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Corruption in India

In India, where illicit cash is the lifeblood of political parties, in February 2017 the government slashed the limit on cash donations in a bid to clean up political funding. But much more needed to be done to tackle a problem that lay at the heart of corruption that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to eliminate. The “black money” or untaxed wealth cannot not be eliminated until political parties become transparent about where they collect millions of dollars in cash.

In the annual budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that the cap on cash donations to political parties would be lowered from about Rs. 20000 ($300) to Rs. 2000 ($30). He said that the reform “will bring about greater transparency and accountability in political funding, while preventing future generations of black money."

The opaque funding of political parties has become a growing source of concern in the world’s largest democracy, where there is no federal election funding and where campaigns have become increasingly expensive. Massive rallies, candidates hopping across states in helicopters and wooing voters with gifts or cash hardly raise eyebrows.

The New-Delhi based watchdog, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) reported in January 2017 that 70 percent of the $1.7 billion dollars collected by political parties between 2004 and 2015 came from unknown sources. The report said that the source of two thirds of the income of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was not disclosed, while that figure was as high as 83 percent for the opposition Congress Party.

Popular outrage over corruption had grown steadily in India, as a series of high-profile corruption scandals has made national headlines. They included the sale of telecommunications licenses at below market value and numerous financial irregularities in India's hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

Media coverage of corruption cases in India appeared to be increasing as popular tolerance seems to be waning. India’s ranking with Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index slipped three points to 87th out of 178 countries surveyed for 2010. In the December 2010 Global Corruption Barometer survey, also by Transparency International, 54 percent of respondents in India said they had paid a bribe in the past 12 months. That puts India ninth after Liberia (89 percent), Uganda (86 percent), Cambodia (84 percent), Sierra Leone (71 percent), Nigeria (63 percent), Afghanistan (61 percent), Iraq and Senegal (both at 56 percent). Media coverage of corruption cases is intense and the topic is expected to continue to dominate the press for the coming months. Recent high profile cases include questionable kickbacks on Commonwealth Games construction contracts, land development schemes in Maharashtra and Karnataka, and the dubious allocation of telecom licenses.

U.S. firms continue to identify corruption as a major obstacle to American foreign direct investment, citing lack of transparency in the rules of governance, extremely cumbersome official procedures, and excessive and unregulated discretionary power in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. Despite progress, the Indian economy is still constrained by excessive rules and a powerful bureaucracy with broad discretionary powers. India has a decentralized federal system of government in which states possess extensive regulatory powers. Regulatory decisions governing important issues such as zoning, land-use, and the environment vary between states. Opposition from labor unions and political constituencies slows the pace of reform in exit policy, bankruptcy, and labor rights.

India is example of a multi-party system with a high amount of party control over state institutions and society and related frequent incidents of corruption. Even multiparty systems run the risk of corruption when major parties politicize society and thus take control over important sectors of business and public life. In India, legal limits of campaign expenditures are regularly exceeded by ten to fifteen times (Loksatta Times 2, 3, Mai-June 2001, 3). The key functions of political parties in modern democracies include the mobilization of voters in support of political agendas, the selection of candidates for public office, and the organization of election campaigns. To win a majority of seats and to thus control government, parties compete with each other for votes. Election campaigns are costly. Under financial pressure, both candidates and party leaders might be willing to accept payoffs or illegal donations offered by wealthy donors in exchange for promises of future favors. In developed and developing countries alike, politicians are therefore tempted to spend as much money as possible on their campaigns, often in excess of official campaign spending limits.

Corruption in public office is associated with illegally giving or accepting some kind of compensation to do something in an official capacity that favors the giver of the bribe. Corruption breeds mistrust of public institutions, undermines ethical principles by rewarding those who are willing and able to pay bribes, and perpetuates inequality in the distribution of government services. According to the 2001 Corruption Perception Index, which ranks countries by the prevalence of public corruption, India ranks 72 out of 91 countries. In an effort to address public corruption, India passed the Prevention of Corruption Act in 1988 for the purpose of consolidating law relating to the prevention of corruption. One of its provisions was the establishment of an external independent and impartial body to investigate allegations against government officials. Similar bodies have been created in Indian States.

By 2013 nearly one third of Indian legislators faced a range of criminal charges. In the present parliament, 162 of 543 members faced criminal charges. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party had 42 MP’s charged with crimes, the ruling Congress Party had 41. It is widely accepted that criminals and strongmen, with wealth to fund election campaigns, had found a berth in virtually all political parties. The problem snowballed as parties chose to field candidates guaranteed to deliver votes. Political parties chose to give tickets to some people on the basis theie ability to win elections, with muscle power and with money power. Using muscle power they are able to round up people and threaten them to get votes.

In 2008, when India’s Congress-led government faced a close confidence vote, five legislators were temporarily freed from jail to participate. Although convicted for crimes ranging from extortion to murder and kidnapping, they retained their parliamentary seats because they could continue in office pending appeals to higher courts. But that is to change. The Supreme Court ruled July 11, 2013 that future lawmakers are to lose their seats if they are convicted of a serious crime. They will also be barred from contesting elections if they have been sentenced to at least two years in jail. The ruling was hailed as a major step in cleaning up Indian politics. But political parties say any real effort at cleaning up politics can only come if there are more transparent ways to raise money to contest elections in a country where corporate funding is outlawed.

In November 2008, senior Congress Party leader, Margaret Alva, made a charge that Congress seats for the elections were up for bidding as opposed to a meritocratic appointment to run. The party responded to the charge by denying such a claim, as well as dropping her as general secretary of the party, the Congress Working Committee and the party's Central Election Committee. She was also stripped of her charge of the congress party in Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana and Mizoram. Congress spokesperson, Shakeel Ahmad, added that "Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi has taken the decision on the report submitted by Mr AK Antony, chairperson of the Disciplinary Action Committee." This followed an outburst by the son of the congress chairperson, Rahul Gandhi, that "Democracy in political parties is non-existent in India. You cannot enter unless you are well connected."

The police in India have a reputation for extortion, which by the late 1990s was perhaps even more widespread and brazen than ever before. Every rank was known to have been involved in such corruption. Investigation of cases and decisions to arrest a suspect, submit a charge sheet, or close some pending investigation are all processes that are generally influenced by pecuniary considerations. Among the senior ranks, most of the corruption comes from the administrative power associated with the management of the organization. Senior officers typically have lavish lifestyles maintained by official expenses.

Such pervasive corruption flourishes because of an organizational culture that has evolved in the system through several kinds of practices, beliefs, and value systems. The subculture of the Indian police was built by the British for the purpose of establishing their Raj (absolute hegemony and grandeur). The police were meant to suppress any dissent against the British rule, a situation that gave unlimited power to the police officers. Consequently, corruption became endemic and rampant in the police department. After independence the system was not reformed, and police culture and organizational practices remained unchanged. During the British rule, accountability of the rulers to the citizens was not an issue. Post-independent India is democratic, and the power to change the government lies with the people. Nevertheless, the old system continues and the police are still not accountable to the citizens. Police corruption can only be controlled through a cultural transformation within the police organization.

The health service is the most corrupt service sector in India, as gauged by people's actual experiences, according to a survey released in January 2003 by the India office of the international non-governmental organisation Transparency International. It ranks India as one of the 30 most corrupt countries in the world. The survey, conducted with private marketing research company ORG-Marg Research, interviewed some 5000 citizens in a household survey to assess the public's perception of corruption. It covered 10 sectors with a direct bearing on people's lives, including education, health, the police, the judiciary, and power utilities. While the respondents rated the police as the most corrupt sector, followed by health, power, and education, the impact of corruption is on a much larger scale in the health and education sectors, says the report. A quarter of the respondents had paid bribes for health services, compared with 18% in the power sector.

Payment to staff to gain admission to hospital is the commonest corrupt practice in health care. Such payments are higher in southern India. "The key actors leading to corruption in this sector across zones are allegedly doctors (77%) followed closely by hospital staff (67%)," says the report. "These revelations are a cause of serious concern for the whole country, as two thirds of the 19.3 million public servants are involved in these 10 sectors, said R H Tahiliani, chairman of Transparency International in India. The impact of corruption on the poor is profound, given their lower earnings, although the total amount paid is higher among the rich, says the report. "The fact that money is being demanded directly and openly by the corrupt is a clear indication that the corrupt persons are confident that no worthwhile action will be taken against them," said Transparency International. It advocated adoption of instruments such as citizens' charters, people's ombudsmen in government departments, and greater use of e-technology.

Part of the problem is the shady way in which medical professors are paid, receiving much of their salary in cash. They would therefore not have to pay income tax on this portion, which is known in India as “black money.” Many professors accept this arrangement, because the cash amount is not added to their legitimate pay cheques if they refuse: “Therefore, you have two options: ‘enjoy’ the black money and be a part of overwhelming majority of your colleagues, or lose out financially by being ‘honest and isolated’” says Dr. Subrata Chattopadhyay, a former Erasmus Mundas Master of Bioethics Fellow at Italy’s Università degli Studi di Padova.

Medical education, in particular, lost its way in India when it became a big business, says Dr. Arun Bal, president of the Association for Consumers Action on Safety and Health, a nonprofit organization based in Mumbai. “The issue of corruption raised its head when private medical colleges were allowed 25 years ago,” Bal writes. “MCI started giving recognition to these colleges without proper infrastructure and teachers.” Most of the private colleges were founded by politicians as profit-making entities, says Bal. Many lacked the infrastructure, equipment and expertise to properly train new doctors. Applicants often had to make substantial “donations” to get accepted. Some critics of private medical colleges say professors manipulated exams to allow marginal students to pass. As a result, the quality of medical care in India varies widely.

The legal framework for fighting corruption is addressed by the following laws: the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; the Code of Criminal Procedures, 1973; the Companies Act, 1956; the Indian Contract Act, 1872; and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. Anti-corruption laws amended since 2004 granted additional powers to vigilance departments in government ministries and public sector enterprises at the central and state levels and made the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) a statutory body. In November 2010, the Indian government signed the G-20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan in South Korea. Within this context, there is talk of India ratifying and implementing the UN Convention Against Corruption and passing legislation to protect whistleblowers. In 2009, the GOI took additional steps to increase transparency and integrity in defense procurements by strengthening the role and number of independent monitors in the oversight of signed “integrity pacts”. These pacts bind the bidders and government contractually to reduce the possibility of corruption during and after the tendering process of defense projects.

Elderly Indian social activist Anna Hazare agreed on 30 August 2011 to break his anti-corruption hunger strike that had fueled mounting protests nationwide. He halted his fasting campaign after the government agreed to some of his demands to discuss key components for a strong anti-corruption law. Prior to 2011, most people did not know Anna Hazare outside his home state of Maharashtra in western India, where he has long campaigned for social and political change. In the 1990’s Hazare turned his attention to fighting corruption in Maharashtra, and began using hunger strikes to publicly shame officials into taking action.

In an earlier fast in April 2011, Hazare and his supporters pressured the government into promising a "lokpal" bill, named after the agency it would set up to oversee anti-corruption efforts. Hazare supporters want an anti-corruption body to have sweeping investigative powers over virtually every level of government, including the prime minister. The movement he started is widely seen as a watershed in the harnessing of people power to pressure government. Rahul Gandhi, the heir to India's most powerful political family, warned that the country's democracy was being threatened by the popular anti-corruption campaign.

Although corruption has become deeply entrenched in public institutions at all levels of government in India, a strong political will and commitment to an anticorruption agenda can bring corruption under control. To aid in this objective, there should be an appropriate modification of the Indian Official Secrets Act, so there will be greater transparency in public dealings. The expansion of secrecy breeds an environment for corruption. The implementation of the Corrupt Public Servants section of the Forfeiture of Property Act of 1999 ensures the appropriate punishment of corrupt public servants through the confiscation of property derived from bribes. Similarly, the appointment of independent ombudsmen by major public utilities has facilitated the redress of grievances and the development of codes of conduct based in the International Code of Conduct for Public Officials.

Themes of corruption permeate the novels of writers on India such as Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), E.M Forster (1879-1970), and Paul Scott (1920-1978). Politicians and public officials are viewed as stealing from the poor and powerless in order to enrich themselves. Lower ranking government officials require bribes to perform assigned duties for serving the public, as do the police. Postal workers are portrayed as petty thieves who sell stolen stamps and pocket money sent through the mail. Bribery permeates the work of customs officials, the obtaining of advantages on public transportation, and the smuggling of goods on the black market. This survey of the literature set in India provides vivid illustrations of the nature of corruption in India, serving as an adjunct to empirical studies of public corruption, which are still in their infancy.

Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi -- the top leaders of India's opposition Congress Party -- were granted bail December 19, 2015 in a New Delhi court on charges they illegally acquired a newspaper's assets. The allegations against the members of India's most famous political dynasty were brought by Subramanian Swamy, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. The Gandhis deny the charges against them, labeling them as a "vendetta" by the ruling BJP. The National Herald newspaper in question was established in 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru, Rahul Gandhi's great-grandfather and independent India's first prime minister. The newspaper shut down in 2008.

A Delhi court sent former Air Force Chief S P Tyagi to police custody 10 December 2016, arrested in Rs 450 crore Agusta Westland bribery case in procurement of 12 VVIP helicopters. The CBI said he was needed to be quizzed to unearth a “very large conspiracy having international ramifications”. His cousin Sanjeev Tyagi alias Julie and advocate Gautam Khaitan, also accused in the procurement of VVIP choppers from the UK-based company during UPA-2 regime, were also sent to police custody till 14 December 2016. Senior advocate N Hariharan, who appeared for the former IAF chief, claimed that the decision to procure 12 VVIP choppers from AgustaWestland was a “collective” one and the Prime Minister Office (PMO) was also a part of it. “It was a collective decision and not his (Tyagi’s) individual one. It was a collective decision of which PMO was also a part,” he told the court.

These are the first arrests in the case by CBI which came three years after it registered an FIR in 2013 to probe the allegations in the aftermath of details of the scam emerging in Italy where the prosecutors levelled allegations of corruption in the deal against the chief of Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland. CBI alleged that in 2005, Tyagi had agreed to change long held stand of Indian Air Force that minimum operational ceiling of the VVIP helicopters should be 6000 meters. Tyagi allegedly influenced the decision to reduce it to 4500 metres which brought AgustaWestland into the running for the deal when its choppers were not even qualified for submission of bids, CBI sources said. On January 1, 2014, India had scrapped the contract with Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the IAF over alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of payment of kickbacks of Rs 450 crore by it for securing the deal. On April 7, an Italian court convicted two top executives of defence major Finmeccanica (AgustaWestland is its subsidiary) for paying kickbacks in the deal.

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