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On corruption, Moily is utterly wrong

September 15, 2010 17:50 IST

Corruption is all-pervasive in Indian society and it's a surprise that the Union law minster does not see it that way, writes Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Pratyush Singh, when demitting office as Chief Vigilance Commissioner said that 30 per cent of Indians were 'utterly corrupt' and another half was 'borderline' cases vis-a-vis corruption and that venality has gained social acceptance. In the past, those who took or gave bribes were looked down upon. On the other hand, Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily, terms Sinha's expressed views as a 'travesty of the truth'.

One can quibble over the quantum -- how many of all Indians -- are corrupt but by not saying what actually the 'truth' was, Moily just debunked Sinha. That won't do, for both Sinha and Moily are persons eminently placed to know the reality. Ask a common Indian and he would agree with Sinha and laugh in Moily's face. I too decisively tilt in favour of Sinha for corruption touches our lives far more than good governance does.

It was ironic that Moily's outpouring of angst against 'failed bureaucrats who become saints after retirement' -- to go by a headline in a national newspaper came the very day the CVC sought stricter laws to check benami assets so that wealth acquired by corruption does not get invested. A day later comes the news that the Election Commission wants all candidates in the elections to Bihar Legislative Assembly to have separate bank accounts to route all expenditure on their campaigns to check the flow of illegal money.

Then comes the revelation from the Washington-based research organisation and advocacy group Global Financial Integrity that between the years 2000 and 2008, as much as $125 billion of public money was siphoned off by corrupt politicians and public officials. It said much of it was 'generated at home within India and then sent illegally aboard' and that 'growth of corruption' -- not prevelance, Moily, but growth – 'and India's underground economy contributes significantly to illicit financial flows from the country'.

All this buttresses Sinha's take, not Moily's.

It is strange that Moily who has been amid the morally squalid world of politics should not know what the reality is. He does not need to look far to know how the system operates on quid pro quo,  how nothing is done according to rules unless the grease is applied at the appropriate places, and if enough is applied, rules are broken to be accommodative. The honourable law minister is right -- the bureaucracy to which Sinha belonged is not a congregation of saints. As in politics, so in bureaucracy: only a rare few honest can be found there.

Then how is it that Moily who is presiding over an office which deals with laws, laws which have to be constantly upgraded to being fail-proof, has a beam in his eye? It is my effort to today educate Moily for by his assertions, he has actually backed the corrupt. It would have been better had he contested the proportion of this malaise among the population but he squashed it as 'travesty of the truth'. To not actually acknowledge that corruption was all pervasive is to be ostrich-like.

Look around, sir, and you would fat cats who started their lives as hangers on and ended up in the country's highest deliberative body. They had nothing but patience and a passion for politics because of the riches it can -- and does -- confer on them eventually. Look at their lifestyles and look at their acquisitions and you would know the extent of corruption. Using their political clout to further their business interests is another facet of corruption.

If only Moily were to note that a citizen can, for instance, get a passport, a ration card or any such basic document without entitlement by bribing the lowest of the bureaucracy; see an education officer asking for a bribe from a junior college management to permit addition of a class to meet the increased demand for seats; can expedite an income tax refund by paying a bribe even though there has been tax deducted at source; get a project cleared, a plot acquired, a job secured, a transfer ensured by paying a bribe; and bribe a civic official and do cosmetic work on a road and get the full payment agreed to in the contract following a tendering process.

This is an illustrative list to which one can add non-payment of wages to those employed under the job guarantee scheme. One can find the tell-tale signs everywhere in the shoddy work done -- from government-constructed buildings to poor public facilities like a hospital where drugs are indented for but not dispensed but sold in the black market. Rations meant for the poor are funnelled into the open market and judges cheat in examinations. And then we have had scams and hints of many yet to be unearthed to the extent that the Supreme Court has issued notices to the Central Bureau of Investigations and Union Telecom Minister A Raja asking why the apex court should not monitor the probe into the suspected 2G scam.

Least that can be said is that Veerappa Moily is utterly wrong.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator on public affairs.

Mahesh Vijapurkar