Growing corruption in India

By Sajjad Shaukat

India’s government faced fierce criticism by the media and the opposition on December 30, 2011, after it failed to push through its flagship anti-corruption law in the upper house of parliament. In this regard, the Indian Express daily said that the ruling coalition had “egg on its face”, while the Mail Today indicated that the law was now “in cold storage.” Recently, the opposition accused the government of orchestrating the disruption in a cynical ploy to have the house adjourned and avoid a vote it looked set to lose. Even the minority parties in the ruling coalition led by the Congress party of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which had demanded amendments to the law, called it a ‘shameful’ day for democracy and a result of orchestrated chaos—meaning the law would have almost certainly failed to pass. The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) repeated its call for Singh to resign and urged the government to hold fresh elections.

The law has been one of the biggest political issues in India for months, the subject of an angry wrangle between the government and the opposition including civil society activists. In response to hunger strike campaign by anti-graft activist Anna Hazare, calling for stronger legislation to combat corruption, India’s lower house had passed a landmark anti-corruption law on December 29, 2011. The law creates a powerful ombudsman to probe corruption among senior politicians and civil servants. The government bill offers only limited jurisdiction over the prime minister and requires the ombudsman to put any criminal probes in the hands of the government-controlled Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). During a heated debate in parliament, Premier Singh had insisted that such a move would tantamount to creating a separate, unelected executive that was unaccountable to parliament. A bid to grant the new bill constitutional status was defeated in what Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee described as a “sad day for democracy.”

Manmohan Singh regime has been at the receiving end of middle-class frustration with everyday graft and multi-billion dollar scandals in Asia’s No. 3 economy—a state of affairs that forced the government to agree to pass anti-corruption legislation before the end of last year. In fact, enragement with India’s growing corruption and its dirty politicians is not confined to the urban middle classes, who put aside political apathy to support the movement led by a self-styled Gandhian and serial hunger striker led by Anna Hazare—attended by the country’s most powerful businessmen and industrialists who were one on corruption—ominously entitled ‘The Indian Spring.’ India ranked number 87 in Transparency International’s index on corruption in 2010.

Indian political experts opine that corruption is widely blamed for the aggravated state of India’s infrastructure and its services, and it is a drag on an economy that has grown at around eight percent per annum over the last few years. They said, “Growing malpractices indicate signs of a crisis of political credibility in India.” The tragedy of India is its political system. That admission by a minister captured the frustration of delegates in November 2011, India’s World Economic Forum (WEF) where blame had been heaped on corruption and the policy paralysis in New Delhi for a darkening economic outlook. The government was running scared just a few months ago when a group of activists whipped up popular rage over a rash of corruption scandals, bringing millions of people out onto the streets of the country’s cities in protest. And some of India’s top industrialists warned that Asia’s third-biggest economy has been heading towards trouble. Indian economic analysts are of the opinion that GDP growth may come in at 7.2 percent in the current fiscal year, with a sharp fall from 8.5 percent in 2009/10. Industrial output has been slowing sharply, and consumer confidence is waning, while inflation remains near double digits despite 13 interest rate increases. On October 17, 2011, a senior economist Glenn Levine of a research group Moody’s Analytics, revealed, “India’s growth would slow from an expected 7.8 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2011 to 6.5 percent by mid-2012.” Levin elaborated, “With inflation remaining stubbornly high at 9.72 percent in September, 2011—India’s central bank may be forced into further monetary tightening in the months ahead which would exacerbate the slowdown.”

Mukesh Ambani, head of Reliance Industries and India’s richest man remarked, “The institutions of democracy are there, but we will be paralysed…there is an opposition and a party in power, we would do nothing. That’s what worries me.” However, there are several laws in India so as to control corruption, but the same have failed owing to their non-implementation. No doubt, from time to time a number of plans and schemes have been launched by the Indian subsequent governments to improve the poor standard of living by ensuring food security, promoting self-employment, increasing wage employment and improving access to basic social services including raising the status of women, but all these proved unsuccessful owing to ineffective implementation coupled with high corruption among the officials. In this connection, even five years plans of New Delhi could not be utilised fully owing to the corrupt civil officers.

Notably, corruption in India is not only confined to civil sector, even Indian armed forces are also plagued with this curse. In the past few years, high-ranking officers of the Indian Army like Chief of Army Staff, Gen. V.K. Singh, Lt. Gen. Surendra Kumar Sahni, Lt. Gen. S.K. Dahiya, Maj-Gen. Anand Swaroop, Maj-Gen SP Sinha, Maj-Gen. Anand Kapoor, Maj-Gen. Gur Iqbal Singh Multani, Brig. Guredeep Singh including a number of low-ranking officials were found involved in corruption of various forms such as irregularities in procuring meat and dry rations for the troops, stationed at Siachen, unauthorised construction of a golf club building at Ambala cantonment, possessing disproportionate assets, smuggling of large quantities of defence liquor etc. Despite disciplinary action against the army officials, corruption in one or the form has continued in the defence forces of India.

In this respect, involvement of the 27 officers of the Indian Army in illegally selling of arms and weapons was most surprising. In this regard, on July 7, 2011, even Indian media disclosed this new mal-practice of Indian Army officials. Indian army sources admitted that the officers, mostly lieutenant colonels and colonels, had faced a court of inquiry following a public suit filed in the Rajasthan High Court by an advocate who pointed out that the officers sold their private weapons to people of dubious character. In this context, The Economic Times reported on July 7, 2011, “The weapons were bought by these army officers from the Central Ordnance Depot of Jabalpur and later sold to civilians in violation of the Arms Act, the petition had contended. The Supreme Court is presently hearing the case.”

Although lower-ranking officers of the Indian Army were found involved in corruption, yet involvement of the highest-ranking officers in this mal-practice is surprising. All this gives rise to a feeling of discrepancy in a multi-cultural society of India where directly or indirectly, acute poverty in the country has resulted into ethnic riots, movement of separations and violence of various forms—social strife, economic crisis and political instability under the so-called democracy of India. It is because of these reasons which have placed India at the lowest rank in the human development index. The Indian state has undoubtedly failed in its responsibilities towards its citizens over the last 60 years. Famous economist, Adam Smith remarks, “Man is rich or poor according to the degree in which he can afford to enjoy the necessities, the conveniences and the amusements of human life.” But it is misfortune of India that some families have good standards of living due to corruption, while the majority cannot get two meals a day.

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