NGO’s Role, RTI Use Critical

The lack of active use of the RTI by the public, encourages politicians to engage in alleged corruption.

The rise in political corruption in the country is a daunting challenge. Though corruption in the body politic is nothing new in the country, but developments in the past two decades or so easily prove that political parties have lost all sense of ethics and morality. This has been so due to the close nexus between corporate houses and politicians, not just at the Centre but in the States as well.

Recently, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP party functionaries alleged that the BJP through ‘Operation Lotus’ was trying to poach Delhi and Punjab legislators by offering each of them Rs 20-25 crore. Kejriwal alleged that the saffron party had so far poached 286 MLAs in different States and spent Rs 7000-8000 crore on horse trading. “From where did they get this money? . . . this is the most corrupt (Central) government in the history of independent India”, he alleged. This does not necessarily mean that other political parties in the country are not entangled in grave corrupt cases.

The recent disclosures of cash, jewellery and land parcels involving around Rs 110 crore and subsequent arrest of West Bengal’s industry minister as also chairperson of School Service Commission is testimony to the fact of the gross irregularities in appointment of school teachers, some of whom have not qualified in the written examinations whereas some have not even sat in the written test. But though this may be unique in the education sector in West Bengal, there are various other areas of corruption in other States as well.

Delving deep into the issue, it can be easily stated that unfortunately the educated class by an large shuns politics and steers clear, as politics nowadays is viewed by the aam janta as dirty and a means to make big money. Elections have been directly linked with a slew of illegal activities in various regions of the country. Corruption revenues eventually find their way into the coffers of political parties. It may be mentioned here that way back in 2000 the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) observed that electoral compulsions for funding had formed the cornerstone of the whole corruption system.

There is no general explanation for political corruption, the extent and the forms it takes vary consistently with the political environment.  The degree and nature of corruption vary depending on the sort of regime under which it occurs. As is generally agreed by social scientists, the major cause of political corruption in India can be associated with elections. Elections in India are not financed by the government and winning elections these days seems to be unrealistic, with spending hefty amounts of money on campaigning. Additionally, there are no restrictions on the amount of money that may be spent on election campaigns.

The lack of active use of the Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI) by the Indian public encourages politicians to engage in blatant corruption. All anti-corruption units are directly controlled by the government, which may explain why ministers and lawmakers often obtain a free pass by pressuring the anti-corruption units.

Keeping in view this matter and also the close nexus between elections and political parties, the Election Commission has recently written to the Union Law and Justice Ministry proposing mandatory disclosure of all contributions received by political parties in excess of Rs 2000, instead of the current threshold of Rs 20,000, besides seeking the capping of cash donations to a party at 20 percent of total contributions received by it or Rs 20 crore, whichever is less.

The Chief Election Commissioner, seeking to carry forward the EC’s ongoing action against alleged financial improprieties by registered Unrecognized Political Parties (RUPPs), recently wrote to the Law Minister mooting amendments in the election law and rules that require all parties, including recognised national and State parties to maintain a higher level of transparency to curb the use of black money in elections.

Nirvachan Sadan has also sought reforms to ensure foreign donations do not reach political parties through the backdoor, in violation of the FCRA, 2010. At present, there is no mechanism to segregate foreign donations at the initial stage and that the present format of contribution report is not equipped to seek additional information. There is also concern over violation of foreign exchange provision.

Though corruption is treated by the public as a more serious problem at par with poverty, unemployment, rising living costs etc. steps taken by the ruling dispensation are not quite adequate.  It is an acknowledged fact that corruption is a major obstacle to progress and development. Thus, tackling corruption requires strong political will and dedication as well as good governance, administrative accountability, procedural facilitation and public engagement through public audit committees acting as watchdogs.

But these are all on paper and the real weapon to tackle corruption has not been active due to the presence of a quid pro quo between industrialists, bureaucrats, police officials and politicians. Protection of the guilty is marred by corrupt practices. The Indian government has made a few initiatives to tackle corruption at the federal level. Citizens can seek access to any public information under the Right to Information Act, 2005 and they are bound to receive information within thirty days.

However, the lack of active use of the RTI by the public, encourages politicians to engage in alleged corruption. However, it cannot be denied that the present ruling dispensation has adopted a somewhat tough position on the issue of corruption, resulting in the implementation of various legislative measures aimed at combating it, including the formation of an independent ombudsman (the Lokpal) to investigate and prosecute incidents of public officials’ malpractice (including Ministers) while the legislation regulating illegal property transactions has been expanded.

It has to be agreed that it is the judiciary that has played the significant role in dealing with corruption and exposing political and business leaders. There are landmark judgments in certain cases, which set a barometer. There is need to strengthen the judiciary through prompt settlement of cases and building judicial infrastructure.

It is also necessary that civil society organisations should come forward and organise sustained movements against corrupt political leaders so that their image is tarnished in the public eye. Unless resistance is organised from grass-root levels, it would be very difficult to bring down corruption. Over and above this, educated and sincere persons should enter political parties and bring about the much-needed change. It goes without saying that increasing corruption affects the process of development and those who are marginalised and impoverished tend to suffer the most. Sooner the loopholes are plugged, the better it is.–


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Dhurjati Mukherjee

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