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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 45, November 1, 2014

Arresting the Administrative Rot

Sunday 2 November 2014

by Pranjit Agarwala

The former DGP of Assam Shankar Barua’s suicide because of the multi-crore Saradha chit-fund scam has not only shocked the country but has also shaken the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Whatever the merits of the unproven allegations, the fact that the CBI’s actions created circumstances which forced an officer with thirtyeight years of meritorious service to take his own life exposes the intrigues and intricacies within the administrative system and the dirt and decay underneath.

The Civil Services are an integral part of the government. They provide continuity in governance and administration. Officers are selected and trained to run the administration transparently and efficiently according to the principles of the Constitution for public good. They are therefore public servants committed to uphold the Constitution and serve the people. This implies that an officer’s first allegiance must be to the Constitution of India. Not to a Minister or departmental head. However, over the years the Indian administration has become increasingly pliant and subservient to the political bosses and their cronies. For most officers sycophancy and even knowingly flouting the law and the basic tenets of the Constitution to please the men in power has taken precedence over fundamental duties.

The neutrality of the Indian administration was first compromised during the Emergency. In 1975 to contain Jayaprakash Narayan’s mass movement against authoritarianism and corruption the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, clamped the Emergency in the country. During the Emergency her writ was law. The judiciary resisted somewhat, but the adminis-tration, with rare exceptions, caved in. The surrender of the administration to the ruling regime set a trend that has not been reversed since. Instead the trend has become more pronounced and the system corrupt.

In 1993, the N.N. Vohra Committee’s report to the Government of India exposed the nexus between politicians, criminals, businessmen, police and bureaucrats in the country. That no action was taken on the report by successive governments is evident from the number of scams that have occurred since then. Further, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s (CAG) reports to Parliament and the Supreme Court’s orders against Ministers and civil servants have revealed glaring cases of corrupt deals involving a corrupt coterie both at the Centre and in the States. But this has had little impact.

Every country has corruption and also deterrents to check it. The degree differs. However, in advanced countries with enlightened societies or countries with good and transparent governance, the deterrents are effectively implemented and the corrupt punished. But in India because of the criminalisation of politics and administrative collusion, corruption has become institutionalised.

The massive scale of corruption is crippling the country. According to Global Financial Integrity, an international watchdog monitoring illegal money, in the last decade India lost a staggering $ 123 billion to illicit financial flows, an amount large enough to fund several social welfare schemes in India. The 2G spectrum scam cost the country $ 30 billion. In 2006 the Swiss Banking Association reported that Indians had $ 1.5 trillion stashed away in its banks. This is thirteen times the national debt and the highest by any country in the world. Deregu-lation and economic growth did create a new urban middle class but it mainly benefited crony capitalists. In the last decade billionaires have increased from six to sixtyone. Almost all are politically connected. They have cornered 30 per cent of the nation’s wealth, up from only 1.8 per cent in 2003. However, most of the ill-gotten wealth is hidden in tax havens abroad.

Besides big scams, what is most damaging particularly for the common man is bribery at all levels of the administration. In government offices no work can be done without bribing the civil servant in charge of the paperwork. According to an all-India survey, there is a going rate for every event in life. Birth certificate, death certificate, marriage certificate, job, retirement et al.

Transparency International’s (India) data reveal that on an average every year a citizen in urban India pays bribes to the time of Rs 29,923 to departmental officials even for services and utilities which are a citizen’s right and the government’s duty to provide. The total bribes paid by urban India annually amounts to Rs 6,29,675 crores. This is 6.3 per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). However, what should shame every government that claims to be pro-poor is the fact that every year the rural poor from the BPL category have to pay bribes of over Rs 10,000 crores for basic needs like healthcare, subsidised rations, education, revenue, police etc. Ironically this also includes paying bribes to get jobs and wages in the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) for the poor. Reportedly, after politicians the police in India are the most corrupt collecting bribes of Rs 39 billion annually.

In India administrative corruption has been the most harmful economically and socially. The World Bank considers bribery as the biggest obstacle to India’s growth. Socially, society has been corrupted by a system of governance built on dishonesty, exploitation and sheer greed which has ultimately forced Indians to accept the unacceptable as a normal way of life.

Did India make a tryst with destiny long years ago to become a corrupt nation?

The author is a freelance writer and entrepreneur based in Guwahati.