Fight corruption or perish!

Fight corruption or perish!

Attacks are not taking place on RTI activists alone. Anyone who raises his voice against corruption or injustice in this country is eliminated. Satyendra Dubey, an IIT, Kanpur alumnus, was eliminated for exposing corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral highway project. Manjunath Shanmugam, IIM, Lucknow alumnus and IOC employee, was killed for highlighting sleaze in petroleum marketing. They were not RTI activists. But they raised their voice against corruption. Such people, who raised their voices, were few earlier. RTI Act has exponentially increased the number of such people. Using RTI, now so many people have information about corruption. And if they persist and pursue, they are eliminated.

It is futile to expect any protection from the police, which is directly controlled by political executive, whose corruption has been exposed. It is also futile to expect any action from anti-corruption agencies because they also report directly to political executive. Through their inaction and apathy, state government and police cold-bloodedly leave the citizen-activist standing in the line of fire for months and years, alone, undefended and crying out for justice. He is an orphan, an easy target. The police and anti-corruption agencies, on the contrary, are often seen to collude with the corrupt.

Therefore, there is a need for a credible mechanism to be set up to deal with corruption complaints and also to provide protection to RTI applicants.

Union Cabinet recently passed a Bill to provide protection to whistleblowers. The copy of this Bill is not yet freely available  but as per reports appearing in the press, it is merely an eyewash. Firstly, it seeks to provide protection only to government employees and not to everyone who raise their voice against corruption. Secondly, the entire emphasis of this Bill is on protecting the secrecy of whistleblower’s identity. The identity in most cases is already known to most people. What that person is looking for is action on his complaint and protection against physical and professional victimisation. The Bill is completely silent on that.

As a systemic change, what is required is setting up of independent and effective institutions of Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta in each state on the following lines:

i. Lokpal / Lokayukta should be given complete powers to enquire into and prosecute without needing permission from any agency.

ii. Lokpal / Lokayukta should have powers over both politicians and bureaucrats. Today, there is no agency to enquire into allegations of corruption against politicians. Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) should, therefore, be merged into it.

iii. Lokpal / Lokayukta should be provided financial autonomy and adequate resources. That wing of CBI which deals with anti-corruption cases should be merged into it.
iv. Lokpal/Lokayukta should be required to complete enquiries into any complaint in a time bound manner.

v. Its own functioning should be transparent and accountable so that Lokpal / Lokayukta should not become a den of corruption.

vi. Selection of Lokpal / Lokayukta should be through a completely transparent and participatory process. These should not be political appointees.

vii. Lokpal/Lokayukta should have powers, duty and resources to provide protection against physical and professional victimisation to whistleblowers - both within and outside government.

Interestingly, in our country, if one has any information about corruption indulged in by any politician, there is not a single agency which one can approach. There is no law which governs such cases. Therefore, a Lokpal Bill was presented in Parliament in 1968 to deal with political corruption. This Bill is very weak and ineffective. Even this Bill has not been passed by our parliamentarians since then.

In 1970s, Hong Kong had much worse corruption than us. Their police colluded with mafias and crime rate went up very high. Lakhs of people came out on the streets. That created political will and the government set up an “Independent Commission Against Corruption” (ICAC). The Commission was given complete powers and resources to act against corrupt. In one shot, the Commission dismissed 103 police officers out of a total of 107!

We need similar agencies if we have to deal with corruption. But that will happen only if there is adequate political will. That will be there only when people raise their voice against corruption. When lakhs of people come out on the streets. Or else, it will be life as usual. People will keep getting murdered. And we will keep shedding crocodile tears.

(The author, an IIT Kharagpur alumnus and former IRS officer, quit civil service to crusade for transparency in governance and right to information. He is a recipient of Magsaysay award for 2006.)  

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