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India today
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courtesy: Asian Age
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Rajpath, 26 Jan 2011

Les Autres-The Others : 
The Corrupt




By Dr.V.Ram Mohan

One and a half trillion dollars of black money! That is the amount of corrupt money hidden abroad by Indians between 1948 and 2008 according to Swiss sources. Anywhere between 500 and 1500 billion dollars according to Pranab Mukerjee, the Finance Minister! It is a mind-boggling sum by any standard. For the common man it is difficult to grasp the enormity of the amount. It is equal to the whole nation's income, and the nation has only achieved one trillion dollars income per year after sixty hard years of blood, sweat, and tears. It is an amount which would finance hundreds of major irrigation projects, road and rail networks, health and welfare schemes, schools and social services, and will still leave some change in the exchequer's kitty.

Corruption has been a slow-growing cancer of our economy for years and now it has reached such an advanced stage that it is threatening to roll over the state itself. The politicians have grown so rich on it, they want to keep it going the bureaucrats have grown so fat on it, they have a vested interest to keep it alive the corrupt corporates and individuals have exploited it so well, they would feel upset to see it go. Of course, there are honourable politicians, honest captains of industry, and conscientious bureaucrats. We respect them and appreciate their patriotism, and some of them have even issued a statement urging the government to put corruption at the top of the legislative agenda.

The last best hope

Since the governments over the years have not done anything like enough to control corruption, the Supreme Court has recently stepped in to shame the politicians into taking effective action but the government continues to drag its feet. The Supreme Court is the last best hope we have to force the executive to bring home the black money and prosecute the culprits. This is what the Court has said about corrupt money: "One trillion dollars is one estimate of the black money quantum. How many zeroes are there? It is huge money almost plunder of the nation and of far reaching consequences. Yet the government has summarised the efforts as tax evaded on money kept in foreign banks. This is the worrying point." So, the issue is not merely the tax evaded but how they got this wealth and what illegalities they have committed and why that money is not in our country but is in foreign lands.

How widespread is corruption? You go to a government office to get a simple problem solved, the babus ask you for a bribe you go to a higher officer or a legislator for a bigger problem, he asks for bigger sums of money to get the matter solved you bid for a fat government contract, the minister and various government functionaries involved expect you to pay fat sums of money, ten to fifteen percent of the contract value in commissions or kickbacks, sometimes amounting to hundreds of crores of rupees. In the present day India, this has become an accepted norm. Corruption has become a daily fact of life. For the poor, it is a curse. For the rich, the babus, and the politicians, it is a windfall.

I'm not going to dwell on every form of corruption, and there are as many forms as you can imagine. I'm only going to comment on corruption involving public funds which are being siphoned off by individuals and organizations, the so called black money which has been parked in foreign bank accounts the money that is being laundered to make it white the money from kickbacks and corrupt deals and the money on which taxes have been evaded.

The lip service

All governments, of whatever hue, wax sanctimonious and condemn corruption in all its forms. It is a hand-wringing ritual everyone practices- it is expected of them.

Some agonise about it and vow to root it out.

That is what our own morally squeaky clean Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the biennial conference of the Central Bureau of investigation (CBI) in New Delhi in August, 2009. I quote from his speech: "Corruption distorts the rule of law, weakens institutions of governance and hurts economic growth in a variety of ways, apart from hindering efforts to build a just, fair and equitable society. The poor are disproportionately hurt because of corruption. The malaise of corruption so sapping our efforts to march ahead as a nation should be treated immediately and effectively." He went on to add: "I would like the CBI to have a critical look at itself and introspect deeply with an end to further improve its functioning." Bravo, Mr. Prime Minister! Brilliant, except Manmohan Singh forgot to tell us that while he was uttering these proud and pious words, his government was presiding over the mother of all scams, the 2-G spectrum licensing affair in which possibly up to 1.76 lakh crore rupees may have been lost to the exchequer because the telecom minister, Mr. A. Raja, allegedly accepted kickbacks from the telecom companies. Add to it the Bofors scam, the Commonwealth Games scam, and many others of the current and past era. You then begin to doubt the commitment of the Congress Party to eradicate corruption.

Manmohan Singh is a lamb in lamb's clothing whereas his political colleagues in the coalition look like hardcore, hyena-like unsavory types who are out to make a fast buck. When they first started pulling his beard, he thought it was just for a bit of fun, and he did nothing. Emboldened, they tried to pull his halo down, and he still did nothing. When they started to perpetrate various small and big scams, he only wrote gentle letters. Only when the 2-G scam became unbearably hot did Mr. Raja, the alleged 2-G scam perpetrator of the DMK, was given marching orders. Where is the smack of the Prime Ministerial authority? Why doesn't he stand tall for the country rather than cower in front of his UPA (United Progressive Alliances colleagues as they cook up scams? If you feel cynical and think that the UPA government is in power only to take part in corruption, not to eradicate it, then you may be forgiven. I'm not saying that Manmohan Singh is personally corrupt. He doesn't have to be. There are any number of able and willing Congress politicians and the UPA coalition partners who are risking life and limb everyday to garner vast amounts of illegal wealth. Their sacrifices for their own personal enrichment will not be forgotten at the next election by the people of this country.

Manmohan Singh's government puts in mind the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The Prime Minister is the Ali Baba who appears to be a good man, and, who even wants to distribute the loot to worthy causes - read the people, but the forty thieves would hear none of it. The problem for us is that the forty thieves are too powerful and that this Ali Baba is incapable of slaying them. His epitaph at best would perhaps read: Presided Over a Rogues' Gallery Against His Own Better Judgement.

The Supreme Court and the WikiLeaks

The Supreme Court is currently looking into the secret list of people holding funds and other assets in foreign banks. The government has so far refused, on various grounds, to divulge the identities of these individuals. Perhaps WikiLeaks would put them in the public domain. Mr. Rudolf Elmer, a former employee of a Swiss bank, has handed over to WikiLeaks two compact discs containing the names of the people holding illegal funds. Some Indian names figure on these discs, but these may be just the tip of the iceberg because other banks may hold other names.

Pranab Mukerjee has announced that they will follow a five pronged approach and that The Enforcement Directorate and The income Tax Department will be involved.

We will wait and see how determined this government is to get the black money repatriated. We understand that most of the funds and assets from the illegal loot have been listed under benami "discretionary trusts." The prevailing opinion is that the labyrinthine legal tangle is such that it is going to take a long time to bring these people to book, perhaps never. The Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland had a quick solution to this kind of problem: "Off with their heads!" - She used to say. Now that is a quick solution. If the government utters the words of the Queen of Hearts, the money will be here before you can finish saying Edvige Antonia Albina Maino - Sonia Gandhi's Italian name.

Ah, you are the type who faints at the first sight of blood and you want alternative solutions. Well, there is no human gene which directs people to engage in corruption and which can be cured by stem cell therapy or some such newfangled concoction.

Corruption is pure human greed, and the wages of corruption are so exceedingly good that they are irresistible. In a democracy, there is always the threat that a corrupt MP or ML4 might lose his seat if the voters vent their anger. However, the threat does not hold any terrors to the politicians because they are able to get re-elected by spending obscene amounts of money, thus literally buying the election and thereby subverting democracy itself.

Swift dispensation of justice, long exemplary sentences, and legal attachment of the ill-gotten assets of criminals might go someway to reduce the level of corruption.

As suggested in the media and various policy studies, giving teeth to the almost toothless Central Vigilance Commission, making the CBC an independent institution, and increasing the number of courts for swift resolution of the corruption cases would help ease the situation even more. There is also considerable merit in the proposal to set free the public enterprises from the venal grip of politicians.

What hope is there that the present UPA government would take effective measures? None. The CVC and the CBI are heavily influenced by the government of the day. Currently, the head of the CVC is PJ Thomas - the same Mr. Thomas who is being prosecuted for the alleged Palmolein scam of Kerala. Yes, the same one who cleared the files for the alleged 2-G scam which is going through the Supreme Court.

It is the same government which openly criticizes the CAG (Comptroller and Accountant General ) which exposed the 2- G scam, even while the scam is being examined by the Public Accounts Committee and the Supreme Court.

So, in India, the politicians are not the nation's conscience keepers. It is the courts, the last frontier against the rolling tsunami of corruption, that are trying to shield the public from the rampaging menace.

Ominously, in some cases even the judiciary is coming under suspicion. Gone is the era of Mahathma Gandhi and Nehru who were the moral and political conscience keepers of the nation. We hope the Supreme Court comes down heavily against the erring politicians and self-enriching bureaucrats who are ruining this country.

Les autres - the other people

Jean-Paul Sartre, the late brilliant French playwright, said in his play, No Exit, that "hell is other people (I'enfer, c'est les autresJ." For us, in India, hell is our own corrupt people and their all pervasive corruption. Benjamin Franklin once said that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. This is now true only if you are a tax-paying unfortunate because most of the rich are getting away without paying taxes - and are even able to bribe death! Let me end this heavy subject on a down-to-earth democratic note. If a few people are corrupt, we call them criminals. If all the people are corrupt, we call it a democracy. So, we, the common people, say: root out the corruption or give us the chance to participate in it. Why should only the fat catfew get away with it and enjoy the high life with their ill-gotten wealth?

(The author is a doctor, a poet, and a political commentator) vrrao 05@vahoo.com



source: deccanpost
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source: Deccan Chronicle