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Ending Corruption? How to Clean Up India

Jan 11, 2013

N Vittal’s book ‘Ending Corruption: How to Clean Up India’ provides a valuable insight into the political, official, commercial dimensions of corruption, writes former Indian ambassador G. Parathasarthy.

Ending Corruption

The publication of N Vittal’s book ‘Ending Corruption: How to Clean Up India’ could not have been better timed. The book, written by an ‘insider’, who held the responsibility of dealing with corruption by government officials, as India’s first Chief Vigilance Commissioner, provides a valuable insight into the political, official, commercial dimensions of corruption. Every right thinking Indian agrees that corruption is today eating into the moral fibre of the country’s body politic and society. The book, authored by Vittal, is appropriately dedicated by the author to ‘all my fellow Indians, who want to free our dear country from the disease of corruption’. Mr. Vittal would perhaps have been more accurate if he described corruption as a ‘cancer’ and not just a ‘disease’!

Vittal’s revelations will come as no surprise for those millions in India who are subject to corruption, which is a day to day feature, ranging from bribing police officials to even register a citizen’s complaint, or getting an entitled ration card, to the travails of the well heeled businessman who finds that he gets his sanctions to run and expand his business activities only after he greases the palms of officials and politicians. Corruption pervades and perverts virtually every aspect of national life of India. A study done by Transparency International (TI) in India found a few years ago that more than 50 percent of the people had firsthand experience of paying a bribe or peddling influence to get a job done in a public office. Vittal has looked at the growth of this cancerous tumour through his long years as a civil servant, culminating in his tenure as Chief Vigilance Commissioner. He has written and spoken extensively, even after his retirement in 1996, as an activist highlighting the causes and remedies for corruption.

Vittal draws attention to the many and diverse factors that cause corruption to erode the moral fibre of Indian society.  He does not offer any simplistic cures to address the malady. He rightly attributes corruption to “the lack of integrity--whether intellectual, moral or financial”, adding that “when integrity fails, society collapses”. The very first chapter titled ”Multiple Organ Failure” spells out estimates of bribes paid in virtually every sphere of government activity, including hospitals, school education, electricity, employment guarantee schemes for the poor, land records, housing, banking and police. Subsequent chapters, which diagnose the malady, dwell at great length on the linkages between the electoral system and the funding of elections by “black money” on the one hand, to the rise of criminalisation of growing sections of the political class on the other, make interesting reading.  Many Indians, however, instinctively know of and have firsthand knowledge of these maladies, from their own day to day experiences. Vittal rightly notes that despite measures taken by successive Chief Election Commissioners, the pernicious role of “money power” in elections and political life in India is all pervasive. There has also been resistance from the “political class” to moves that would disqualify those charged by a court of criminal offences, from participating in elections. An estimated 120 members of the Lok Sabha faced criminal charges in 2008.

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(G. Parathasarthy is a retired Indian Foreign Service officer, columnist and author)

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