May 13, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/N Vittal

'Indian democracy is based upon corruption'

When Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh ordered the arrest of Ravinder Paul Singh Sidhu, chairman of the Punjab Public Service Commission, for corruption, Central Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal wrote him a congratulatory letter.

In an interview with Onkar Singh, Vittal said Sidhu's arrest and the seizure of his ill-gotten wealth did not surprise him at all because corruption had become a part of Indian democracy. Excerpts:

The vigilance department of the Punjab government has seized more than Rs 80 million in cash from various bank lockers of Ravinder Paul Singh Sidhu during their investigations. Did this seizure -- one of the biggest so far -- surprise you?

N Vittal
No, I have not been surprised at all. Because corruption has become [so much] part of our lives that nothing surprises me at all. I have been saying that Indian democracy is based upon corruption.

Democracy requires political parties. Political parties need money to run their organisations. They collect funds in cash, which invariably is black money. Black money is created by corruption.

So our entire system of governance is based on corruption. What is shocking is that persons holding constitutional position like Sidhu can also indulge in corruption. The public service commission is there to ensure that everyone gets an equal and fair opportunity to become a public servant. This is a very important function. We have seen in the Sidhu case that even this institution has been compromised.

The former chief justice of India, S P Bharucha, has said that 20 per cent of the judiciary is corrupt. Comment?

When it comes to the judiciary I can only say that whatever the former chief justice of India has said must be correct. So I would not make any comment against the judiciary for I would be hauled up for contempt of court.

Ravi Paul Sidhu, the disgraced Punjab Public Service Commission chief.  
The investigating agencies have to seek government approval before proceeding against officers of the rank of joint secretary and above. Do you think this protection should be done away with?

The Government of India came up with a single directive in 1969 and this was amended from time to time. The intention behind such a directive was that the people who take decisions should be protected and if they make a honest mistake they should not be hauled up for their decisions.

But the Supreme Court did not agree with this directive on some counts. It said that all are equal before the eyes of the law. Just because you a hold high post does not mean the police cannot investigate you if you are a criminal. The court struck down the single directive. I feel that the single directive should not be reintroduced in any form.

Why is corruption flourishing in India?

Because our conviction rate in corruption cases is as low as six per cent. Hence corruption has become a low-risk, high-profit activity. It takes years and years to get a conviction from the court. We have recommended action in 117 cases to various departments, but nothing has happened so far. Either the departments are inefficient or in league with the corrupt officers.

Is it true that you want to expand the scope of the Central Vigilance Commission and include public service commissions and state government employees in its ambit?

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger once said that there is too much on my plate. I can tell you I have enough on my plate too. [But] it would be ideal if the employees serving in the all-India services and public service commissions are also brought under the purview of the central vigilance commission.

Corruption has indirectly encouraged militancy in Jammu & Kashmir and the Northeast. The Government of India spends thousands of crores of rupees every year, but it never reaches the beneficiaries. So there is a link between corruption and law and order.

What do you think can be done to check corruption?

One of the steps that would discourage people from indulging in corruption is the seizure of the ill-gotten wealth of a public servant. Such a proposal has been before the government for the last four years, but it has not taken any action so far.

Are you happy that the Punjab government has taken the lead in this matter?

I have written a letter to the Punjab chief minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, congratulating him for taking a bold initiative. I am also writing letters to other chief ministers. If they confiscate the ill-gotten wealth of a corrupt official, he will not be able to fight his case. Today he engages the best lawyers in the country to protect him and he goes laughing all the way to foreign banks. The seized money could be used for development activities. This will send a strong signal.

The defence ministry had referred some cases to you after the Tehelka expose. What happened in those cases? Have you recommended action in any case?

More than 500 cases were referred to us in the year 2000 before the Tehelka expose. We have given two reports. I cannot speak about our recommendations because these are defence files. But we did find cases of corruption and we have recommended follow-up action.

George Fernandes, the defence minister, has assured us that he will take personal interest in these cases. As a result of the recommendations by the CVC, the government rules for appointing agents are so strict that nobody now wants to become an agent for defence equipment.

There was an attempt to clip the wings of the CVC. What has happened in that case?

The bill is still pending and will come up in the monsoon session of Parliament. The government wants to curtail the powers of the CVC on two counts. One, to bring back the single directive to protect higher officers and second is to take away the supervision power of CVC over state vigilance commissions. I have written to the government not to reduce the CVC from a watchdog to a lapdog of corruption.

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