International Gypsy

Thursday, August 25, 2011

An ill-directed fight against corruption

I am forced to observe the great Indian uprising against corruption from a distance. I do not however believe I would have gone to the Ramlila ground in my hometown to support Anna Hazare's protest. Even though this uprising against corruption is welcome as it manifests public's anger against corruption, I believe this agitation is ill-directed that would at best lead to creation of one more layer of bureaucracy and take the debate and focus away from things that really need fixing.

I am not going to make this post a critique on the Lokpal concept and legislation but focus on the issues we need to tackle to seriously combat corruption across all levels of bureaucracy and government at Local, State and Central level.

As is the case with any reform, the reforms need to start where they would have the most impact and are most seriously required. India has become a nation that prides itself in breaking laws - talk to any Indian on how many laws or rules he or she has broken and you would have an earful of stories about jumping the signal, smoking in nonsmoking areas, littering in non litter zone, jumping the check in line at the airport, sneaking in a bottle of vodka in a bar, buying cigarettes and alcohol from the stores despite being underage and so on and so forth. Talk to those who are supposed to enforce the law and they would dismiss you with an arrogance as if they are beyond the law. Talk to a bar owner and he wont care about checking the IDs of his patrons or worry about the upcoming hygiene inspection. This careless attitude towards observing the law and enforcing the law has become deep rooted in the Indian psyche due to lazy, ineffective and yes corrupt enforcement. This is where we need to reform first - in enforcement, that is the Police.

What's the image that comes to your mind when you think of an Indian policemen? A pot bellied, double chin, middle aged and uninterested person armed with an outdated rifle without any modern equipment. Our Police force is lethargic, ineffective, corrupt, controlled by the politicians and enforces a code that is as old as 1861. Indian Penal Code that governs the Police was written in 1861 to police the subjects of a colonial rule and not to provide equitable protections to the citizens of a parliamentary democracy. It needs reforms and there have been numerous commissions, both government instituted and civil society promoted, which have proposed the reforms but not much has happened. The Police in India is a State subject and that makes it difficult and time consuming to reform. Supreme Court directed the Center and States to introduce reformed Policing laws and gave them time till March 2007 to implement 5 directives. Key idea behind those directives was:
Insulate police from unwarranted political interference - this is the top most objective. Just to highlight the gravity of this problem, consider the fact that the average tenor of a DSP in the State of Uttar Pradesh is 4 months!
Provide for a minimum fixed tenure of two years for the Chief of Police and four other police officers on operational duties in the field.
Separation of investigation from law and order which was also recommended by the Law Commission of India.
Creation of a Police Establishment Board which would be a departmental body to oversee the transfer and posting of the officials above the rank of DSP.
Last and probably the second most important, set up Police Complaints Authority in states to inquire into allegations of complaint of public against the men in uniform.

Sadly, most of these directive stand either just as directives or implemented in a diluted form that takes the spirit of these directives away. Someone in the civil society has to take the fight against corruption across all states and to the center to force them implement urgent Police reforms. Needless to say, we need government to focus on improving the training facilities of the Police to sharpen their investigative skills and mandate annual tests that check them on fitness and investigative intelligence.

Police reforms would go a long way in discouraging corruption in the first place and better investigation of corruption after the fact.

Second area of reform lies in the way bureaucrats are paid and rewarded. Bureaucrats in India are unduly pampered with perks and paid ridiculously low cash salary. There is no point giving an IAS or IPA officer housing in the most expensive area of the city and pamper them with perks like domestic help, free telephone, free travel etc. All these perks need to be cashed out and paid to them in cash salary. Let a person decide how he or she wants to live life rather than give them a lifestyle that fosters elitism and corruption. Secondly, recruitment to the bureaucracy needs to be for specialist function - there is no point keeping one person in tourism ministry for 2 years, then transfer to textile ministry, make him a district collector and then post him to the defense ministry. We need to have people recruited with specialized skills for specialized functions - all hirings must be along the lines of Indian Economic Service or Indian Engineering Services rather than through the generalist Civil Services Route. Thirdly, the rewards and promotion of bureaucrats need to be based on performance and not tenure - currently, promotions and appointments in government machinery are based on tenor. No one has the incentive to push the envelope. Last and not the lease, we need to reform the complex policies that ensure there is a long paper trail for each and every government service. It is this long paper trail that leads to corruption.

Third area of reform on which a lot has been said and discusses is the judiciary. Judiciary in India has been able to remain independent and Supreme Court has been the true torchbearer of democracy and human rights. However the situation at the lower levels if very sad indeed. Courts are not staffed adequately and lack access to modern equipment. There needs to be an immediate focus on establishing an efficient and well staffed judiciary at all levels so that cases can be brought to an end in time. It is no wonder one can commit an act of corruption and enjoy the benefits of proceeds as the law suit goes on for a decade and even more. Unless we have an efficient judiciary, no other reform can bear fruits.

Reforms in these three areas would go a long way in discouraging and punishing corruption. Sadly, this entire Lokpal debate is focused on creating one more layer of bureaucracy that would most probably lead to only higher deficits and one more institution that is accused of corruption. It is time for people to take interest in real issues and also take it upon themselves to not pay a bribe when asked for and try make observance of rules a way of life rather than pride themselves for breaking them.


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