Checks and Balances: Geetanjali Minhas speaks to anti-corruption activists about possible ways out of the daily menace
GN Bureau | April 8, 2023
India has the highest overall bribery rate in the Asian region at 39%, and at 46%, the highest rate of citizens using personal connections to get work done, according to Transparency International.
The common man is haunted and exploited by graft at lower levels of administration in places of public dealing like public distribution system (PDS), municipality, land records, transport offices, police, health, and education. Corruption erodes the quality of life for ordinary citizens, devastates the moral fabric of society, and impedes growth.
P.K. Mishra, principal secretary to the PM, while speaking on International Anti-corruption Day in December last year had said the impact of corruption is especially heavy on common citizens and even higher on poorer and vulnerable persons in the community. He said tackling the crime of corruption is the “right and responsibility of everyone”.
The US Department of State in its 2021 India Country report on Human Rights Practices in India says that law provides criminal penalties for at all levels of government, officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption thrives on low levels of transparency. It devalues governance and erodes the common citizen’s trusts in the state. It is anti-national and anti-poor as the resources meant for development get siphoned off by corrupt. Corruption is stunting India’s economy and increasing economic disparity.
In the new episode of the series Checks and Balances, Geetanjali Minhas of Governance Now spoke to pro-transparency and anti-corruption activists and experts about this plague and asked if the common man has recourse from this malady.
You can watch the episode here: https://youtu.be/EzXlqlQf1WA
Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convenor, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information and recipient of the ‘International Anticorruption Champions Award’ by the Biden administration said that while working in slum settlements when women complained they were not receiving rations, they came to know through RTI that wrong entries were marked in stock and sale registers in PDS. “Those indulging in corruption in PDS knew that irregularities and corrupt practices will never get detected so the question of holding them accountable will not arise.”
She said studies done by think tanks have shown that in India giving a bribe is only as effective as filing an RTI application. “The reality is we do not have adequate information, things happen behind veil of secrecy and unfortunately there are no adequate grievance redress mechanisms,” said the transparency activist.
“Unfortunately, we have seen that since the passage of RTI Act in 2005, more than 90 people have been killed in India for filing RTI applications, exposing corruption. There is corruption in PDS, pension system, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana meant for the poor,” said Bhardwaj.
Former Maharashtra DGP, Parveen Dixit, would like to encourage citizens to file online complaints under the Right to Services Act and avoid contacting agents. He said officials should take immediate cognizance of these complaints.
In practice, while the police is not receptive to citizen complaints, citizens can take recourse to anti-corruption laws including the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, CVC Manual, Lokpal and Lokayukata Act 2013, RTI or complain to CBI’s anti- corruption wing.
However, Rakesh Raman, journalist, and human rights activist, who has come out with the India Corruption Research Report 2022 and is also a consultant on democracy and governance with V Dem project in Sweden, says that in practice none of these are working due to complex and cumbersome complaint monitoring systems.
Adding that the central government’s CPGRAMS is a good medium for filing online complaints, like Dixit, he says that complaints should be filed online or in writing underling proper registration with a number.
Dixit here said that complainant should be encouraged and protected by friends, family as well as media till the completion of trial. Observing that trials go on for years and years, he said the role of judicial officers is important and culprits must be penalised and dismissed from service. He also added that people should refrain from approaching advocates who have a tendency to convert civil matters into criminal matters which makes then the matter complicated.
“I am told even after traps almost 190 persons who have been trapped in last one year or so have not even been suspended,” said Dixit.
Bhardwaj said that for a vast country like India there has to be a decentralised fix for the common man’s complaints. “An old woman in a remote village in India who is not getting her pension due to corruption cannot be expected to approach the prime minister’s office or come to Delhi for recourse. In that remote village she has to be able to access information, file a complaint and get redress,” she said.
Dixit, who also headed Anti-Corruption Bureau Maharashtra, said that complainants should refrain from getting into arguments with officials and simply record the conversation/ongoings on their phone and submit to ACB Maharashtra to support their complaint. He added those who pay bribes discourage others who cannot afford bribes and must be shunned.
Raman, who has been running a community court since 2017 to help residents of cooperative housing societies in Delhi fight rampant corruption and lawlessness in collusion with officials, said even court orders are not treated seriously.
“In government, complaints are forwarded from one department to another without any relief to the complainant. Even court orders are not implemented by bureaucrats and politicians,” he says adding, “No complaint of corruption should go to courts. Complaints should go to administrative channel of the concerned office.”
Raman here added that despite having good laws, they are not understood by bureaucrats and law enforcement agencies. On the other hand, officials too are complicit in crime and do not want to implement these laws. “Punishment will act as a deterrent to rampant corruption. Corruption is widening economic disparity in India with increasing divide in society by the minute,” he said.
Dixit added that people should refrain from approaching advocates who have a tendency to convert civil matters into criminal matters which makes then the matter complicated.
He also spoke about lacunae in the criminal justice system and the need for laws to be updated and said the distinction between cognizable and non-cognizable offence has to be removed immediately. “In non-cognizable cases courts come down heavily on police if they take action, so the police has to direct the complainant to approach the magistrate to allow the police to probe the matter,” he said.
Additionally, Dixit said the police must treat application complaints as inquiry and immediately initiate action. “The will of the people has to be reflected through the legislature... through laws. Laws have to be up to date. We cannot run a country like India in 2023 by rules and laws made in 1860. The government needs to do it within a time frame,” said the former police chief of Maharashtra.
“Unfortunately we have seen all governments are averse to being accountable. When they are in opposition they sympathise... it is really a lack of political will. All countries with good governance models where entitlements are delivered effectively to the common man have strong and effective transparency mechanisms, i.e., strong grievance redress mechanism and strong ways to protect people who file complaints,” said Bhardwaj.
“At least in day-to-day running of the government, if this corruption is curtailed, it makes the government much more effective for the common man. We cannot expect people to keep coming forward, getting attacked, losing their daily wages... it is very expensive and something they can’t do,” she added.
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