Combating corruption, need of the hour
Certain things can’t be set right completely in politics. Corruption for one.
Certain things can't be set right completely in politics. Corruption for one. It needs real guts and strong willpower for any leader to put an end to the prevalent evil.
In a country like India, where politics and bureaucracy have been largely accursed by corruption, it is refreshing to see someone who is hell-bent to fight corruption tooth and nail.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, in his Independence Day address this year, mentioned about good governance and the need to end corruption.
Referring to impressive economic and financial growth of Telangana during the past five years, Chandrashekar Rao said this was possible due to fiscal discipline that gave no scope for corruption.
Referring to administrative reforms, Panchayati Raj and Municipal Acts as well as the proposed Revenue Act, Chandrashekar Rao said the existing Acts would not be sufficient to offer good governance.
His proposal to revamp and reform the Revenue Department in order to curb corruption has drawn favourable reaction from several sections of the people.
In this context, the Chief Minister made an honest confession about the prevalence of corruption in certain quarters of administration, like the Revenue Department.
In this context, it may be worthwhile to recall the proceedings of conference of Chief Ministers held on May 24, 1997, presided by the then Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral.
The conference recognised that, as the country completed 50 years of independence by then, and as the people were assailed by growing doubts about the accountability, effectiveness and moral standards of administration, the Central and the State governments should move together to justify the trust of faith of the people in the government by taking up the implementation of an action plan endorsed by the conference.
That was considered to be a major step towards reform initiative in administration in the country with specific reference to effective and responsive administration. It was agreed that each State would work for the implementation of the action plan, making appropriate allowance for variation on local circumstances.
The broad structure and framework that was envisaged then was, that, the Central and the State governments would work together to concretise the action plan dealing with accountable and citizen-friendly government, transparency and Right to Information and improving the performance and integrity of the public service.
In the conference, it was agreed that immediate corrective steps must be taken to restore the faith of the people in the fairness, integrity and responsiveness of the administration.
Inaugurating the Chief Ministers' conference, Gujral drew attention to the urgent need to come up with ideas and strategies for responsive and effective administration, which could rebuild the credibility of the government.
He referred to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's statement that "belief in fair play and integrity" was the basis of a good administration. The Prime Minister felt that unrest and tension in some areas of the country is an expression of the people's frustration with administration.
Some governments had set good examples of taking administration to the people, which could be emulated by others.
The Chief Ministers and several Central Ministers attending the conference strongly endorsed the need for ensuring responsive, accountable, transparent and people-friendly administration at all levels and agreed that necessary corrective steps must be taken to arrest the drift in the management of public services.
The conference urged that measures should be taken to restore the faith of the people, particularly the weaker sections of the society, in the fairness and capacity of administration. Unfortunately, very little had happened during the last 22 years.
It was recognised that responsive administration depends on reforms in public service at all levels, adherence to ethical standards, and basic principles of the constitution and a clear understanding of the relationship regulating the civil servants and the politicians.
It has to be clearly appreciated that the political executive should concentrate on policy formulation while implementation is left to public services at various levels for which their commitment is very crucial.
The approach to the elimination of corruption in the public service needs to address prevention, surveillance and deterrent prosecution, and deal ruthlessly with the nexus with criminals and unscrupulous elements.
It requires the concerted efforts of politicians, public services and all stakeholders in civic society. It is necessary to remove the scope for any interference in the prompt prosecution and punishment of corrupt officials.
The various service and conduct rules should be reviewed in order to arrange for the review of the integrity and efficiency of officers at any stage during the career, and the compulsory retirement of officers of doubtful integrity.
Simultaneous with the above, the preventive steps would include not only regulatory reforms to reduce the scope for discretion and secrecy at all levels but would make public disclosure mandatory for all developmental schemes and approvals.
The government of India and State governments should draw up a charter of ethics and public service code which is based on the fundamental principles of the Indian Constitution such as secularism, equality, impartiality, social justice, attention to the needs of the weaker sections, rule of law etc.
It should be agreed that the loyalty of public servants should be only to the service for the public and the rule of law.
There is an urgent need to tackle corruption and the increasing erosion of moral values in public life. It is not an exaggeration to talk about corruption in terms of a crisis or a cancer endangering India's society, polity and economy.
Corruption is rampant in certain quarters of administration like the Revenue Department, and several other sectors where people come into contact daily with administration.
Corruption at lower levels takes the form of speed money for expediting approvals or providing legitimate services, or bribes for twisting rules. That is why there is a strong demand by the public for effective punitive and corrective measures to tackle the problem.
Elimination of corruption in public services should address preventive, surveillance and deterrent punishment, and deal ruthlessly. Rules and legal provisions should be amended to enable immediate and exemplary prosecution and removal of corrupt officials without resource to any political protection.
There should be no scope in the rules for any interference in prompt prosecution and punishment of corrupt public servants, and permission for such prosecution should be given within a prescribed period to investigating agencies.
At the same time clear norms should be laid down to prevent demoralisation of public servants on account of frivolous complaints or inquiries.
The investigating agencies and vigilance machinery should be strengthened. The preventive aspect of corruption in government or the public sector depends on an independent and well-staffed vigilance set up.
Amendments should be formulated to the relevant rules for the premature retirement of officials at a reasonably early stage of employees' careers to weed out elements which are either inefficient or of doubtful integrity.
It is further necessary to amend the relevant service rules to enable the review of integrity and efficiency of officials at any stage during their career in public interest.
Against this background Chandrashekar Rao's proposal to revamp revenue administration and do away with corruption is a welcome change.
(The writer is the CPRO to Chief Minister of Telangana. Opinions expressed are personal)