A Comment on the Fight against Corruption and Indian Democracy

Rachel! | August 24, 2011

The author is a Professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi. His views are his own.

An anti-corruption movement in India, run by a set of elites primarily from Delhi, has put poor Anna Hazare out in front and called itself a national movement. Their key demand is an anti-corruption citizen ombudsman bill, the Jan Lokpal Bill (JLPB), which would create an independent body investigating corruption cases, completing the investigation, and holding a trial within a specific time frame.

Is the Jan Lokpal Bill (JLPB) the path toward a corruption-free India? Presumably, if the answer were a straight forward “yes,” we would probably have had a JLPB by now. The founding fathers of this nation have gifted us a Constitution which laid the foundation for a vibrant democracy, a secular republic, and a federal structure. This strong foundation has not only kept this country together despite its adversities, but it has also been able to accommodate the needs and aspirations of people of diverse cultures, ethos, and religion with a fair degree of success. If the JLPB or a law of such nature were so important, certainly our founding fathers would not have deprived us of that perceived magic wand to keep India corruption-free.  In the existing system itself there are sufficient institutional safeguards against corruption. Unfortunately, corruption continues to grow despite these safeguards. Public anger against corruption is justified, but Anna’s methods are not.

If Anna and his team believe in India and its constitutional democracy, instead of fueling mobocracy in the name of democratic rights, they should start discussing a JLPB with the government and then depose before the Parliamentary Standing Committee if they have any further issues after that. They should respect the institutions and elected government, instead of taking the whole country hostage. Indulging in lawlessness to bring in a law is the ultimate irony of this movement. Things have gone to such an extent that Anna seems to have given orders to his followers to go and protest in front of the MP’s and MLA’s residences to push for his version of the JLPB. One fails also to understand: why is the government in such circumstances a mute spectator? One can only hope that this does not turn violent.

If we look at it dispassionately, corruption is not an Indian phenomenon alone. Corruption exists in every society; only the degree and nature differ. Instead of defaming India, it is important to understand (1) if the Indian system is relatively more corrupt than many others, (2) what breeds and perpetuates that corruption, and (3) whether the JLPB can be the solution.

If corruption is defined as the misuse of public office for private gains, is it due to an absence of a JLPB? The answer is a big “no.” There are multiple reasons for corruption and the likely primary factors are illiteracy, poverty, lack of awareness about one’s own rights, excessive government control in many sectors, and administrative inefficiency and complicated acts and rules that leave too much discretion in the hands of public servants. If corruption needs to be eliminated from the system, we need to tackle all of these simultaneously, which is a much more complex task than enacting JLPB.

An overarching JLPB won’t help. In fact, it could make matters worse. The solution probably lies in making clearly defined acts and rules, thus removing discretionary power from the hands of public servants, and also making heavy investments in the social sector for human development and awareness. Above all, we need unambiguous, implementable rules to tackle corruption.

Targeting politicians won’t help. Politicians are very much a part of the same society. It is difficult to imagine that bureaucrats and politicians are the only corrupt lot in our society. If India is more corrupt than many other nations, we all have played our own role to make it so and we need to correct that before holding candle light processions in support of Anna in Delhi streets. How excessive government control in various sectors of the economy encouraged corruption is a well-known story, and, if we look at the telecom sector, what happened with decontrol is also well known.

Is the intensity of corruption the same across India? The 2005 “Indian Corruption Study,” by Transparency International (TI) and the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), is the largest corruption survey, with 14,405 respondents, spread over 151 cities, and 306 rural areas within 20 Indian states.  The study revealed that there have been substantial variations in levels of corruption across Indian states. The survey focused on corruption in the public sector. More specifically, it captured the level of “petty corruption” encountered in securing 11 different public services: the income tax bureaucracy, municipal services, the judiciary, the Rural Financial Institution (RFI), Land Administration, police, public schools, water suppliers, electricity suppliers, government hospitals, and ration cards. According to this survey, Kerala is the least corrupt state and Bihar is the most corrupt, with an index value of corruption at 2.4 and 6.95 respectively. What explains this variation within the same institutional structure—have Anna and his team considered this?

If we plot this corruption index against per capita state income and literacy we do see a negative relationship between the two (See Figure 1 & 2). In other words, with higher levels of income and education, corruption does come down.

Using this data, a paper by Nicholas Charron of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden (The Correlates of Corruption in India: Analysis and Evidence from the States) proved through a robust econometric estimate that corruption in India is negatively related to development and decentralization. Sadly, after almost 20 years of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments, we hardly have any effective decentralization, except in a few states, and the development disparities across states continue to increase.

So what is the solution? The solution lies in empowerment of people through massive public investment in basic health, primary education, and infrastructure to ensure equitable development to unleash the growth potential and economic opportunities for those who are still excluded from and get exploited by the system. With our without JLPB, empowerment of people would bring down corruption substantially. After all, Anna’s team is comprised of a set of intellectually-enlightened elites who have previously worked at high levels in the Indian bureaucracy, and some of them continue to be part of the Indian judiciary. I hope they would understand these basics.  If they don’t, then I would only thank god that they are no longer a part of the Indian governing structure influencing and executing public policy.

Email: [email protected]


26 Responses to “A Comment on the Fight against Corruption and Indian Democracy”

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  1. Comment by Tittu Christo John — August 26, 2011 at 4:07 am   Reply

    Anna Hazare’s so called movement, is exactly like creating a superhero and vesting all the powers in it. This is not what should be done. And this, if happens, will shift the momentum, and destroy the very pillar of democracy on which this nation stands. Those who blindly support him must understand that he is trying to remove THE POWER TO EMPOWER, FROM THE PEOPLE OF THE NATION TO A MERE GROUP OF CITIZEN REPRESENTATIVES. Sadly people who support him doesn’t realize that we already have a group of CITIZEN REPS elected as ministers, MLAs and MPs. This is how pathetic the population’s knowledge is.

    Hazare’s proposed method is to create a body to uproot corruption once identified. This is wrong and, in the long run, will prove inefficient. The method should be to create an environment that makes it difficult for the corrupt to survive. And that method already exists in the constitution and is vested in each one of you. The power to elect. Elect the one whom you trust and empower him/her. If you feel that there is none, go ahead and file a nomination for yourself. This is not a movie where you can expect a superhero to kill all corrupt people in no time and save the world. It will take time, at least five years until the next election. You certainly will have to reap what you saw, there is no escape.
    And we must stop casting votes on a political party basis. Which ever party he or she belongs to, the motive must be to elect the best. Certainly education and literacy has got its role to play in this.

    Lastly, there is nothing like a super human in real life, and Hazare can’t save you. His movement is only gonna destroy what ever balance is still existing in the Parliament.

    Now tell me, how many of you voted for the election last year??? If you haven’t play your part first. And if you have and is not satisfied, you have made the wrong choice…

  2. Comment by ranvijay — February 22, 2012 at 7:36 am   Reply

    why govt highly educated people like prime minis tor had taken all wrong decisions in last 10 years.because of that person all 121 cr people r suffering with unemployment , corruption,farmer r going to die .he doesnot shy on his work he and his ministor going together in election among public which they cheat .we can not under stand what media and other party r not taking action against these people

  3. Comment by RANJIT — March 9, 2012 at 5:32 am   Reply


  4. Comment by sanjay — March 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm   Reply

    why all partys are shouting on anna team if they said 165 mp are corrupt so all party and govt has to take action on those sansad instend of taking action they r shouting on ansna team? our india need anna ramdev who fight for our india poor people .sansad got vote thru misgide,fear,money .if they r not using

    • Comment by satish — April 4, 2012 at 7:41 am   Reply

      thru corruption neta and upper staff mental torcharing and making people under fear so nobody can able to fight them. But anna team and ramdev never afraid from him only they can do india free from all problem jai hind

  5. Comment by sabita singh — March 27, 2012 at 12:30 pm   Reply

    india need fakir like anna ,ramdev who understand the problem of poor people sansad who honer of 10cr 15cr sitting in ac who does not understand problem of poor people rahul go poor people home but not resolve problem of poor .poor people still facing corruption every step if they bring back money in india we all r rich

  6. Comment by ashwani singh — April 1, 2012 at 12:05 am   Reply

    if we want to india free from all problem we have only one solution we have to support to anna team and baba ramdev they will make india problem free becoz they r redy to fight till death .but our ministor r accept crime, corruption,black money for save our chair they can sell our country for their chair.it proves whom we support

  7. Comment by Ranjit lonara — May 5, 2012 at 8:21 am   Reply

    Pm said that higer officer take action aganist any corrept people with out fear mr pm had not taken action aganist correption since last 10 year.why cogress support only corrept people bhopal gas,boforse ,2g,cwg,adarsh,… They protect main person who did these case why??

  8. Comment by Ajit — May 6, 2012 at 2:10 am   Reply

    Sonia,rahul,manmohan,is answerable for all indian people but they never came in any andolan or infront of media for understand people problem and give answer . All people were on the road in andolan they never come to meet public everthough they all r in delhi .it means they accept they r not done good work so they can not face people

  9. Comment by Ajit — May 9, 2012 at 10:46 am   Reply

    Sonia give traning his ministor how to argument with any people and try to prove verbal we r good party.we r not going to pass any good bill like jan lok pal but if we did good argument and canfuse people we can give good result in coming election .good advocate can prove wrong into right without doing any thing like sibbal,khursid,digvijay

  10. Comment by Ranvijay — May 10, 2012 at 12:16 pm   Reply

    Cogress party new aganda we r not solve problem of india like corruption,black money,uneploment,kisan problem but if we(congress) r good advocate we cofuse people and prove we r good party thru argument without doing any thing

  11. Comment by Rahu verma — May 13, 2012 at 4:40 am   Reply

    Sonia said 1.poor people is sole of india 2.loktantr is become strong. Ans1 if poor people is sole of india why poor people r crying in india?. Ans2 loktantr is not become strong govt machin like mp, mla, rich people ,r become strong . We need am admi madein india hart.other country hart never unerstand indian am admi problem

  12. Comment by Heemanshu kumra — May 16, 2012 at 10:55 am   Reply

    If cogress party r not able to manage the problem of india so do not give following excusive .1. We r working under pressor of other party ans -people r crying u r safe ur chair pl leave ur chair u people r not able to solve problem of india

  13. Comment by Navneet sharma — May 19, 2012 at 11:18 pm   Reply

    Govt find out one more excuse for not taking action.they said that other party not support them for doing wright action it means they r want to good work but other party is corrupt .who has good hart and poor people care who does not wait for other people support who start work people will atmatic come with him like anna ,ramdev,bhagat singh,rajguru,they know if we fight against govt govt will torcher them but they r ready to die for india we need that kind of carage in leader ,ministor,pm,mla, so govt do’nt give excuse and stop chating people if due to govt 121 cr people suffer so please leave govt their chair people like anna and ramdev will solve problem of india they ready to die for country

  14. Comment by Rakesh raman — May 19, 2012 at 11:57 pm   Reply

    Any party or person who stopping govt for making good role please tell the name of person or party in media so that public punish them in election.can govt do this?

  15. Comment by Santosh singh — May 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm   Reply

    I request all govt please protect honest people in india other wise if crimnal is killing or torcaring honest people after some time there is no honest people in india honest people r very few so please make honest people protection act so that we can save honest people in india why honest officer r killing every day?

  16. Comment by Sudhir lonara — May 23, 2012 at 10:06 pm   Reply

    Now its clear only mamta has mamta for indian people .she stop govt for fdi,railway rent,but muliam and laloo yadev r give support gorvent for kill people thru inflation(mahangie) so nobady can stop him if anna and ramdev come to say people problem thru andolan govt beat and put in jail. Why govt not bring black money for solve all problem of india.

  17. Comment by Satyanarayan tiwary — May 23, 2012 at 10:20 pm   Reply

    If any people die or facing in india or any state due to wrong policy maked by govt put f i r against govt annaji pl make this one more role in jan lokpal so they can make wrong policy for india we r giving monthly salary and faclity for making right policy not for making money thru corruption and put in swiss bank

  18. Comment by Santosh singh — May 26, 2012 at 9:06 am   Reply

    Govt system or govt machine has power or any company higer officer has power apply this power for making pressor on his enemy who is stopping him for making correption and making money result under pressor some body die,sosite,mental, govt putting pressor on iac,ramdev so they do not say anything aganist us

  19. Comment by Santosh singh — May 29, 2012 at 8:29 am   Reply

    Legal ministor of india pl understand only mp, mla, ministor, can do corruption not aam admi .aam admi life finish in facing mahgai,correption they does not have power for making correption only mp mla and ministor govt officer can break any role and do corruption

  20. Comment by Sudhir lonara — June 2, 2012 at 1:45 am   Reply

    Govt &every body said india is facing financial problem.they r making fool all people of india why they not bring black money from other country or inside country and whatever money ministor making thru correption recover from them and invest in india groth.because this money is belong to indian.

  21. Comment by Santosh singh — June 13, 2012 at 10:11 am   Reply

    If any simple people has making small financial corruption police put him in jail but ministor not given permisson to investigate financial crime.it means govt has make role for poor not for mp mla pm cm they r beond role what happen in india.

  22. Comment by santosh singh — June 21, 2012 at 1:20 am   Reply

    In all leader mamta banerjee (didi) is good cm.She has understand pain of indian .whenever any product price increase no body fight for stop increase prise of any product,she has out her rail ministor becouse of rail prise so we can understand how much pain she have about indian people, she use maruti 800 and khadi white sharee without bangales.she never do any corruptuon in his hole life .why because she doesnot have family like anna , ramdev, kalam, atal bajpayee if she become pm indian people will happy.

  23. Comment by srarita sharma — June 30, 2012 at 5:00 am   Reply

    prnav is not a good person . india is facing financial problem,correption,crimenal protection,inflation .he is senior most person in party but he is not going to solve india problem .if he become rastrapati he is not going to solve indian people problem.he is also become one more murti like manmohan

  24. Comment by kavita sharama — June 30, 2012 at 5:07 am   Reply

    sp is making people fool he stop rail for petrol price and in delhi support congress and ready to take place of mamta .due to this police petrol price increse .becoz they know mamta never want any product price increase

  25. Comment by zibrial ansari — July 14, 2012 at 4:54 am   Reply

    i request all mp mla do not vote pranav mukharjee .if he become a presedent he will work for congress not for public. we all know indian people r facing lot of problem corruption, unemployment,inflation,crime, he is big leader of congress but he is not taken action for solve people problem.he is also a robot like manmohan they r doing hole life for buttring congress not for indian people he never do any thing like pratibha patil .we need pm like kiran bedi first honest ips officer who tow indra gandhi car becoz of wrong parking.why she not good post in police (commisnor) becoz every corrupt officer against her becoz she is not a robot.who work on remod cantrol she can take decision from her inner sole our pm and futher presedent dosn,t have inner sole they do work for them chair

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