Millennium Post

Too many acts, little action

Isn’t it absolutely absurd, if not totally ridiculous, that the outgoing election-bound UPA government, branded as the most corrupt ever since India’s independence, should force a series of ordinances on anti-corruption legislations in its dying hours? The proponent of this grotesque idea is no other than Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. The suggested ordinances are meaningless as they can’t be converted into laws by this government. The life of the 15th Lok Sabha had already ended. The next Lok Sabha is only after the coming election. Moving half a dozen ordinances at this stage could even embarrass the President of India, whose stamp of approval is needed to see them through.

The Gandhi scion may not be aware that the growing governmental corruption is not due to dearth of laws and regulations. Corruption is multiplying despite the existence of a plethora of anti-graft laws, regulations and multiple-level anti-corruption enforcement agencies. If the strong jaws and teeth of the existing laws are ineffective to tackle corruption, there is no guarantee that some new laws with artificial teeth will be of any better use. The anti-graft laws are ineffective because political executives, government and enforcement agencies lack will and motivation to act on the acts and apply them in right earnest. Laws were applied to convict and jail former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad in the Rs 10,000 crore fodder scam case. The same laws got him out of the jail as the prosecutors, who invoked various sections of law to get him behind the bars, curiously decided not to contest his last bail application. And, of all the persons, Rahul Gandhi, who is pressing for fresh anti-corruption ordinances, now wants to ride on the shoulders of convicted Lalu Prasad to contest Lok Sabha elections in Bihar. What a paradox!

Various sections of Indian Penal Code, Income Tax Act, Companies Act, Stamp Act, Prevention of Money Laundering Act, Customs Act, Central Excise Act, Prevention of Corruption Act, Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, Banking Act, Shops and Establishments Act, Mining Act, Telecom Act, Insurance Act and the existence of such strong and high-powered regulators and enforcement outfits with powers to police, prosecute and penalise such as the Central Bureau of Investigation, Central Vigilance Commission, Serious Frauds Office, Economic Offences Wing of the union finance ministry, CBDT, CBEC, Enforcement Directorate, Central and state intelligence bureaus, central and state drug control administrations, Reserve Bank of India and Securities and Exchange Board of India and others are quite capable to substantially rid the country of big-ticket corruption. But, the same is not happening due to lack of political will and conviction.

Every ministry has large expenditure budget and is equipped with independent laws to regulatory framework with police powers to prevent corrupt practices. Yet, corruption has been rampant in almost every ministry – from low-profile sports, rural development, consumer affairs, water resources, environment, surface transport, public works, mining, labour, parliamentary affairs, science and technology, health, space research, etc. to more prominent industry, commerce, finance, civil aviation, defence, telecommunication, petroleum and natural gas, power, steel, food, agriculture and home affairs. Scratch deep into their conduct, almost all of them stink of corruption.

Is Rahul Gandhi aware how a bunch of bureaucrats in the ministry of corporate affairs, which recently succeeded in enacting a new Companies Act after almost an eight-year-long struggle to ensure better corporate governance, transparency in its operation and make companies more socially responsible, are working overtime to change the rule book to make cost audits in corporates largely optional at the instance of certain powerful business houses and those receiving public flak in recent gas and electricity pricing scandals? Until last year, the filing of cost audit reports along with financial audit reports by companies was mandatory for companies. Can a Companies Act with little regard to cost audit ensure corporate governance and transparency? There are several such examples of how bureaucratic engineering of rule books is negating the very purpose of laws, providing enough escape routes to willful offenders to gain at the cost of the society and exchequer.

Reports by Transparency International make a doleful reading of deep-rooted governmental corruption in India, which seems to grow unabated by almost every passing day. About 40 per cent of Indians are said to have first hand experience of paying bribes to get job done in public offices successfully. In 2012, India had ranked 94th out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perception index. India was tied with Benin, Colombia, Djibouti, Greece, Moldova, Mongolia and Senegal in the world body’s bribery perception index. At UPA-I’s tenure end, as many as 120 of India’s 523 parliament members were accused of crimes in police FIRs.

Why has Rahul Gandhi been silent in Parliament and in public about his government’s role in the Rs. 1.76 lakh-core 2G spectrum allocation scandal, Rs 70,000-crore Delhi Commonwealth Games scam, KG basin gas pricing scam to benefit Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries, which his own cabinet minister had objected to, dubious coal mines allotment under the tutelage of the Prime Minister himself, bribery in Railway Board selection doctored by a railway minister’s nephew, Adarsh Housing Society scam involving more than one Congress chief ministers of Maharashtra?

Rahul Gandhi’s concern for growing corruption appears to be cosmetic and a poll gimmick, as it is devoid of any introspection of the ground reality and poor India’s growing dollar billionaires. How does a country, where only 1.3 per cent of its three-crore tax payers figure at the highest level income-tax at 30 per cent for declared annual income of above Rs 10 lakh, account for the world’s largest gold import, averaging nearly 1,000 tonnes a year? India’s annual gold import is almost equivalent to the country’s total direct tax revenue. It has been causing huge current account deficit in recent years. How can gold demand shoot up in a languishing economy with shrinking growth of new tax assessees? Doesn’t it stink a terrible black money rot?

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