April 5, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Central Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal

'Parliament is entitled to know the findings of the CVC on defence
'Parliament is entitled to know the findings of the CVC on defence
deals' A few days ago, Central Vigilance Commissioner, N Vittal, submitted his final report on all major defence procurements since April 1989. At the same time a ban was imposed on middlemen in defence deals.

But before the report could create any ripples, the government has labelled it -- 'secret.' And as one would expect, it is not something Vittal is happy about.

In an interview with Roving Editor Ramesh Menon, he says it would be worthwhile if the government published the findings of the central vigilance commission, as people had the right to know.

What was your probe in defence deals like?

The defence probe by the Central Vigilance Commission had clear terms of reference. It was to probe whether there were middlemen in defence deals despite the fact that they were banned since April 1989.

Then, we were looking into 20 allegations made in the Rajya Sabha by Jayant Malhoutra about corruption in defence deals. We also looked at Rear Admiral Suhas Purohit's seven allegations of corruption in navy purchases made in a writ petition in the court. We looked at all defence deals made after 1989 that were above Rs 75 crore.

The enquiry was entrusted to the CVC on February 14, 2000. We submitted an interim report on August 7, 2000 and the final report was given to the government on March 31, 2001.

What were your findings?

More than 500 files and documents that were top secret were examined by the CVC. The sources were secret.

The government has classified the report as secret.

It is for the government to take a decision to declassify them. The follow-up action has also to be taken by the government.

The whole inquiry started as an open discussion in Parliament. I think Parliament is entitled to know what the findings are.

But it is for the government to take a view whether to give the entire report, whether to give a summary or whatever.

Home Minister L K Advani remarked a couple of days ago that your report on defence deals will be an eye-opener.

Well, I hope it opens their eyes. (laughs aloud)

Whose eyes?

Those who have closed their eyes. You can wake up people who are sleeping. But what do you do with those who are pretending to be asleep? Those who were really sleeping, will open their eyes after the report is out. But opening the eyes of those who are pretending, may be difficult.

If the government publishes the report, it will be good for democracy and probity in public life. This is the only report of the CVC that is a secret. All the other inquiry reports are available.

Were you shocked with your findings on the defence deals?


I was not shocked at all. When you are sitting in this chair handling 110 corruption cases daily and examining 40 files on corruption, nothing is shocking...

How can we ensure transparency in defence deals?

Defence deals is a large area. There are two types of deals. Lethal weapons and non-lethal weapons. Why should there be secrecy as far as non-lethal items like blankets and provisions are concerned? This can be made more transparent. The former navy chief, Vishnu Bhagwat, had listed many areas where they should be made open. We must study those areas. Only then can we have a national debate. It can then help formulate policy.

What about the CVC bill? Now that amendments to it are being considered, it is clearly a move to clip your wings.

It is for the joint parliamentary committee to decide on the changes it wants in the bill. There is a Tamil proverb that says that for an intelligent man even a blade of grass can be made into a weapon.

In our parliamentary system, Parliament is supreme. They will form the laws that they deem fit. Executives like the CVC can only implement the law. Even if the CVC comes out in a diluted version, we should see how we can use it to fight corruption. That is the approach we are going to take.

That is a very positive view to take.

Otherwise if wishes were horses, beggars will ride and India will be a corruption-free country. We should work with what we have instead of hoping for an ideal situation.

You once said that the CVC will be the lapdog of the government if the JPC recommendations are carried out.

That is right. It will then reduce the CVC from being a watchdog to a lapdog. I wrote to the government saying just that. But we have to implement whatever law the government comes out with.

Did the government respond to the letter?


But maybe, they will respond by way of action.

What is going to happen to the Lok Pal Bill?

The Lok Pal has been pending for over 30 years. It has been introduced in Parliament seven times. The prime minister has shown readiness to come under the purview of the Lok Pal. But as some members of Parliament have reservations, the future of the bill is very uncertain. I do not know when it will ever become a law.

That sounds very bleak.

This is how I look at it. Even if the Lok Pal bill is passed one wonders whether it will be effective in checking political corruption.

How does India rate on the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International in the year 2000?

India ranks 69 out of 90 countries in the world. We are at the bottom.

Is India getting better or worse?

In 1998, India ranked 66th out of 85 countries projected by Transparency International. In 1999, India was 73rd out of 99 and in 2000, India was 69th out of 90 countries. You can draw a conclusion from these figures.

Is corruption becoming endemic?

It is not becoming endemic. It has already become endemic. In the seventies, we used to talk about lakhs. Now, we are talking about crores. The dimensions of corruption and the money involved has increased.

How many cases are pending with the CVC?

We have more than 1000 cases where even after the inquiry is over and the penalties recommended, but no action has been taken. We have started a drive to clear all cases that are more than three years old -- where after inquiry no action has been taken (for three years). There are around 4,000 pending inquiries.

How has the image of the CVC changed in recent years? What is the kind of feedback you get?

The number of complaints have gone up. And they are coming from all over the country. At least, the people now realise that there is something called the CVC. People now think that this is one office which will take action on matters of corruption.

How is your web site faring? It kicked up quite a storm when you started it.

It probably gets more hits than any other government site. It has become a regular means of our functioning. I use it to communicate to the public. It is also a means of expediting regular action within the government especially in cases that are pending. To that extent, it has been useful.

Was this the most challenging job you had?

I enjoyed all the jobs I have done in the last 40 years. I never thought I would become a central vigilance commissioner. Now, that I have, I want to do it to the best of my ability.

Design: Dominic Xavier

'India's security has been compromised'

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