Has PM Modi’s initiative to stall corruption made the grade in 365 days?



By K.R. Sudhaman

The Narendra Modi Government has completed one year in office on May 26 this year and during this period, there have been enough moves by the NDA Government to remove corruption from the administration. One of the 2014 Lok Sabha election promises was to root out corruption and bring back black money stashed abroad. Modi Government, in one year, certainly has not ended these two major evils that have been afflicting Indian economy right from independence, but the measures taken so far, have given enough confidence to the people that the new Government is serious in rooting out corruption from the administration.

There are no short-cuts. But even skeptics cannot deny the fact that there are no 2G, Commonwealth games or coal scams during the last one year and it goes to Modi’s credit that his image is not tarnished unlike his predecessor Manmohan Singh, who despite being honest, seems to have done very little to stop mega scams running into lakhs of crores of rupees right under his nose.

No one can dispute the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has begun in right earnest to make the system transparent as we have seen in recent coal auction or the 2G spectrum auction which together fetched a little over Rs 3 lakh crore to the exchequer, which would also be shared with states where the coal mines are located. Modi may not have fulfilled his promise to put Rs 15 lakh in every bank account holder by bringing back trillions of ill-gotten money stashed abroad, but he has certainly made some beginning to ensure Swiss authorities cooperation to get into the bottom of some of the black money stashed abroad.

Corruption is deep-rooted in the country and various studies show that at least $8 billion, inflation indexed, is siphoned off every year and one estimate suggests that over $620 billion has been siphoned off since independence due to ambiguity and loopholes in policies, which is a major breeding ground. Transparency International has estimated that the black money stashed abroad by Indians could be as high as $1.4 trillion including the ill gotten money secured in major scams, which surface periodically like Bofors, Jaguar and other defence deals besides mega scams like coal and 2G.

The money that is siphoned off in scams is no doubt large but the money made in petty corruption is not smaller though they are not stashed abroad. The money made through corruption starting from driving license, MNREGS, PDS system, subsidies, public procurement, bribing lower staff to push files, paying money to taxmen for getting their returns scrutinized and securing genuine refunds, real estate registration, bribing the cops for traffic and other violations and so on, hit hard the common man most and stunts economic development. The parallel economy, which could be as much as 50 per cent of GDP contributes greatly to inflation, delay in decision making and at times stalls development activities because some vested groups are not able to make money.

Business guru C.K. Prahalad had estimated that India lost at least $50 billion worth of investments annually because of corruption. This is because corruption made investors change their mind in investing in the country. It is well established that lower the corruption like in Singapore, higher and faster is the economic development.

India is not the only country which has high rate of corruption, the problem is there in other emerging economies as well, but the type of corruption that exists in India afflicts day to day activities more and perhaps drastically slows down bureaucratic decisions leading to huge time and cost overruns in projects.

Corruption might not be the only factor but certainly a contributory factor for the huge number of projects stalled in the country. At one point of time during UPA-ll, as much as Rs 18 lakh crore worth of projects were stalled. Lately, Modi government has ensured that these stalled projects start moving, as some of them were held up because of corruption.

According to Coal and Power Minister Piyush Goyal, the transparent coal e-auction, which has potential for Rs 3.35 lakh crore revenue going to coal bearing states, especially in eastern India, will help greatly in reducing corruption.

Modi has already decided to crackdown on corruption and his office has directed all central departments on time-bound action within 60 days to enforce rule of law. Ministers have been asked to sanction prosecution or order disciplinary action within 60 days against officials found to have indulged in corruption or misconduct respectively, after vigilance inquiry.

In sectors and services where public interface is high or which impact the daily affairs of the masses, the direction is that there should be zero-overhand of license or other application beyond a prescribed time period. These instructions are fine. But the question is how far these would be implemented by the concerned agencies in right earnest.

The new Government has to be really strict to enforce its instructions. One of the reasons for policy paralysis during the second half of UPA regime was because government officials did not want to take any decision for the fear of being accused or prosecuted at a later date. So they used to keep on pushing files after seeking some clarifications. This ensured that they are not accused of not working but at the same time ensured no decision was taken.

The PMO has also instructed officials to identify and crack down on areas where middlemen were suspected to be operating. In an open letter to the nation to mark the completion of one year in office on May 26, Modi said his government has acted to tackle “unabated corruption”. Uncompromising adherence to the principle of purity, in action as well as intent only ensures corruption-free society.

More time is needed to judge whether these have helped in reducing corruption. One area where government should concentrate is bringing about systemic changes and automation, which would help in minimizing corruption if not eliminate it. For example computerization and automation of railway ticketing has virtually eliminated touts and reduced corruption to a large extent. But there are several other areas in railways where corruption is rampant like contracts, catering, procurement, scrap disposal and so on, which are not yet fully transparent.

Smart cards in metros have virtually eliminated ticket-less travel. Likewise digitalization, a pet subject of Modi, will minimize corruption in movement of files, tenders and so on as it would introduce transparency.

The root cause of corruption in this country is that too many people are chasing too few things, so without progress and honesty among politicians and business cutting across all parties, corruption will remain. Complicated laws too, add to the problem as they lead to discretionary powers with politicians and bureaucracy, a breeding ground for corruption.

Government should also attempt cleaning up of laws including that of taxes, make government procurement transparent and impart moral education to all so that in the long term, India becomes somewhat like Singapore as far as corruption is concerned and day to day life becomes easier. Modi Government has started the process with a great zeal, but it has to be sustained for getting long term benefits.