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Nazrana, jabrana, shukrana: The many faces of corruption

When Indira Gandhi¸ as Prime Minister, commented that corruption was a global phenomenon, meaning that we need not be unduly worried about corruption in India, I was horrified. Certainly India, whose Constitution mandates social, economic and political justice and equality of status and opportunity, which directs the State to secure a social order for the promotion of welfare of the people, can neither justify corruption nor tolerate it. This one statement by Indira Gandhi showed a level of tolerance of corruption which almost amounted to justification.

Corruption has many causes, but corruption methodology has three classifications that go well back into our history and that need to be mentioned. The first is nazrana, or the traditional tribute to be paid to the person in power by ordinary people. The second form of corruption is jabrana, or extortion. Anyone who wants anything done in government has to pay the "extortioner" his fee, or jabrana. The third form is shukrana, or money paid by way of gratitude by a person whose work has been done without his having to pay a bribe. My own experience is that it is possible to bring a complete halt to nazrana; a similar halt or at least an almost total halt to jabrana; but perhaps one will have to live with shukrana, where the sums involved are token and need not to be considered a bribe. Personally, I would eliminate shukrana also, but that is because I see things in black or white and cannot recognise the colour grey.

Even British India had its dali, or customary gifts that were given to officials at the time of such festivals as Diwali and Christmas. However, in British days, jabrana and nazrana were not of a dimension which hurt and, therefore, the extent of corruption was perhaps still manageable. This happy state continued for the first two decades after Independence, because there was a commitment of our political masters to the welfare of the people and to the Gandhian ideals which guided society.

1967 was the watershed year in which governments were purchased through engineering defections and we entered an era in which politicians suddenly found that they could command a price. The politics changes from a profession of service of the people into a game of purchasing power for personal gains. In order to pay blood money, it was necessary to subvert the state so that its authority could be used for garnering funds. To subvert the state, one needed to make the civil service pliant and a willing partner in the game of making money. Therefore, the civil services were first attacked, and one is sorry to state that the IAS and IPS succumbed, initially with reluctance, subsequently with acceptance and then with enthusiasm. What started as a tactical exercise in collecting money to purchase power soon developed into a major strategy to loot the state. In other words, corruption has now risen from the merely operational and tactical into the stratospheric height of being a total strategy. That explains Bofors, Harshad Mehta and 2G, the whole multitude of land related scams, the Commonwealth Games and in fact the whole rotten system of corruption which is eating into our vitals.

We live in a hierarchical system, both in politics and in the executive government. This hierarchy can be the main instrument either in promoting corruption or in eliminating it. If those at the top of the hierarchy demand money from their subordinates, they, in turn, will pressurise their own subordinates to produce money and ultimately the citizen at the receiving end will be the person who is made to pay. At the same time if the persons at the top of the hierarchy do not make such demands on their subordinates and insist that each level of administration will supervise, direct, control and correct the next lower level in order to ensure honest government, then we can build a system of interlocking accountability in which each level of the administration acts as both implementer and vigilance officer who sees to it that his subordinates deliver good government to the people. This is an old fashioned idea, but I am convinced that if we build such interlocking accountability and ensure that each level of supervising officer does his duty or pays the price of failure, we can restore a delivery system which is efficient, honest and people oriented.

When we come to the highest levels can we apply interlocking accountability? Under the Rules of Business of the Executive Government framed under Article 77 of the Constitution in the case of Union Government, and Article 166 in the case of the State Governments, it is the duty of the secretary of each ministry or department to ensure compliance with the rules and the conduct of business in accordance with the law, rules and canons of propriety. It is not the job of the minister, the Chief Minister or the Prime Minister to ensure that the Rules of Business are complied with. If the minister passes an order which is contrary to the rules, which tries to bypass the finance department in a case where there is a financial implication, or in disregard of legal advice, or is on an issue where a policy decision by the Council of Ministers is necessary, then the secretary must advise the minister accordingly and if necessary bring the matter to the notice of the chief secretary in a State or the cabinet secretary at the Centre so that, if need be, the Chief Minister or Prime Minister may intervene. A secretary who fails to do this is guiltier then the minister if a wrong order is issued or implemented.

We have removed the ministers concerned, but what about the officers? I joined the IAS in 1957, that is, more than 53 years ago and today's secretaries are children before me. I am thoroughly ashamed that my Service has become so rotten to the core that its officers facilitate massive wrongdoing and presumably benefit from it. The then secretary, telecommunications, stated that when the minister did not accept his advice he told his subordinates not to route the 2G files through him. The only issue on which an officer can excuse himself is where there is a personal clash of interest. An ostrich like attitude does not excuse an officer from culpability. The Prime Minister must come down heavily on such officers and use Article 311(2) B and C liberally to remove them from service without an enquiry and also hound them to perdition through prosecution or other form of harassment in order to ensure that our officers once again begin to distinguish between right and wrong. No punishment, including being hung, drawn and quartered in public would be too excessive for such officers.

Let us now come to one final point, which is political blackmail. The Prime Minister of this country, coalition dharma notwithstanding, cannot succumb to political blackmail by his allies. There can be no compromise with honesty and if as a result of this government falls, so be it. A Prime Minister who stands up for honesty will win popular praise and his re-election would become a certainty. A party which compromises with the corruption of the Chief Minister of Karnataka deserves to be consigned to the trash heap. Correct political positions would lead to elimination of corruption. Compromise can only feed this hydra headed monster. Deterrent action against wrongdoers will control corruption. Delayed or denied justice can only strengthen it.



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