Time to act


The prime minister had also recently told senior police officials to go for the big fish in the fight against corruption. The expressions of intent and exhortations are fine, but they don’t inspire confidence. The culture of corruption has become all-pervasive in government and public life. The nexus between politicians and officials is so strong that the whole system protects rather than discourages or punishes the corrupt. The N N Vohra Committee report and the Santhanam Committee report have made this clear. Even without these reports anyone who has interacted with the government machinery at any level knows this too well.
Moily has promised to review Article 311 of the Constitution which is misinterpreted and misused to shield corrupt officials. The Article makes prior permission from the government mandatory for prosecution of corrupt officials. This was meant as a safeguard against harassment of honest officials but in effect makes it impossible to initiate legal action against errant ones. Many requests for such sanction have been pending with the government for years, with the result that action in corruption cases is very rare. Repeal or suitable amendment of the Article will make prosecution in corruption cases easier and more effective. The proposals to waive the need for sanction in the case of officials who are caught red-handed while accepting bribes, and to fast-track their cases should also be pursued seriously. The Karnataka Lok Ayukta has drawn the attention of successive governments and the people to many of these issues.

Changing a constitutional provision or law is not enough to reduce corruption. The legal procedures are cumbersome, there is a shortage of courts, judicial processes are slow, coordination between the law officers and the police is sometimes poor and the conviction rate in cases is low. Apart from improvements in all these areas, the social and political wellsprings of official corruption should also be addressed. Corruption among government officials cannot be separated from political corruption. And most people accept corruption stoically and are complicit in it, though they express moral outrage over it.

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