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What India MUST do to reduce corruption

Last updated on: April 18, 2011 21:56 IST

Image: Anna Hazare during his recent protest at Jantar-Mantar at New Delhi.
Photographs: Reuters Sanjeev Nayyar

The Manmohan Singh government in its efforts to try and resolve the differences over the Lokpal Bill with social activist Anna Hazare and his team, seems to have landed in a bigger mess by sending Hazare to Tihar jail and the activist refusing to leave jail or break fast.

But is the Jan Lokpal Bill the answer to India's woes in tackling corruption? Or is there something else that we require to do?

Here we reproduce Sanjeev Nayyar's article that we carried a few months ago on the issue as it seems extremely relevant to the current situation.

Anna Hazare's Jan Lokpal Movement has caught the imagination of Indians worldwide.

An attempt to make the government pass an effective Lokpal Bill, something that was not done for forty two years, needs to be applauded. Corruption in India is as a big a problem today as is the security threat from China.

The Lok Pal will act as a deterrent against those who misuse their position for personal gain.

Excellent! However, any auditor will tell you that an audit report can point out loss due to lack of systems or corporate governance BUT takes place after the damage is done.

Therefore, would it be better to simultaneously implement ways that reduce the scope of corruption?


What India MUST do to reduce corruption

Photographs: Reuters

About corruption

Corruption exists in every country in the world and will do so in the future. What is important is the nature and scale of corruption.

Simple categories could be:

Speed money of Rs 500/- paid to an income tax clerk to do his job or Rs 100/- to a traffic constable for breaking a traffic light.

Two, money paid to a police inspector for filing a false First Information Report (FIR) or to a customs officer to value your consignment at a lower rate are examples where the sums involved could be in five/six figures. Investment through legally permitted routes like Mauritius should not be confused with tax evasion.

When a government official changes government policy to favor a corporate and receive kickback it is the highest form of corruption.

It is the second and third forms of corruption that need to be tackled on a war footing. Category two affects the common man while the third causes financial loss to the government. Lower government revenue means higher taxes for us.

Electoral funding, policy for exploitation of natural resources (e.g. oil, steel) and a highly regulated education sector contribute to India's corruption index. Each issue deserves to be analysed separately, hence not covered in this piece.

Here are some ideas on what can be done to reduce corruption.


What India MUST do to reduce corruption

Minimum governance

After Independence, government investment and management were the need of the hour. Unfortunately it got involved in too many things ranging from steel plants to running hotels. There was a need to disinvest in the 1980/1990's.

The 1991 reforms reduced the government role. The divestment program gave further impetus to this approach.

Instead of contracting its role the government is back to its old ways. Once again you have to visit Delhi and meet the right people if work is to get done.

Both central and state governments needs to redefine their role in the 21st century.

The government should create a facilitating environment for growth and national happiness by laying down simple, transparent and stable laws / policies. This is turn would enhance growth, saving and investment rates.

It should also focus on internal and external security, geopolitical issues that could threaten India's long term survival and growth.

Decentralisation should be the new mantra.


What India MUST do to reduce corruption

Image: Niira Radia.

Mr 10%

The Radia tapes referred to a minister being known as Mr.10%. What was earlier discussed amongst the corridors of power and boardrooms is now out in the open.

It is widely believed that a per cent of cost of the project goes to the party that governs the state. A corporate that pays money expects favours in return.

Former Editor of the Business Standard T N Ninan wrote, "The airport companies whether in Delhi, Mumbai or Hyderabad, have rewritten their agreements with the government, to their advantage of course. In Delhi, the attempt is to rewrite it not once but twice.

At Hyderabad's Shamshabad airport, the traffic is twice as much as initially projected -- and this should have underwritten the airport's profitability.

Yet, the government is allowing the airport company to impose unplanned levies on passengers. And in Mumbai, the airport company's shares have changed hands at massive premiums, but the government thinks the company needs financial help."

Is Corporate India willing to stand up and join India's fight against corruption? After all, sums allegedly paid in the 2G scam, can only be made by corporates!

Political parties could show the way by uploading their audited accounts on party websites within the same time limits as corporate do.


What India MUST do to reduce corruption

Pricing of products subsidised by the government

Kerosene is sold at Rs 13/ a litre and diesel at Rs 42/ litre. The difference in price makes it remunerative to mix kerosene with diesel and sell to vehicle owners.

Not only does this lead to greater pollution but kerosene that is meant for the poor does not reach them.

An increase in the price of kerosene would be resisted more by the political class, adulterators than the poor themselves. For far too long has the political class taken the poor for granted!

Garibi hatao was an election nara in 1972 and is in 2011. Thirty-nine years!

The Government of India needs to realise that Indians want it to facilitate their progress through creation of permanent assets like irrigation facilities, cheaper homes and jobs rather than lifelong doles.

The Chhattisgarh government has shown that innovative systems, use of technology and punitive action against corrupt officials can make the same system work.

A Jan Andolan is required to force inefficient politicians make the public distribution system work.

Also states that strengthen their own vigilance departments can improve things within the existing framework. A new institution is not always the solution.

Increasing supply is a way to reduce corruption. Till Rajiv Gandhi introduced two gas cylinders per family in the 1980's a number of us bought cylinders in black. The same logic applied to Bajaj scooters and Maruti cars.


What India MUST do to reduce corruption

Real estate

Purchase of land and property is a very tricky business. By its very nature there is a cash component in it. The unusually high price rise has also increased the cash component.

The importance of and potential from urban real estate means the Urban Development department in Maharashtra reports to the chief minister. Wonder what the reporting structure in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Gujarat and Delhi is like!

Unlike in urban India, it is difficult to ascertain the market value of agricultural land because the transactions are fewer.

Also receipt of consideration in cash or cheque does not affect the farmer's tax liability. Thus, the value of land on which duty is paid by the buyer of agricultural land is invariably lower than the price at which land is sold.

To determine the actual price of land the Gujarat government deputed 42,000 persons across the state for a period of eleven days.

By posing as 'buyers' they ascertained the real value at which land was sold. These values were incorporated into the ready reckoner rate. The value of land on which duty is paid was now a fair value.

Revenue leapfrogged. It has reduced the cash component in land deals.


What India MUST do to reduce corruption

Timing of Anna's movement

The timing of Anna's fast is significant. The nation's mood after the World Cup victory was buoyant.

Anna's initial statements against Sonia Gandhi's bet noire Sharad Pawar and his letter dated 6/4/2011 to the Prime Minister saying, "NAC sub-committee has discussed Jan Lokpal Bill. But what does that actually mean? Will the government accept the recommendations of NAC sub-committee? So far, UPA II has shown complete contempt for even the most innocuous issues raised by NAC" made me wonder!

After the fast began the Congress President (Sonia Gandhi) assumed high moral ground and assured full support for the Bill. Within a few days Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Law Minister Kapil Sibal veered around and expressed their desire to fight corruption.

Those who presided over the worst scams in India's history now became torchbearers in the nation's fight against corruption.

A good way to reposition Brand Congress!

Yet there was not a murmur of protest from the public at this volte face! Sections of the media were quick to call all politicians as corrupt. Just as they blamed all politicians post 26/11/. In both cases an attempt was made to absolve the Congress for inaction.

Hope gullible Indians have not been fooled once again?


What India MUST do to reduce corruption


The judiciary is our last ray of hope. However, inordinate delay in conviction has reduced risks for the corrupt. A feeling permeates their minds Kuch bhi kar lo chalta hai.

After all, the 1993 Mumbai blasts case is pending before the Apex Court in spite of a fast track court giving its judgment a couple of years ago.

The judiciary is beset with a large and ever increasing backlog of cases. Before Chief Justice Kapadia took over last year the backlog cases rose from 49,819 last year to 55,971 now; in the high courts, it rose from 38,34,224 to 40,49,649; and from 264,22,920 to 272,38,782 in the case of district and subordinate courts.

While this can be partly attributed to the fact that India has a lot less judges than other countries, even the sanctioned posts are not being filled.

Necessary budgetary allocations from the government have not been forthcoming either. Perhaps, the government has a vested interest in ensuring the backlog continues.

We need some out of the box thinking.

The judiciary must have a separate budget that would be administered by the chief justice on the advice of a chief executive officer whose core competence should be human resources, administration and vigilance.

He should assist in filling up existing vacancies and increasing the number of courts. With time high courts could get their CEOs who would also be responsible for the lower courts. The budget could initially be for the apex court and the high courts.

Delayed justice and conviction is one of the biggest impediments in India's fight against corruption.


What India MUST do to reduce corruption

Simplify laws

Ask any chartered accountant and he will tell you how complicated our laws are. Tinkering with rates and provisions in the Budget only compounds the complexity.

For example one of the most litigated sections is 80I-B (Deduction in case of Industrial Undertakings other than Infrastructure Development Undertaking) of the Income Tax Act where a deduction is allowed on fulfillment of certain conditions.

The same provision can be interpreted in different ways. It gives a tax officer the discretionary power to grant or deny credit to the assesse and is the cause of corruption.

The same section allows 100 per cent of the profits derived from any housing project subject to fulfillment of various conditions one being that the residential unit has a maximum area of 1,000 sq feet if situated in Mumbai or Delhi.

Some builders sell two adjacent houses of less than 1,000 sq feet each to avail of the tax break.

The buyer breaks the common wall and makes them one house. Such schemes are the source of corruption! Why have them in the first place.

Can we have simply worded laws that permit a single way of interpretation? It will reduce avoidable litigation, costs and enhance revenues.


What India MUST do to reduce corruption

Dharma vs democracy

Passing laws is the first step. What is the required is a change in bhavna (feeling) with which we think and work. We are quick to demand rights but rarely does one hear anyone speak about dharma (duty) to the nation.

Sri Aurobindo said, "It has been said that democracy is based on the rights of man; it has been replied that it should rather take its stand on the duties of man; but both rights and duties are European ideas. Dharma is the Indian conception in which rights and duties lose the artificial antagonism created by a view of the world, which makes selfishness the root of action, and regain their deep and eternal unity.

Dharma is the basis of democracy which Asia must recognize, for in this lies the distinction between the soul of Asia and the soul of Europe."

If 40 crore (400 million) Indians work with a spirit of duty, the collective positive energy generated from their sukarm (good deeds) could take care of problems faced by other Indians.

This would require us to Indianise the way we think, move away from a colonial mindset while retaining the Westminster model of government.


What India MUST do to reduce corruption

Do scriptures tell us how to perform duty?

Verse 3.9 of the Bhagvad Gita reads:


yajnaarthaat karmano'nyatra loko'yam karmabandhanah
tadartham karma kaunteya muktasangah samaachara // 3.9 //

"The world is bound by action other than those performed for the sake of yajna (sacrifice). Therefore, O Son of Kunti, give up attachment and do your work as a sacrifice."

Yajna here means any unselfish action done with a pure motive. It is a self-sacrificing work undertaken in a spirit of self-dedication for the good of all.

An action which is not governed by the spirit of unselfishness binds one to worldliness, however pleasurable it may be.

Only when people come forward to act in a spirit of self-dedication, can the community get itself freed from its shackles of evils and sorrow.


What India MUST do to reduce corruption

India needs a strong leader

Without wishing to temper expectations from the current struggle against corruption note that people expected a quick change to democracy after the recent uprising in Egypt.

It is nearly three months and the Army is unlikely to cede power in a hurry.

What India needs is political will. One man, T N Seshan, changed the way elections are held in India.

More importantly, she needs a young result oriented leader who can withstand pressure from vested interests, use the Gandhian way to involve Indians in this transformation and lead by example.

Kya Bharat mein aaisa koi leader hai OR import karna padega? (Is there one such leader in India, or do we need to import one?)

The author is a Management Consultant and founder