The Central Vigilance Commission on 31st October 2000, introduced the practice of observing the week starting from the birthday of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as the Vigilance Awareness Week. This was an effort at making the employees of the government of India organisations aware of the dangers and harm caused by corruption ,which is anti poor, anti development and anti national .
31st October was chosen as the date as it is the birthday of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, one of the great leaders our country who is an outstanding icon and role model for patriotism, political integrity, visionary but highly pragmatic leadership and value based politics. The birthday of Sardar Patel was deliberately chosen because during the freedom struggle, Sardar Patel was the leader who did all the demanding hard work not visible in the public eye of raising resources and organising the political movement .This task called for , absolute integrity, an excellent capacity for management and inspiring leadership.
The Central Vigilance Commission[CVC] was set up in 1964 following the recommendation of the Santhanam Committee which was assigned to study the issue of corruption in public life and suggest measures to be taken to check corruption among the public servant of the government of India as well as in the political field. The jurisdiction of the CVC was restricted to the public servants. So far as the political leaders were concerned, an organisation called the Lokpal was visualised to be set up. Unfortunately, while the CVC was set up in February 1964, the Lokpal has been a matter of debate. In the last forty years a Lok Pal bill hs been introduced in parliament nine times but with no results. The latest was the Lokpal bill introduced in December 2011 which was passed by the Loksabha and is now before a joint select committee.
The situation about vigilance awareness today is totally different from what it was way back in 2000. The political developments at the national level in the last three years have drawn almost the total attention of the media and the powers that be to the issue of corruption in public life and governance. In short, 2008 can be called the year of scams when a glimpse of the dimensions of corruption in governance was revealed thanks to the series of scams. 2009 witnessed the pent up anger of society at large which exploded into two movements one led by Anna Hazare and his team under the banner of India Against Corruption. The second was led by Baba Ramdev, who has a large following thanks to his televised yoga classes every day. While Anna Hazare focused on the issue of the Jan Lok Pal Bill with the Jan Lok Pal as the silver bullet to kill the demon of corruption once for all, Baba concentrated his movement on the allegedly enormous amounts of funds of the order of US $1.3 trillion in tax heavens sent by Indians out of our country. His demand was that this money must be brought back to India and would of immense value in building the vital infrastructure for the nation.
Both the movements have in a way greatly dissipated but at least they ensured that the people all over the country and the common man became aware of the issue of corruption in every sector of public life
Vigilance means alertness .If we are alert, about the harm caused by corruption, we can prevent it we can also take action to punish the guilty so that there is a deterrent effect. If there are weaknesses in our system, we can take corrective action to design better systems that do not provide scope for corruption,
In other words, if we are aware of the dangers of corruption and vigilant, we can take action for predictive, preventive and punitive vigilance.
Based on my observations and association with this issue, I have come to the following conclusion:
(i)The source of corruption ultimately is in the human mind. It is greed which is at the root of corruption. The Bhagawat Gita itself recognises that every person acts according to his nature or guna. It classifies people under three categories as those who have satva guna, rajo guna or tamo guna. Each person will behave only according to his guna. If we want corruption to be checked in public life, we must design systems that will promptly punish those who indulge in corruption.
(ii)The main reason why corruption flourishes is in our system, is that no body is held accountable in our system of governance .We must design a system in which everyone will be held accountable and there will be prompt and assured punishment of the corrupt
(iii) If we look at the dynamics of corruption, we find that it is a vicious cycle involving the neta, [political leader] the babu [bureaucrat], the lala [business and corporate sector] the jhola [NGO] and the dada [criminals]. Starting with political corruption, the bureaucrats also flourish in corruption and they are encouraged by the corrupting corporate sector, and the business community .Even the non governmental sector is involved in the vicious cycle, ultimately topped by criminalisation of politics.
To break the vicious cycle, we will have to begin with tackling the political sector. Political sector will be unwilling to commit hara kiri because today politics has become an exercise in the use of money power[mostly black money] and muscle power. Over the years we have developed a system, where blackmoney acts as the oxygen for corruption and vice versa. Almost every sector seems to have been affected by the taint of black money and hence the emotional appeal of Baba Ramdev.
The solution for the blackmoney is of course to device systems which will prevent generation of black money. The humongous amount of black money ought to be brought back to India and used for nation building purposes, .The best solution appears to be what Fali Nariman, the eminent legal expert has suggested. The entire funds which are unaccounted for in the offshore tax heavens can be declared by law [issued as an ordinance] to vest in government of India and managed by an authority called Custodian for unaccounted funds in the tax heavens. Those who can prove their legal ownership of the funds in such tax heavens and prove that they have paid their taxes for the amount in India can claim the amount back. But others will be in the situation of ‘thieves stung by a scorpion’ as the Tamil proverb goes and keep quiet.
To prevent future generation of black money, drastic tax reforms, especially income tax is called for. It is discretion of the tax authorities that is the happy hunting ground for generation of corruption and we can make the tax laws simplified and the laws can be made exemption free. At present, it is estimated that income tax has more than 200 exemptions. So an exemption free tax laws with a reasonable rate, say 10-15% i is ideal. A similar philosophy can be adopted right across the spectrum of taxation so that the enormous amount of black money generated by misuse of discretionary powers can be checked.
The future movements of black money to tax heavens can be broadly checked by strengthening the Money Laundering Act 2003 where a big loophole has been provided by not covering the taxes generally evaded for generation of tax money like customs, excise, registration of property taxes, stamp duty and so on.
(iv)In tackling political corruption, the most urgent need is for changing laws for funding of political parties and bringing them on par with United States or Germany. In my view the idea of public funding of elections will be a no brainer. Many laws in India which have been made rather with best intentions yield totally counter productive results..As the Bible says, the path to hell is paved with good intentions.
(v)The politicians will not commit hara kiri if we expect them to give up their way of exploiting their office to amass wealth. Their behaviour changes only with two factors. One is, when there is a TINA factor (There Is No Alternative) or when they get a vote bank advantage.
(vi)Finally, any organisation works better if the right people come to the right job. To ensure the right people come to the right job, we should adopt what I would call the 2T formula. The first T is Transparency. There must be total transparency so far as qualifications required by a candidate for any post, the selection criteria and process are concerned, So far as the selection process is concerned, this will ensure that right people are considered and the right process is adopted. The second T is the TINA factor. The selection process itself should be such, apart from being transparent, that There Is No Alternative but to select the right person for the job. To this extent, there will be an inbuilt guarantee that for any post in public governance, the right people will come to occupy them. It is not difficult to build in this condition so that automatically, over a period of time, the right people will come to occupy all posts.
(vii)The next major element in changing to political sector is decriminalising it. The concept of the integrity of institutions was articulated by Justice Kapadia in the judgement of PJ Thomas case who was appointed as the CVC in 2010.
This principle may be extended to organisations like Parliament and legislature so that these organisations, which are meant for drafting laws for the country, are not themselves tainted and crippled by the presence of criminals and potential criminals. It is true that for more than five to ten years the suggestion has been pending with the government and these amendments will never be made, if the initiative is left only with the political parties. This Gordian knot must be cut by the Chief Election Commissioner, who can declare that any candidate who is facing criminal charges in court of law can not contest elections till he is cleared finally by the court of law. This issue then could be easily tested in the courts. Where the courts will pronounce the judgement on whether the order issued by the Election Commissioner in discharge is valid. After all, TN Seshan brought a revolution virtually single handed in the powers of the Election Commission by interpreting his constitutional responsibility of the EC in such a way that during the period of elections that is, between the notification and declaration of results, Election Commission virtually became the state government of the state where the elections are held and for elections for parliament are concerned, Election Commission’s power becomes more than the power of Parliament itself! The government of India can not announce any new concession and make laws and the Parliament definitely will not pass any laws which have a bearing on the free and fair conduct of elections. The sensitivity that have been built up over the years, thanks to the movements of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev have perhaps, created today an environment where such an initiative by the Election Commission may proved to be effective. Otherwise, we will be waiting for ever.
(viii)Further, to clean up the entire system and make it more accountable, for every sector, namely, politics, judiciary, bureaucracy, corporate sector and media, we could make appropriate changes to bring in greater transparency and accountability. In this way, it should be possible to in a very reasonably short time of two or three years to break out of the vicious cycle of corruption and make the public life in India an exercise in virtuous cycle of dharma.
If we take a medical analogy, our country today is suffering from a multiple organ failure of governance. I am 74 today. Five years back,. I had an experience of suffering multiple organ failure, a quarter nary bye pass surgery followed by a heart attack, pneumonia, acute renal failure and enlarged prostrate. A battery of doctors consisting of the cardiologist, pulmonologist, diabitologist and urologist worked together and save me from the jaws of death.
Who would be the doctors for our nation, which is suffering multiple organ failure of governance?. In my view, three constitutional authorities, namely, the judiciary, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and the Election Commission and the statutory authority of Central Vigilance Commission can act as doctors. Exercising their own powers and their skills, they can help greatly in installing such virtuous cycle of dharma for a nation to escape the trap of corruption.