role played by our judiciary which has been able to maintain the focus on really bringing guilty to book and laying down standards so that the agencies who are fighting corruption function on the right lines.  

In fact, the very reconstitution of the Central Vigilance Commission following the judgement of Justice Verma in the Hawala case in 1998 is an example of how the judiciary looking into a public interest litigation (public participation) of Vineet Narain on the issue of Hawala came out with the guidelines for setting up the Central Vigilance Commission in a manner far more effective than what it was before. 

Another impact of the public participation and the l publicity that goes with the cases of integrity and corruption that are being handled in the media is the negative impact it has on policy makers and executives leading to what used to be called in the regime of UPA II as policy paralysis.

This danger of policy paralysis has to be tackled.  As a former civil servant who has had exposure for more than 42 years in public administration, I would suggest that every public servant should follow the basic three point test to see that the decision taken in ethical which is given by Norman Vincent Peale and Kenneth Blanchard in their book, Power of ethical management (Norman Vincent Peale is the author of the famous book ‘Power of positive thinking’ and Kenneth Blanchard is the author of ‘One minute manager’).  In their book they talk about the three point test to decide whether any decision is ethical:

(i)Is it legal?  If any decision that is taken is not legal, then it is not ethical.

(ii)Is it fair?  It is the fairness that is very vital.  This fairness goes beyond the pure arithmetic or mathematical aspect.  But we must ensure that every stakeholder connected with an issue gets his share of whatever benefits or losses and the decision taken does not favour any particular stakeholder.

(iii)The third is what I would call the 11th Commandment test.  There is a joke that there are 10 commandments in the Bible but one can violate all commandments provided one does not violate the 11th commandment.  The 11th commandment is ‘thou shall not be found out’.  

In fact, various scams which marred the reputation of UPA II government in recent times are all the results of the gross brazen misuse of powers for private gain which came out in the public domain thanks to the alertness of the media and the activists.  The transparency is the best guarantee against corruption. To bring about transparency, the movement of Anna Hazare and its off shoot Kejriwal’s movement have focused attention on the need for Lok Pal.  We have a law now of the Lok Pal but I do not know how effective it will be, because, ultimately the responsibility for integrity is on the individual himself. However well designed a system may be, a crocked mind can always find ways to exploit the system.  Oscar Wilde rightly observed, ‘the thief is an artist, the policeman is only a critic’.  So how to ensure that one retains the basic value of integrity.  There may be many reasons but the background of ethics which is derived from our religion or our teachers and parents.  On this practically every religion and every community in India has its own role model and by following them we can assure what we need, a clean life and not become victims of corruption.  

As we observe the Vigilance Awareness Week this time, I would like to emphasize one very important aspect.  This is the inspiring leadership of our PM Mr Narendra Modi.

He has given supreme importance to the issue of good governance from the day he assumed charge as the PM in 2014.

Every step taken since he became PM is in realizing that supreme national vision. We can all, therefore look forward to a great future.

The initiatives taken by our Prime Minister, right from his days of the Chief Minister and the way in which he conducted the campaign and every measure he has taken have shown that he realises that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.  Under his leadership we are on our way to become one of best countries in the world drawing inspiration from our own ethical cultural roots.  

N.Vittal, IAS(Retd)

Former Central Vigilance Commissioner


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