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Corruption: Time to get religion on the issue

Last updated on: September 5, 2011 13:58 IST

Corruption: Time to get religion on the issue

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T N Ninan


Now that the crowds have gone home, Anna Hazare is back in Ralegan Siddhi, and the TV Rottweilers are looking for other ways to boost their rating points, we can have a rational debate about not just the Lok Pal but the larger issue of corruption.

The starting point has to be that no one person or set of agitators has a monopoly over the wisdom on the subject, and that no single solution exists. Also, some purported solutions may disappoint.

Take the issue of citizens' charters, one of the three issues on which Parliament was pushed into promising action last Saturday. Did you know that these 'citizens' charters' already exist, and that action on them started way back in 2002? Check them out at goicharters.nic.in.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Corruption: Time to get religion on the issue

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The Central Board of Direct Taxes is one of those with a charter; do you think it has made any difference to how the taxman deals with you, or the level of corruption among tax officials?

Many solutions don't need a 'magic wand'. It is easy to see that the Central Bureau of Investigation should be given autonomy, so that it ceases to be the handmaiden of the party in power.

The old issue of doing away with the 'single directive', under which prior permission has to be sought before prosecuting senior officers, seems to have survived Supreme Court orders, and is another corrective.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Corruption: Time to get religion on the issue

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There is also merit in the position that the primary focus should be on preventing corruption. While this should not come in the way of nabbing wrong-doers, it will turn the spotlight on needless controls, discretionary powers, policy-induced shortages, and solutions that become possible with the use of technology -- like digitising land records, and card-based cash transfers.

A strong Lok Pal and strong Lok Ayuktas are entirely to be wished for. Those in doubt merely have to look at the Karnataka Lok Ayukta's report on illegal mining of iron ore, and the subsequent unseating of the chief minister.

But the same Lok Ayukta has brought out a damning report on the corruption and maladministration in the state's public distribution system. Among other things, the number of cards issued is one-third more than the number of families in the state!

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Photographs: Reuters
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Corruption: Time to get religion on the issue

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This raises interesting questions. Will the state government start cancelling bogus cards? Will the country remain keen to extend the same, unreformed distribution system to deliver food security? Could it be that this scam has greater proportions than illegal mining?

The answers might tell us whether we are serious about curbing corruption, or carefully selective in our anger.

To take another instance, no one has picked up the issue that Rahul Gandhi mentioned: political funding. As it happens, Manmohan Singh had headed a Congress committee that went into the party's non-election funding question some years ago.

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Photographs: Reutres
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Corruption: Time to get religion on the issue

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The problem with looking at the issues in all their complexity and working out options is that, for all its protestations, the government still gives the impression of a horse that is being dragged to the water.

Talking to a few editors in late June, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that corruption as an issue had caught the imagination of the people -- which was an interesting choice of phrase, as though that was why corruption had become a problem.

Indeed, he blamed the messengers -- the media and the Comptroller and Auditor General -- for creating an environment in which he said no government could function.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Corruption: Time to get religion on the issue

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But the fact is that corruption is rampant, and a growing middle class wants action.

So how about getting religion on the issue, and setting out a comprehensive agenda, with time lines, so that the issue is not hijacked and sent up some side street?


Photographs: Reuters
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