Slogans are no solution
Last Sunday, in my weekly column, Coffee Break, I argued the case for radical reforms over an all-powerful super babu called Jan Lokpal as is being demanded by Anna Hazare and his team of self-appointed representatives of 'civil society', to tackle the menace of corruption. I concluded with this comment:
Strait is the gate and narrow the path to redemption. If legislation and the creation of bureaucratic institutions could alone redeem us as a nation, we wouldn’t find ourselves in such a sorry mess. Populism has brought us to where we are today; populism of the kind being witnessed at Midan-e-Ramlila (and before that at Tihar Square) will only leave us stuck deeper in the mire of hopelessness. Anna Hazare is right up to a point. India does need a second freedom movement, but not to recreate the Inspector Raj of our socialist past. We need a second freedom movement to secure economic freedom and freedom from a system that intrudes into every aspect of our lives. That’s how democracies have dealt with the menace of corruption elsewhere in the world.
I have long held that till the reasons for corruption at various levels of Government are removed, or, to put it another way, the 'incentives' to demand and accept bribes are negated, corruption will continue to exist in one form or the other. A Lokpal (or Jan Lokpal) can act only on the basis of complaints. It is doubtful if most bribe-givers will ever lodge a complaint.
For instance, the Great 2G Spectrum Robbery did not come to light because any of the beneficiaries of A Raja's largesse-for-a-price 'policy' lodged a complaint with the CVC or the CBI. The scam came to light on account of two reasons: Sustained reportage by The Pioneer which persisted with the story, the audit report of the CAG and the interventionist role played by the Supreme Court.
Now look at it this way. If we were to opt for reforms that removed the discretionary power of Ministers and vested independent regulatory bodies with the requisite authority, such abuse of power would not happen. Either at the Centre or in the States.
The idea is to make Government responsible for its primary task: Governance. This would be possible if we were to opt for the principle of Minimum Government, Maximum Governance. As I have argued in my column, we need economic freedom, and freedom from Government's needless controls that serve as incentives for bribe-taking.
I would like to mention one specific reform that can go a long way in fighting corruption: Judicial reforms.
A hobbled judiciary that is short of staff and infrastructure means a ramshackle criminal justice system. This is felt in two ways: Cases pile up, delaying verdicts and appeals; and, some judges are tempted to convert the situation to their advantage and lining their pockets.
Just how ramshackle the justice system is can be gauged from what Justice VV Rao of Andhra Pradesh High Court had to say in March 2010 while delivering the keynote address on e-governance in judiciary:
Indian judiciary would take 320 years to clear the backlog of 31.28 million cases pending in various courts, including High Courts in the country.
"If one considers the total pendency of cases in the Indian judicial system, every judge in the country will have an average load of about 2,147 cases."
India has 14,576 judges as against the sanctioned strength of 17,641, including 630 High Court judges. This works out to a ratio of 10.5 judges per million population.
What we need are more judges with unimpeachable integrity, especially at lower levels of the judiciary -- that is, in the trial courts. We need trained staff and better infrastructure. We need to adopt a system of appointment of judges that ensures tainted persons are not appointed to the higher judiciary. We also need to have in place a mechanism that will ensure the immediate sacking of corrupt judges in the lower judiciary.
Unless we have a judiciary that is free and fair, and is able to deliver justice within a reasonable period of time in all cases, any 'crusade' against corruption will be meaningless.
Will the mere appointment of a Lokpal (or Jan Lokpal) ensure a justice system that works? Or will this merely result in more cases being filed and piling up, adding to the existing backlog?
Do we need a super babu -- or a super cop -- or a system that works?
[You can read my other columns here.]