Growing graft

The perception of India as a corrupt country has worsened over the past year. The latest ranking by Transparency International (TI) has put India at the 87th rung out of 178 countries, down from the 84th slot last year. India’s ranking has fallen consistently since 2006 when it was ranked 70 among 163 countries. While it is possible to argue that India’s ranking on the corruption index has slipped because new countries have been included in the index or others excluded, India has been performing badly on the integrity score as well.

Its integrity score has dipped from 3.5 in 2007 to 3.4 in 2008 and 2009 to 3.3 this year, a score of 0 being the most corrupt. Officials might claim that following the glittering success of the Commonwealth Games, India’s image has been enhanced in the eyes of the world, that the negative media reporting in the run-up to the games was negated by the efficient conduct of the event.

But the TI report indicates that this is not so. India’s corrupt image was enhanced with the widespread graft accompanying the games. The TI report is a reminder that the glitter and glamour of events like the CWG do not by themselves erase negative perceptions of the country. India must tackle the cancer of corruption; mere face-lifts will not improve its image. It is not just to improve how we look in the eyes of the world that fighting corruption should become a priority. Widespread graft is standing in the way of the successful implementation of socio-economic programmes and in our tackling of poverty and hunger.

Although the Right to Information legislation has empowered citizens to demand transparency from public officials, the fight against corruption has not been easy. RTI activists have been threatened, attacked and even killed by vested interests. Around a dozen people, who were exposing corruption, have been found dead in mysterious circumstances this year. While the government has introduced draft legislation that provides for punishment to those who disclose whistleblowers’ identities, RTI activists are saying that the government is focusing on keeping the name of the whistleblower secret, rather than acting swiftly on the complaint.

In most cases of corruption, it is the small fry that face the music. The powerful go scot-free. Comprehensive legislation, and swift and stern action against the corrupt, whatever their rank or status, will rid India of the corrupt tag. Cosmetic measures will not do.

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