Is India serious about fighting corruption?
India's government officials charged with corruption can be prosecuted only after an approval by the federal or state government. However, by simply sitting on requests from prosecuting agencies, governments can easily slow down prosecutions or make sure that the offenders are never prosecuted.
But are governments serious about prosecuting their own officers? Consider this.
- The federal government has not responded to 236 requests to prosecute public servants on corruption-related charges till the end of 2010. The overwhelming majority of these requests -155 or 66% - were pending for more than three months.
- State governments run by different parties have not fared much better. They have not responded to 84 requests till the end of 2010 of which 13, or 15% were pending for more than three months.
- India's Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) is tasked with fighting corruption in the federal government. Between 2005 and 2009, only 6% of the cases in which the agency found corruption were sanctioned for prosecution by the government. The remaining 94% were let off with departmental penalties, some of them minor.
- The powerful Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is the main investigative agency used by the CVC to probe corruption and misuse of office by government officials. But till the end of 2010, 21% of its key jobs remained vacant, seriously hindering its working.
- The criminal justice system is also failing in prosecuting officials charged with corruption. There were nearly 10,000 CBI cases pending in the courts till the end of 2010 - and 23% of these cases had been pending for more than 10 years.
- As I reported earlier, whistleblowers are facing serious challenges. In 2004, the government empowered the CVC to act on complaints from whistleblowers. Between 2005 and 2009, the CVC received only 1731 complaints from whistleblowers, a paltry annual average of 346.
Is it any surprise then that an anti-corruption bill has been introduced eight times in the parliament since 1968 with no results?
The idea of setting up an Ombudsman type institution in India was first floated in 1963 during a parliamentary debate. Ideally, it would be an institution independent of the judiciary, executive and legislature and would be free to chose the investigation method and agency.
A total of 140 countries around the world have the office of an Ombudsman. Many believe India needs it most. Has its time finally arrived? The government agreed over the weekend to form a panel to draft a stronger law as per the demands of anti-corruption campaigners led by the redoubtable Anna Hazare, who broke a four-day fast over the issue. Watch this space.