Category: N Vittal
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 (Valedictory address delivered on 9th December 2006 in the Seminar organised by the PGCIL and the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi) 

Two major challenges are facing us today. In the area of public health, the challenge of AIDS is supreme. In the area of peace and security, the challenge of terrorism, confronts us all the time. Corruption has a direct and in a way an indirect connection with both of them. So far as the direct connection between corruption and terrorism is concerned, it is corruption which creates the environment for terrorism to flourish by reducing the credibility and legitimacy of the state. If we take for example, the North Eastern states of India and a state like Jammu and Kashmir, corruption has been very rampant and long pervasive. In a very insidious way, the all pervasive corruption has eroded the legitimacy of the state in these areas and thereby creating an environment which encourages terrorism. As Mario Puzo pointed out in his best seller, Godfather when the established judicial system fails to deliver justice, mafia flourishes. When the state fails to protect the citizens and render justice, other sources raise their heads. This could be in the form of Naxalism as in more than 150 districts of India, covering a swath of what has been called the central revolutionary zone from Andhra Pradesh up to Nepal separatist movements like ULFA or cross border terrorism as in Jammu & Kashmir. Imagine for a moment that if these areas are free of corruption, the root cause of terrorism and naxalism would be greatly reduced.

The challenge of poverty is being constantly faced by the government. The current UPA government came to power claiming to serve the interest of ‘aam adhmi’. As Rajiv Gandhi pointed out, where there is corruption, out of every rupee that is designed to be spent on welfare of the poor, hardly 15 paise reaches the beneficiary. Out of this, perhaps 40 paise may be due to the delivery system and overheads. The remaining 45 paise is definitely accounted for by corruption. If corruption was not there, even without increasing resources, the benefits will flow to the poor and the movements like Naxalism which ostensibly are pro-poor cannot flourish challenging the legitimacy and authority of the state. We can therefore see how one of the major challenges of our time of naxalism and terrorism can be tackled if we are able to tackle the issue of corruption.

This urgency and also relevance for tackling the issue of corruption arise from this one fact apart from the standard arguments that corruption is anti-economic development, anti-national and anti-poor.

The connection between AIDS and corruption is something which I have been pointing out for more than 8 years, even since I became the Central Vigilance Commissioner. AIDS flourishes because of uncontrolled sex. Corruption flourishes because of uncontrolled financial behaviour. The uncontrolled sex spreading AIDS takes the form of rape or adultery. The uncontrolled financial behaviour spreading corruption takes the form of exploitative or collusive corruption. Exploitative corruption takes places when the citizen is exploited financially by the corrupt public servant even for providing legitimate services. This is nothing short of financial rape. The collusive form of corruption between the contractors and the public servants is equivalent of adultery between two consenting adults.

The level of corruption is any organization or country depends on three factors. The first of course, is the individual sense of values. The very root of corruption is greed. That is why, I do not buy the argument popularized by the Prime Minister of Singapore that of if you are able to pay only peanuts, you will get only monkeys as civil servants. As CVC, I found that while in many organizations, the lower level public servants may be honest, the seniors were corrupt. It is not as if the seniors were drawing less remuneration than the junior. This knocks off the argument about making people to remain honest by paying them so much that they will not be tempted. When the British ruled us, perhaps this was practiced because in those days, the civil servants, particularly at the top level were also paid substantially more than people in other sectors of life. Secondly, our government’s financial position is such today that we can never have enough resources to meet this criteria. As Gandhiji pointed out, there is enough for meeting everybody’s need but not everybody’s greed.

That brings us to the issue that if we have to tackle corruption at the root cause, we should be able to inculcate the right values among the people in the beginning of their life with the ideals of containing one’s greed and living with in one’s means. Unfortunately, in the context of globalization and the impact of the media both print and electronic, the culture of today seems to be in the opposite direction. We are in the age of consumerism and instant gratification.

One impact of the dramatic visibility and growth of the information technology is that a lot of youngsters are in the beginning of their career earning much more than what their parents earned at the end of their career. Thanks to consumerism, flaunting one’s wealth is the done thing and socially acceptable. For a change, a film like ‘Laghe reho munna bai’ may have popularized the concept of ‘Gandhighiri’, but this is an aberration. Many of our youngsters in the IT sector want to live it up. The general attitude to savings and money has totally changed. This provides the fertile environment where money becomes the only measuring rod for success. Our problem therefore, is to see how to inculcate moral values of simple living and high thinking in the education system. Apart from the educational institutions run by organizations inspired by religion like the DAV or the Ramakrishna School or the Society of Jesus, other schools run by government are not able to inculcate values. As any discussion about values, invariably leads to discussion about religious teachings, thanks to our emphasis on secularism, government funded institutions are not able to build in a culture of values as a part of the education. In short, the individual’s sense of values is the first factor that influences corruption is not easily amenable for our control or shaping.

The second factor, that increases the level of corruption are the values cherished by the society. At a smallest level of the society, one can talk in terms of values cherished by different professions, in the form of professional ethics, like the engineers, chartered accountants or the civil servants. By and large, the society values reflect the times. In our country today, once a person makes money, no questions are asked about how the money was made. Our judicial system is so weak that the conviction rate in the criminal courts is 6% making the legal framework in our country ideal for corruption being perceived as a low risk high profit business. So there is no hope on this front also.

The third important factor that determines the level of corruption is the system. It is the system which can be shaped. The system covers so far as the government itself is concerned, the system of governance. When it comes to individual organizations, the system of management or governance in the organization. The system of governance can be modified so that the scope of corruption is reduced. It is in this direction, I see some hope for progress.

Corruption flourishes when there is no transparency. Transparency can be induced in the system by suitable designing the system both from the legal as well as technological point of view. In both these dimensions, there are reasons for hope. The Right to Information Act, recently passed by the government is a classic example of how empowering citizen through the law and educating the citizens through the NGOs and activists can provide a healthy framework for transparency to flourish.

Nevertheless, too much of even a good thing may be bad. In the case of Right to Information Act, one of the problems came to my notice. It is the corrupt public servants who are facing the action, who want to use the Right to Information Act and force the Vigilance Officers in different public sector enterprises to reveal who blew the whistle on them. In fact, the identity and the privacy of the whistle blower has to be protected. If there was any doubt about the supreme importance of this, the tragic case of Satyendra Dubey highlighted it. The Supreme Court has also given directives. Nevertheless, the requisite law for the protection of whistle blowers is yet to be enacted. As the CVC, I got the Law Commission to draft, the Public Disclosure (Protection of Whistle blowers’) Bill. But this Bill is still somewhere in the labyrinthine corridors of the Ministry of Law and Home Affairs. Till that law is enacted, there has to be a clear understanding that in the case of Right to Information Act, the identity of the whistle blower will be protected and it can not be revealed. The extent to which RTI can be used depends upon how alert our citizens are. No wonder is has been rightly said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. There has always been a tendency to apply the reverse gear and put the whole system on the back track, as was made recently by the government. The government tried to put a restriction on the application of Right to Information Act on so far as the file notings are concerned. If the civil servants have given the correct advice, there is no reason why anyone of them should be afraid of the publication of file notings.

That brings me to the second aspect of technology. Information technology has proved to be a great boon so far as transparency in the system is concerned. Here we have the experience of the Railways’ passenger reservation system. Millions of people who travel by train, are getting the benefit in terms of a hassle and corruption free system. Commendable efforts are now being made to introduce e-governance in different government departments. This has to be applied to all departments of the government to get the benefit out of technology.

Two more points on this and then I will finish.

The first point is that retaining the same old procedures and only computerising them will not be enough. Experience in Andhra Pradesh has shown that even when the registration department was computerized as human intervention was needed for inputing data in the computer, corruption flourished. There is need for therefore, not only for applying computerization but business process re-engineering must be done to reduce discretion and intervention to the minimum.

The second point is generating new ideas to improve the performance itself. Speed and transparency of government must be improved so that the quality governance improves. For this, every person, particularly those who are concerned with the vigilance function will have to apply the standard principles of industrial engineering - namely elimination, combination, resequencing, modification and substitution to every process in government to generate alternative ideas to use IT so that there is a substantial, qualitative and visible improvement in the system.

Finally, how to generate ideas and how to implement all this? A lot depends on our practicing the eternal advice of the Taitreya Upanishad.

Let us come together. Let us enjoy together. Let our strength come together. Let us avoid the twin dangers of hatred and misunderstanding. That way lies progress.

Sahana vavathu sahanam bhunarkthu

Sahaveeryam karavavahai

Tejasweena vaheeta masthu

Maa vid vishavahai

Om Shanthi! Shanthi! Shanthi!