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An estimated 4-minute read

The response of law to the challenge of corruption

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The response of law to the challenge of corruption

By Pritish Chatterjee

Corruption is in the air. We hear of some corruption or the other everyday. Indeed, news of ‘scams’ dominate the media almost on a daily basis. In the 50’s and 60’s there were ‘scandals’. The amounts involved were much smaller. Now the amounts involved are mind boggling. What a change!

It is generally believed that the Second World War in the pre-independence days and the Chinese war in the post-independent era gave fillip to corruption in this country. In order to fight corruption, the system responded by making legislations and putting in place administrative structures.

Corruption, generally speaking, is moral degeneration. In reality, corruption would mean some kind of a quid pro quo in the decision making. Consequently, illegal gratification goes to the decision maker. Since the decision is influenced by external consideration, it introduces inefficiency and serious lack of quality in the resultant activity. It is this spectre of corruption which is very frightening and deserves to be taken head on. Only yesterday (02/06/2012) we read in the newspaper that an honourable CBI judge had allegedly accepted huge bribe money to grant bail to an accused! The consequences of corrupt practice could be calamitous.

One of the challenges, which corruption throws up, is that the bribe giver and the bribe taker are in happy union. In criminal law, someone has to be a victim in order to approach a court of law for justice. In this case there is no identifiable victim. The society at large is the sufferer. At some level, there is a societal approval for corruption too. The system of dowry giving and taking is a pointer to this. A job with the possibility of ‘extra’ money is likely to attract more bribes than with less or no such scope. These factors create serious impediments in the fight against corruption. The recent upheaval for the introduction of Lokpal bill is an indicator of the difficulties on the way.

It may be of some interest to know that there is no dearth of laws in this country to combat corruption. Corruption, by definition, involves a bribe giver and a bribe taker. The bribe giver can be broadly termed as being on the ‘supply’ side of the corruption whereas the bribe taker can be stated to be on the ‘demand’ side. For both supply and demand, there are laws. On the supply side, suppose a businessman gives bribe to a certain officer for some decision. Bribe, by nature, is unaccounted money and, generally, in cash. Laws like Income-tax Act, Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) etc are there to control and check generation of black money.

For example, in Income-tax Act, there is provision for penalty in case of detection of concealed income and consequent prosecution in a court of law. On the ‘demand’ side, there are civil and criminal laws. A government servant who indulges in corrupt activities may face both civil and criminal action. Under the conduct and discipline rules, the officer concerned may be put under suspension and subsequently imposed penalty which may go up to dismissal from service. Under the criminal laws such as the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) such officer may be arrested and may serve jail term. At the constitutional level, we have apex body like the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to scrutinize the receipts and expenditures of the government departments and Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs). Besides parliamentary committees like Public Accounts Committee (PAC) keep a vigil on such incomes and expenses. As to authorities, we have institutions like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), anti- corruption bodies at the state level, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and UPSC to take care of corruption-related matters. Judicial interventions very often plug lacunae, if any, in such laws and practices. A telling example is the case of CVC. It was to start with not a statutory body. The decision of the Supreme Court case in the Vineet Narain case (1997) led to a law in this regard. And then laws like RTI Act have been made to introduce transparency in the system.

It is therefore, not that there are no laws in this country to combat corruption. In fact, there are a little too many in this regard. What is required is that laws should not only be strongly implemented but should be used in tandem too. Take the case of Spiro Agnew, the American Vice President (1969-73). He resigned his job because of ‘concealment’ in his return of income. But it turned out to be a case of bribery and he had to face the wrath of law. Not only this. Being a nascent democracy, there is a need for a whole lot of attitudinal change, rejection of some age-old values like on dowry and creation of a consensus on a corruption-free society.

Corruption undoubtedly throws up great challenges. To borrow an expression of Arnold Toynbee, the challenge has to be met with adequate response for a civilised society to survive and prosper. Laws alone would not do!

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