India is being hailed as a rising global economic power. However, given its poor record in poverty eradication, human development indicators and inclusive growth, it has yet to go a long way to achieve this reputation.
The biggest impediment is the cancer of corruption, which has now spread to every wing of the government and every section of society, including the noble professions of education, medicine, judiciary, armed forces and journalism.
The several shameful episodes that have come to light in recent times include reports of illegal mining in several States, the 2G spectrum licences scandal linked to Telecom Minister Mr D. Raja, and the Sukhna land scandal involving four Lieutenant Generals of the Indian army.
The scams relating to the recently held Commonwealth Games and the Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society in South Mumbai have resulted in the sacking of Mr Suresh Kalmadi from his party position and Maharashtra Chief Minister Mr Ashokrao Chavan respectively.
The just released final report of the CAG has revealed that the 2G spectrum scandal cost the nation a mind-boggling Rs 1.7 lakh crore. However, the minister concerned clings to his job with the blessings of his party boss, Mr M. Karunanidhi. The Government should ensure his early exit to save face.
Corruption has become a way of life today, and everyone takes it for granted. Politicians and government officials shamelessly appropriate even the welfare funds meant for the poor.
Large-scale corruption and leakages in the plethora of anti-poverty schemes launched over the past several decades have defeated the very purpose of those schemes.
The public distribution system (PDS) intended to supply food grains and other essential items to the poor and weaker sections is in a shambles owing to large-scale diversion to the open markets and even to neighbouring countries like Nepal.
Similar is the case with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), the UPA Government's flagship anti-poverty scheme. A Government investigation in 2009 revealed that a whopping 40 per cent of the allocation from the budgeted Rs 40,000 crore had been siphoned off.
The office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) routinely exposes serious cases of corruption in many Government schemes and programmes. However, corrective action from the Government is rare.
With rising population pressures, particularly in the bigger cities, there is widespread corruption in the real estate business with a thriving land mafia-politician nexus involved in illegally grabbing government land and land reserved for recreation parks, playgrounds and so on. As the eminent economist Raghuram Rajan aptly put it: Yesterday's licence-permit raj has morphed into a land mafia raj with huge socioeconomic costs for the country.
Unfortunately, the discretionary allotment of land for housing to certain powerful groups has almost become institutionalised owing to the criminalisation of politics.
Land scarcity for affordable housing in major cities has been accentuated by the fact that the armed forces, railways and the PSUs hold land far in excess of their operational needs and reasonable reserves. For instance, it has now come to light that the Ministry of Defence holds about 17 lakh hectares of prime land across the country worth more than Rs 20 lakh crore. Of this, only about two lakh acres are reportedly in use.
Clearly, there is need for a detailed and competent audit of the land banks held by the country's defence forces, port trusts, railways, the PSUs and other public utilities. The excess land held by them should be released for public housing, educational institutions and so on.
Fighting corruption and cleaning the prevailing mess should receive top priority if the Government is to realise its goal of inclusive growth and poverty eradication to create a new 21 st century India over the next decade or two.
CLEANING THE MESS
The cleaning process should begin at the top by drastically reforming the electoral process. Excessive, illegal and illegitimate expenditure in elections is the root cause of corruption. Often, the poll expenditure of candidates is 10 to 15 times the legal ceiling prescribed, eventually leading to criminalisation of politics that threatens the very roots of democracy.
In July 2008, The Washington Post had reported that nearly a fourth of 540 Indian Parliament members faced criminal charges, including human trafficking, immigration rackets, embezzlement, rape and even murder. At the State level, things are worse.
According to the Swiss Banking Association Report 2006, Indians had stashed away $1,456 billion of black money in that country. The corrupt entities include politicians, industrialists, officials, cricketers, film stars, and protected wildlife operators, to name just a few.
Although the Right to Information (RTI) legislation has empowered citizens to demand transparency from public officials, there have been instances of RTI activists being threatened, attacked and even killed by vested interests.
Hence, there is a need to drastically change our legal system to guarantee stringent punishment for corrupt politicians and government officials.
Asking a corrupt politician to resign from the job is not enough; criminal proceedings should follow to deliver suitable punishment, including a jail term.