Saturday, February 16, 2008

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT, NOT GAIN, FOR THE CORRUPT

India, thanks to the unshackling of the long suppressed dynamism and competitiveness shown by India Inc, is now looking to achieve what China has done, thanks to the pride and vision displayed by its political leadership.

The Chinese leadership is completely focused on taking the country forward to the top of the global heap. In the pursuit of this objective, it has recognized that corruption is the one retardant that can not only sour its dream but also stain national character in a manner that can cause unacceptable damage in the long term.

In China, the nation be proud, corruption is frowned upon and deterred by capital punishment.

In India, on the other hand, in the face of ever increasing scandals involving our politicians and bureaucrats, governments continue to endorse provisions that only embolden them to continue blatantly with their corrupt practices with little fear of being held accountable.

In India, the nation be damned, corruption is looked upon with respect and rewarded with capital gain.

As per Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), prior sanction of an appropriate authority is required for prosecuting a public servant. This provision was meant to prevent malicious prosecution of public figures and public servants but has been used by both the Central and State governments to withhold sanctions for prosecuting in thousands of cases involving corruption. The latest and most ignominious case is that of the Governor of UP refusing to sanction prosecution of Mayawati in the famous Taj corridor case, despite the views of the Supreme Court. Getting Mayawati’s support for its Presidential candidate was more important to the Congress party than fair execution of the rule of law.

Astonishingly, this protection covers corrupt public servants for life! Permission of the government is required to prosecute even retired government servants accused of corruption while they were in service. The Netas and babus, the combo that occupies almost the complete space that constitutes the state, have quite unashamedly made corruption their unquestionable right. Can you find a precedent in any other nation except small, insignificant and rotten banana fiefdoms pretending to be countries?

Of course, considering how far this country has traveled on the road of corruption, there is some merit in the government not shedding this power. It fears, and quite rightly, that then the investigating agencies, even the judiciary, will start demanding their piece of the often huge pie! Corruption will not reduce; only the beneficiaries will change and the government’s power will reduce!

Why do you think the much touted police reforms are not being implemented despite the directions of the Supreme Court? First, the proposal to insulate police from politicians and have fixed tenure for police officers will take away the only weapon that politicians have with them to control police officers and bureaucrats: the power to give or deny financially lucrative appointments.

By dexterous cadre management which has made the hierarchical structure a completely laughable and dysfunctional joke, high speed and virtually guaranteed career progression has already been assured. Don’t be surprised if you find an officer of DGP rank and equivalent in the IAS, being appointed to look after something as insignificant as staff quarters of about a dozen people! That is the kind of ridiculous rank structure which this greedy and mindless race has spawned and will do so in future too. That is also where the catch is: you may get the rank, but the real moolah is limited to some appointments only! And the power to post them to such mouth wateringly lucrative appointments is the only lever which allows politicians to keep police officers and bureaucrats under control!

Why do you think these guys feel no shame in prostrating before politicians physically in full public view? Money matters infinitely more than self respect based on rank and authorized salary!

If this power is taken away from politicians will things improve, as many knowledgeable insiders and innocent outsiders will have you believe? Not at all; only the power brokers will change. The politicians might become more vulnerable but policemen and bureaucrats will have almost absolute power, and therefore absolute corruption, in their hands. That is a situation which the nation can ill afford to find itself in. Fortunately, that is a risk politicians will also never take, though for all the wrong reasons!

There has been an almost never-ending debate about the correlation between corruption and salaries. The innocent and the crooked both seem to agree that an increase in the poor salaries that government servants get will reduce corruption! Little do they know or want you to know, respectively, that for the corrupt in the government, salary is not even small change! The will ask for more always, but will never become honest.

How can a police constable who has to pay a huge sum of money to get the job be honest? He has paid upfront in the full knowledge that he will ‘recover’ many times that amount in his career. Almost a decade back, the unofficial going rate to get into the Provincial Civil Service (PCS) in a state was about Rs 25 lakhs! Extrapolate that into the ‘earnings’ that are available to a PCS officer, and it will take little arithmetic to realize that these guys are actually earning much more than many top executives slogging their backsides off in the corporate world! Still, our government servants, never ones to miss out on any opportunity to increase their wealth without any attendant risk or effort, are now demanding salaries at par with them!

A couple of recent incidents may give you a vague idea of the stakes involved in this murky business and the extent of the rot. Yesterday itself, a few Delhi policemen led by a low ranked ASI were arrested for taking a bribe of Rs 20 lakh from 'kidney king' Dr Amit, to let go his accomplice Upender Aggarwal whom they had picked up with the precise motive of extracting a ransom! Every one knows that the shocking kidney transplant racket that has been going for years could not have flourished without greasing the ever-stretched palms of politicians and senior police officers and bureaucrats. Now if an ASI can extort Rs 20 lakhs, take a guess on how much those at the top of the heap would have demanded and got! Again in Delhi, a sting done on cops taking bribes from Blueline bus operators whose buses kill one citizen daily, has resulted in the Delhi High Court asking the Central Vigilance Commission to take action in 89 cases caught on tape. There are also reports that many of these killer buses are owned by policemen!

Remember the famous Tehelka sting operation on corruption in Defence deals? What happened after all those sensational revelations? Military officers who were caught on camera were punished, even imprisoned, after speedy trials. What about the bureaucrats who were similarly caught? You guessed it. They are still going strong in service, pursuing their business with undiminished vigour!

You can bet your unmentionable that even if our policemen and bureaucrats, from bottom to top, were given a token salary of only Rs 1 per annum, the rush to get the jobs will remain as strong as it is now. Those dropping out will primarily be the few who do not yet know about the pot of dirty gold that awaits them, a pot that will make most corporate executives look like very poor cousins.

In a live show on a television channel some months back, a former Cabinet Secretary, the senior most bureaucrat of the country, had no qualms in saying almost with pride that corruption had become totally pervasive, almost a right, and that nothing would come out of any investigation done on any high ranking officer in the government. This the real face of the famed "steel frame" that is now the unabashedly corrupt "steal frame" of an India that wants to reclaim its place as one of the great nations of the world, a face that should shame us and our civilization.

No matter what our outstanding leaders of industry achieve for the country, no matter what our military leaders do to protect their much sidelined institution from this spreading rot, India simply cannot become a great nation unless this scum that has risen to the top is removed before it corrupts its core completely.

Capital punishment may well be the only way to deter the corrupt who are in the government for capital gain.