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September 20, 1999


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Issues 99/ H D Shourie

'Politicians are more concerned about how they will feature in the evening news, they just don’t care about the common man anymore'

C>orruption does prevail in all aspects of our functioning. It is also true that people are not paying as much attention as it deserves. The politicians, in particular, only look at corruption from the point of view of what mud they can throw at each other. Politicians only look at corruption in the larger sense of “Rs 100 million taken by so and so” and “Rs 50 million taken another person”. Politicians will not look at corruption from the point of view of the common man.

The common man is increasingly concerned about the problems that he encounters on a day-to-day basis. Anywhere that a common man goes to get redress for a problem, he encounters corruption. For instance, if a common man has a problem with his electricity bill and goes to the billing clerk, the latter will reply "Not today, come tomorrow," then the clerk will say, "Come next week." But the moment the common man passes him some money under the table, then the problem is resolved in minutes!

Take other cases. Your telephone has a defect which you want repaired, it won't be done unless you pay. You want a passport, you’ll find touts outside the passport office building who can get you a passport within days as long as you pay. They’ll even get a visa. All for Rs 2,000, and rather than waste 10 days or more running after a passport, this is so much simpler.

There is hardly anything you cannot get done if you can pay, and similarly, trade is now too accustomed to doing whatever it can in a manner that is not correct. Sales tax, they will try to avoid, income tax, almost everyone is doing whatever one can to avoid paying it. So in relation to almost all sorts of functioning, an individual encounters all sorts of problems of this nature.

Thus, this system has brought about a system of resorting to baksheesh (literally, gift) or underhand payment. This is all very unfortunate.

However, I am talking about the smaller things. There are bigger issues such as, for instance, property tax. In Delhi, the property tax levied on residential houses, or commercial property or industrial premises are full of such enormous loopholes and problems in the assessment of the tax that the assessee is at the mercy of the assessor.

An assessor will tell the assessee that he is paying a rent of Rs 50,000 per month, even though the assessee will protest that he is paying only Rs 10,000. The assessor will refuse to accept the claim, point to the fact that rents in certain posh areas have shot up. But all this is to make more money under the table from the assessee.

On the other hand, there are also assessors, who for underhand payments lower the rent paid by the assessee to help the latter gain a tax benefit. Now these type of corruption cases are happening to a large extent.

Now, Delhi has about 700,000 properties and the aggregate recovery in property tax is around Rs 5 billion to Rs 6 billion. I have said that this property tax can easily go up to Rs 15 billion to Rs 20 billion. That is the size of corruption taking place and the loss suffered by the nation.

Let us look at another aspect, the Rent Control Act. There are today 30 million cases pending in the courts concerning rent and property, and a particular case can only progress by giving money to the person who makes the application, to the person who receives the application, the person who then files the application and so on. There will always be some demand or the other.

All this is very unfortunate and needs to be looked at in totality rather than piecemeal. Everyone accepts that today corruption exists but no one has bothered to go into the details of the corruption that exists, or what measures need to be taken to root it out.

The measures required are that the laws, rules, regulations and procedures need to be changed or altered.

Recently, Common Cause looked into the various laws of our country and found there are 1,300 central laws that are completely outdated, yet continue to remain on our statute books. And besides these 1,300 central laws, there are innumerable state laws that also need to be scrapped or changed.

We have the Indian Evidence Act, which is the main act governing the evidence and procedure in the courts. It was created in 1874. It was made a century ago and yet it goes on. Then there is the Indian Penal Code Act, which governs the registration of all cases and then filing them in court. This code was written in 1860, almost 140 years ago.

Now, the procedures emanating from these two acts actually concern the common man at the receiving end who is then forced to pay bribes to overcome the rather cumbersome procedures.

About 30 to 40 years ago, there was a suggestion to set up a Lok Pal to look into all corruption cases and that the Lok Pal institution should also have Lok Ayukts at the state level to do the same at the state level. After all these years, the Lok Pal bill has not yet been passed. The matter has been referred to Parliament, and it remains before Parliament.

The Lok Pal is an institution of paramount importance and it hangs in limbo, though Lok Ayukts have been started in some states. I am acutely aware of the problems being encountered in the functioning of the Lok Ayukts. The state governments are just not allowing the Lok Ayukts to function properly.

The Lok Ayukt says the staff should be appointed by the Lok Ayukt himself, the state government insists it will provide the necessary staff. And the staff provided is the corrupt staff! How can a corrupt staff fight against corruption?

I am not talking of corruption that features in the newspaper headlines. The newspapers have been covering the corruption charges at the level of ministers and so on. I am talking of corruption at the level of the individual. Does any politician ever pay any attention to these?

Politicians are more concerned about how they will feature in the news that evening or the next day, they just don’t care about the individual or the common man anymore.

H D Shourie, chief of Common Cause, an organisation fighting against corruption, spoke to Amberish K Diwanji.


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