Sri Lanka Guardian
Hong Kong

The 83rd Plenary Session of the Indian National Congress (INC), held in New Delhi has declared that eradicating corruption would be a priority for the INC and thus for the national government, formed under the banner of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and led by the INC. The President as well as other leaders of the INC stated in the meeting that corruption is an impediment to progress and democracy and it must be dealt with 'head-on'. Following suit, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also declared that it is also determined to pursue a campaign against corruption 'vigorously'. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) appreciates the position taken by the INC and the BJP, two major political parties in the country, against widespread corruption in India. 

It is commonsense that political vision and wisdom are valueless unless there are means by which it can benefit the citizen. In India today, the reality is that the country does not have a functioning framework, legal and independent, with which corruption can be tackled. To start with, in the lower house of the Indian Parliament, the Lok Sabha, out of the 152 sitting members accused of criminal charges of varying nature, 72 are suspected to be involved in criminal cases of very serious nature. These are offenses which, if investigated and proved would fetch imprisonment for the accused for a period not less than seven years. The BJP and the INC have 42 and 41 representatives each having criminal charges of varying nature in the Lok Sabha, out of which the BJP has 17, and the INC has 12 of their representatives against whom crimes of very serious nature are alleged. The above details are borne out by a study conducted by the National Election Watch, a nationwide campaign comp rising of more than 1200 NGOs and other citizen-led organisations working together on electoral reforms, improving democracy and governance in India.

All political parties, having a national or regional remit in India, have supported candidates with criminal backgrounds to contest elections. It defies commonsense that the political parties are not willing to reasonably screen the candidates they nominate to the elected bodies, and yet claim that they are determined to contain corruption. Understandably it is a difficult task to engage. This is because in most cases, the political parties, to win the numbers game in an elected house, supports candidates who are sure to win a seat irrespective of their background. In the urge to win an election by all means, political parties foreclose on the onus not to support a criminal, and let them contest elections in the party's banner. In some cases these are candidates who have committed politically motivated crimes to benefit the political party they support. In India it is common for the party cadres to claim a ticket to contest the election in the party's banner in return for the crimes they commit for the party.

Unless the political parties who have now wowed to eradicate corruption in the country are willing to take immediate actions against their own elected representatives against whom crimes of serious nature are alleged, it will be difficult for the ordinary people to believe that the same parties or the governments they lead are serious in tackling corruption. It will be equally difficult for the political parties to take actions against their cadres, who have been elected to represent the people after they secure votes in favour of the party. But, having said this, the fact that some of these persons succeed in getting elected to the Indian Parliament speaks volumes about the parliamentary democracy as it is practiced in the country. It is good to know that orchestrated public support in the name of religion, religious sects and communal politics is not a replacement for justice. It fails reason to argue that the number of votes a candidate receives or the position the candida te occupies as a more valuable quotient than the basic tenets of criminal justice. It defies commonsense and the collective wisdom of the people to believe in the promises of political parties who cannot and will not clean house first. Expecting the people to believe the rhetoric of the political parties where facts contradict promise is an insult upon the practical wisdom of the ordinary Indian.

Politicians with criminal records apart, there are institutional problems that promote corruption in India. The first in the list would be the state police. Indeed, policing is a state subject in India according to the Seventh Schedule (List II-State List) of the Indian Constitution, subject to the limitations prescribed therein. Today, the people look down upon the police as the uniformed version of terror and corruption in India. There is no functioning mechanism with which widespread corruption of the police and the use of torture and other inhuman practices by the officers can be dealt with.

It is an open secret that police officers, irrespective of their ranks, pay bribes to ministers and other politically influential persons for securing promotions, transfers and for preventing disciplinary action. It is common knowledge in the country, irrespective of language, culture and region that anyone who seeks appointment in the state police service can obtain it by paying bribes. In almost all states, the selection and appointment to the state police service resembles a public auction. In states like Manipur -- a state ruled by a government led by the INC -- appointment to the state police department requires bribes paid to the state Chief Minister, Mr. Okram Ibobi Singh, or to his representative. The AHRC has credible information that as of October 2010, this rate of bribe ranges from Rupees 1,400,000 to 1,800,000 per person for an appointment to the rank of Sub-Inspector of Police. It is also known to everyone in Manipur that Ibobi was a petty civil contractor 20 ye ars ago and after becoming the Chief Minister of Manipur, he has become one of the richest persons in the northeast of India. It makes sense for the INC to ask questions to its cadres like Ibobi and find out how he can discharge the constitutional mandate entrusted upon him and his government, if the public conceives him as one of the most corrupt persons in the state.

Crime investigation agencies in India do not have adequate forensic facilities to undertake their job. In fact, law enforcement officers use brutal forms of torture to investigate a crime, rather than resorting to scientific means. This is because either such facilities do not exist in many places or because the officers are not trained to investigate a crime scientifically. Arresting an accused and torturing the suspect to admit the crime is today the rule of thumb for criminal investigations in India. An alarmingly high number of police officers, ranging from the rank of a constable to that of the Inspector General of Police believe that torture is an accepted means to investigate crimes. Most police officers believe that they have the right to punish a suspect. Over the past three years, the AHRC has documented cases from different parts of India that underscores this belief being put into daily practice. India today does not have a forensic facility that will meet the req uirements of crime control in a modern democratic state.

It is common knowledge in India that the police use the politicians and the politicians use the police for illegal purposes. If corruption has to be dealt with this practice must end. For the sake of clarity, a civilian police service is a public service delivery mechanism of the state. One need to look nowhere else other than the motto painted on police vehicles that reads: 'to protect and serve'. Unfortunately, the reality however is that the literal meaning of the motto is reserved to this illegal police-politician caucus, of protecting and promoting each other. It makes no sense to the people if they were to believe that now the leading political parties have declared a war against corruption, the police would change their old habits or the very same politicians would let them to change.

The mutually exploiting regime of corruption and nepotism within the police has led them to become a demoralised force. If this is to change, a functioning legal framework has to be introduced into the police so that this public service actually serves the people, not the political powers that exercise unwarranted control upon them. This however, will not be possible when state governments, like the one in Gujarat, want the state police service to undertake anything and everything that the government want them to undertake, including participating in genocides, like the one that was witnessed in Gujarat in 2002. It is hard to believe how corruption can be controlled if the political parties will not let go of their dictatorial control over the state police as it exists in India now.

In countries where corruption has been controlled reasonably well, they have a well regulated and disciplined police force in addition to a functioning, well trained, equipped and independent organ that is mandated to deal with corruption. Today, India's only corruption prevention agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), is nothing more than a cocktail mixture of police officers that come from the polluted background as aforementioned and other officers recruited directly to the CBI who spare no opportunity to please a political master having control in New Delhi. Political opponents often ridicule investigations and prosecutions undertaken by the CBI, even if they are done in good faith. And ridiculing is an easy currency to sell in India since there is no guarantee that an investigation by the CBI will not be interfered with by political powerhouses. There is equally no guarantee that the CBI will not be used to wreck political vengeance. It must be magic, as elus ive as the Great Indian Rope Trick, to prevent corruption or even dream of addressing it with these three institutions posing more than mere operational hurdles in dealing with the problem.

Yet another concern is the current state of the country's judiciary, delays in court proceedings in particular. The Indian judiciary is a long-neglected institution. The budgetary allocation for the judiciary, for the lower judiciary in particular, is neglected to such an extent, that the day-to-day functioning of the judiciary is hampered considerably. Judicial officers are required to deal with cases, far higher in number than they can professionally manage in a day. The stress generated due to the overwhelming number of cases equally affects the court staff who make use of the 'mad rush' and the resultant chaos in the court for their illegal benefit by demanding bribes. A bail petition that requires a mere Rupees 2 court fee stamp to be affixed, to be called in the bench on the same day or on the subsequent day will require the payment of bribes ranging from Rupees 300 to 1000 to an array of court officers, which in most cases also include the Public Prosecutor and even th e adjudicating judge. A visit to the Magistrate Courts at the national capital will prove this true, in addition to the fact that the entire place resembles a festival ground in chaos. Trial court lawyers everywhere in India know that unless they pay bribes to the court staff, the court would never take up their applications and petitions. It is a sad irony that it is this same court system that will have to deal with corruption cases.

The population-judge ratio in the country is at an all-time low. Today this ratio in the second largest populated country is the lowest in the world. It is, in fact, 10.5 judges for every million persons in India. So far neither the UPA government, nor its predecessors have taken any steps to address it. Matters go out of proportion when a large number of vacancies for judges are left unfilled for years, which is the case in India. Situations have deteriorated in the past 30 years to such an extent that the average life span of a case is 15 years. This is in addition to the allegations of corruption and nepotism practiced by the Supreme Court judges, most of them coming from some of the most informed sources in the country, like former Chief Justices and Union Law Ministers. Every Chief Justice the country had in the past decade has affirmed that about 20 percent of India's judges are corrupt. A recent statement by none other than the former Union Law Minister, Mr. Santhi Bus han, claims that eight out of the past 16 Chief Justices of India were corrupt.

The situation is worse concerning public prosecutions. The office of the public prosecutor is filled according to the pleasure and will of the government. Withdrawal of prosecutions and shoddy prosecutions together make the role of the prosecutor resembling that of a circus clown. In the past 63 years not a single attempt has been made to improve the prosecutorial service. In cases where the government is interested, the government appoint senior criminal lawyers to undertake the prosecution. How far can the aam admi of India afford to have their choice of lawyers as prosecutors? When policing is useless, the quality of the prosecution service is despicable and courts take bribes and a decade and half to decide a case, justice becomes a distant illusion. Without addressing these issues, how can corruption be controlled?

In fact, it is not corruption that needs to be controlled, what is required is bringing immediate change to the current setup of the police, prosecution and judiciary. If these institutions are able to function properly India will have fewer criminals sitting in the legislative houses. An independent corruption prevention agency, that does not employ police officers on deputation, empowered and equipped to investigate every allegation of corruption, and trained to undertake scientific investigation that meet the standards of a modern crime-fighting agency together with a well functioning police, prosecution and judiciary will drastically reduce corruption in India. Every country that has a very low rate of corruption has this setup. What reasons do Indians have to believe that their government can reduce corruption without the necessary tools?

It is no exaggeration to say that the ordinary Indian does not have much hope when it comes to curtailing corruption. This is because the Indians are well aware that their politicians have neither the interest nor the understanding and capability to deal with corruption. The situation is such that today India faces much more than financial corruption. The average Indian mind is exposed to intellectual corruption and is left unprotected to it. For instance, anyone visiting a government office in India will require an additional study class to understand how secularism is conceived in the country with pictures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses hanging in every corner of the offices.

Even in states ruled by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) it is common to see pictures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses kept garlanded in police stations and even inside court halls. For instance the judicial lock up at the Kolkota Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court has the picture of Goddess Kali garlanded and worshiped daily within the court building. Some police officers in Kerala state, yet another state ruled by the CPI-M, regularly conduct omen worships inside police stations.

Entire rural India has schools run by the BJP and its political support groups like the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) where the children of the rural poor families undergo the RSS' version of education. This is a phenomenon that has mushroomed in the past 15 years merely because the government schools either did not exist in the villages or of those that existed most did not function. If Hindu or other religious or political extremism is increasing alarmingly in the country, it has to be concluded that behind this corruption has played an important role as a catalyst.

Even the Indian media is not exempt from corruption. Several mainstream media in India were recently alleged to have been involved in soliciting paid news from political parties and other corporate entities. In a recent twist of affairs some of the self-proclaimed leading scribes were accused of brokering deals with political powerhouses in the country to settle business deals in favour of corporate clients. A large section of the so-called secular Indian media today rings the wakeup call to Indians by broadcasting religious sermons, prophecies and airing religious rhetoric of self-proclaimed living saints in the morning. Many of these self-declared saints are engaged in the calculated poisoning of the average Indian mind that fits political and business interests of their sponsor. There has been no other time in human history where the reach of the media to the average public has been so advanced. Yet, a cursory glance at the Indian media paints a bleak picture where honesty and intellect has given way to success to cheap competition and the concept that the means justifies the end.

Any political party or a government that wishes to eradicate corruption thus will have to deal with all the above issues. There is no capsule solution for reducing corruption. A good means to start achieving the promised goal will be to stop talking and start acting.

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