Saturday, February 24, 2018
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One could not really disregard the fact that in democracies like ours corruption has become the part and parcel of public life.  Efforts even though negligibly visible have been happening for years to exterminate the malevolence.  It largely affects out growth and efficiency and denies justice to the under-privileged. 

There have been continuing public discourses on various issues governing corruption.  Literature on the subject has grown in volume and value.  In India, there is a genuine interest born out of idealism and latterly driven by concerns over growth and social equity.  Research institutions and civil society organisations have brought out weighty studies.  N. Vittal who made a name for himself as the first Central Vigilance Commissioner has contributed a great deal to these debates.  His innovative functioning and the stridency shown as the CVC attracted global attention.  After retirement he brought out a book, Corruption India, 2003 which was highly acclaimed.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Belonging to the 1960 batch of the IAS, Gujarat cadre, N. Vittal was Secretary, IT (1990-1996) and later Telecommunications (1993-1994) at a critical time.  He initiated policies for software technology parks and was deeply involved in shaping the liberalization of the telecom sector.  Post-retirement, he was chairman Public Enterprises Selection Board until 1998 and Central Vigilance Commissioner until 2002.  Vittal has written on a wide range of issues relating to governance, management and IT and is author of fourteen books.  As a prominent insider in government for over four decades, he believes that greater transparency and use of technology and ensuring there is no alternative can reform our system.

SUMMARY:  With his erudition and experience as the former CVC and as a member of the civil service, one looks forward to a new book with great expectation. Sadly, the expectations are mostly belied.  For those who are familiar with his earlier writings, there is not much that is new in this book.  He has reworked the same issues, themes and suggestions and has not brought out any new perspective or analysis to the vexing issues.  Rather, he has laced them with some nostalgia, anecdotes, homilies, bureaucratic gossip and Sanskrit slogans.

He adopts a broad schema to study the phenomenon.  He proposes what he calls ‘diagnosis’ and adopts the medical approach to multiple organ failure and follows the medical analogy or etiology to propose lines of treatment to the damaged organs.  These organs are Politics, Bureaucracy, Judiciary, Media and the Corporate Sector.  Finally, he proposes prescription and involves the citizens and NGOs into the treatment.  Conceptually, the schema sounds neat and attractive.  However, the execution lacks clinical incisions and analytical strength.  Along the line, he brings in engineering concepts too and mixes them up.  The chapters and themes are not well structured and there is evidence of repetition and the same issues and themes resurfacing in chapters.

According to Vittal, Politics is at the root of the vicious cycle of corruption in our country.  Political corruption leads to bureaucratic corruption, which in turn is nurtured by corruption in business.  He proceeds to link politicians with black money via party funding and moves over swiftly to criminal links leading to the emergence of criminals in legislatures as members.  Unfortunately, while the syndrome is known, often the middle class intelligentsia, in its moral indignation, mixes up the cause with effect.  Who breeds corruption? The society or the politicians.  Can we discredit and dispense with politicians and sustain democratic systems?

The simplest of solutions given is that the Election Commission should issue a notification debarring candidates with criminal record from standing for election to legislatures.  He fails to note that it requires amendment to the Representation of the People Act and proposal for amending the Act has been pending for more than two decades.  He hopes that a system which pays the politicians well may bring about honest politicians.  One need not be a cynic, but may well ask, How much more one should pay?  In the final analysis, he falls back on four institutions to safeguard the interests of the country: the judiciary, the Election Commission of India, the Comptroller & Auditor General of India and the Central Vigilance Commission.  His faith in these institutions is more than fortified by the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of P.J. Thomas.

MY TAKE:  Corruption is a complex phenomenon and has its roots deep and wide.  It has a long record in our history and culture.  It finds new forms and variants. It is imperative that it should be eradicated.  The intractability of the problem should not dishearten us and efforts should continue.  In that process, this book has some valuable view points and random thoughts.  The idealism shown by the author should inform further work on anti-corruption measures.


BOOK:  Ending Corruption?: How to Clean Up India

AUTHOR:  N. Vittal

PUBLISHER:  Penguin Books India.


LANGUAGE:  English

PRICE:  Rs. 499

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