This article is written by Anand Singh, from the Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU), Raipur. The article addresses the problem of political corruption in India, what has been the position in the past 10 years, and whether there is a need for a total overhaul of the legal system to curb the incidents of corruption.
Chronic corruption has severely hampered India’s ardent pursuit of economic dynamism. According to Transparency International’s (TI) Global Corruption Barometer-Asia (GCB), India has the highest share of bribery in Asia (39%), as well as the greatest proportion of citizens exploiting personal connections (46%). India has the highest level of political corruption, which is the primary cause of rising corruption cases. Politics in India has evolved into a pathway to easy wealth and influence peddling. One of the most common kinds of corruption is tax evasion. It is primarily performed by government officials and politicians, which results in the buildup of black money, which lowers people’s confidence in the government. Arguably, the corruption problem in India has weakened institutions and hindered efforts to eliminate poverty and accelerate sustainable growth, more than the country’s weak currency and soaring inflation.
Understanding political corruption
Corruption is the misuse of authority entrusted to someone. Corruption may occur anywhere and at any time, and it can be perpetrated by anybody. Political corruption is one of the most prevalent types of corruption. Political corruption refers to government officials abusing their legally granted authority for personal benefit. It does not include the abuse of government authority for other objectives, such as oppression of political opponents or general police brutality, nor does it include illegal activities committed by private individuals or businesses that are not directly connected with the government. Only if an officeholder’s unlawful activities are directly connected to their official duties it is considered political corruption.
Nepotism, bribery, extortion, fraud, and misappropriation are examples of political corruption. While organized crime such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking may flourish from corruption, it is not limited to these activities. Kleptocracy, which means “government by thieves,” refers to a condition of uncontrolled political corruption.
Political corruption in India
India was considered one of the most promising giants developing markets during the 2000s, due to its expanding economy. However, in 2012, the country’s fast-paced development slowed to a decade low, with many analysts blaming chronic corruption, including a series of scandals under previous Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh for the decline. Political corruption is most severe in India. The main issue of concern is that corruption is undermining the political body and severely undermining the supremacy of the law that governs society. Small-time politicians establish regional caste-based parties in the same way as businessmen launch businesses to acquire power. Many of these political leaders lead a life that would even make any Hollywood star envious.
Politics nowadays is just for criminals, and criminals are destined to be politicians. Elections have been directly linked with a slew of illegal activities in various regions of the country. Corruption revenues eventually find their way into political campaign financing. To the point where the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) constituted in 2000 observed that electoral compulsions for funding had formed the cornerstone of the whole corruption system.
Major corruption events that took place in the last 10 years
In Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, India was placed 86th out of 179 countries in 2020. India’s highest ranking to date is 72nd that too in 2007, the year the report was first released. Several high-profile scandals have also highlighted the severity of the matter. Some of the most notorious instances of political corruption include the following:
Indian coal allocation scam
The coal allocation scam, popularly known as “Coalgate” engulfed the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government in 2012, incriminating the former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and dragging top neta-babus into the investigation. Though many believe that the 2G Spectrum scam is still the largest incident of political corruption in India. However, in terms of the amount of money involved, this coal allocation scam overshadows it. During 2004 and 2009, the government of India was accused of assigning 194 coal blocks to public and private enterprises for captive usage in a fraudulent manner by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).
The underlying premise of this fraud was that the government had improperly allocated coal reserves without resorting to competitive bidding, which would have resulted in significant profits for the government (to the tune of 1.86 Lakh crore).
The Vyapam scam revolves around the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPBP), a government agency in charge of administering 13 different admission exams in the state, commonly recognized as ‘Vyapam’ (Hindi acronym for Vyavsayik Pareeksha Mandal). These entrance exams are conducted for government job recruitment and admittance to educational institutions throughout the state. Politicians, high government officials, businessmen, and others in Madhya Pradesh were involved in the admissions and recruitment scam. It included employing imposters to give exams regularly, taking advantage of exam hall seating, and providing corrupt officials with forged answer sheets. Many of those responsible for exposing these horrendous revelations — whistleblowers and journalists — have died in a series of mysterious events. Around 77 lakh people are suspected of paying bribes to get into colleges and acquire government employment.
Adarsh Housing Society scam
The story erupted from Adarsh Housing Society, a 31-story apartment building in Colaba, South Mumbai, which was created for the 1999 Kargil war heroes and war widows. The matter had been in the headlines since 2003, but the inquiry began in 2010, after which the Army and the CBI commenced separate investigations. Following revelations that politicians, bureaucrats, and military officials conspired to abuse property ownership rules and other standards to get flats for themselves and their families.
Several flats in the building, which was initially supposed to be a six-story, were supposedly acquired at a tenth of the price in 2010 by defence personnel and families of officials and politicians — but largely listed in the names of proxy owners. The Bombay High Court ordered the building to be demolished in 2016, stating that it was built unlawfully. The society took their case to the Supreme Court, which issued a stay on the demolition in 2018. The Indian army has seized the building after directives from the Supreme Court.
Causes and effects of political corruption in India
There is no one-size-fits-all explanation for political corruption, and the amount of corruption, 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.
However, the major cause of political corruption in India can be associated with the elections. Elections in India are not financed by the government, and winning elections these days seems to be unrealistic, without spending a hefty amount 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 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.
Corruption hampers economic growth by causing significant distortions and inefficiencies. Corruption raises the cost of doing business in the private sector by increasing the price of illicit payments and the managerial cost of dealing with authorities. While some argue that corruption lowers the cost by reducing bureaucracy, the availability of bribes can also lead to more restrictions and delays. The growth of the public sector is also damaged by corruption, as public funds get redirected towards capital projects, where bribes and commissions are easier to come by.
Political corruption has considerably more social consequences than economic consequences. It first and foremost, affects the public’s faith in the government, and it also undermines democracy’s position. Political instability and armed conflict are likely to occur in such a country. Furthermore, the judiciary’s inability to prevent instances of political corruption causes the people to lose trust in the judiciary, which is the most essential component for the existence of a democracy.
Future ahead and the ways to curb the growing corruption
Corruption is treated by the public as a more serious problem than poverty, unemployment, rising living costs, and crime. Corruption is a major obstacle to progress and development, according to economic studies. For tackling corruption, strong political will and dedication are required, as well as good governance, administrative accountability, procedural facilitation, and public engagement through public audit committees acting as watchdogs.
Some welcome steps to combat corruption
Right to Information Act, 2005
The Indian government has made a few initiatives to tackle corruption at the federal level. Citizens can now seek access to any public information under the Right to Information Act, 2005 and if accepted, they will get it within thirty days. The Act has been regarded as a major milestone in the battle against corruption, as it allows for penalties in any event of disobedience and mandates officials to digitise data.
A more proactive judiciary has also adopted a tougher stance against corruption, with the Supreme Court ordering all trial courts in the country to expedite corruption cases in early 2011. The present Indian government has also adopted a 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), the legislation regulating Benami property transactions is being expanded.
Technology has also aided the process. In certain states, such as Gujarat, online platforms for state contract bidding have been introduced, allowing for better transparency. The government has also implemented the Aadhar system, which allows poor individuals to bypass middlemen and get assistance directly through a bank account.
Thus, it is safe to conclude that new legislative developments, as well as recent government initiatives, are sufficient for the time being; the most important issue currently is their effective implementation, as well as addressing the challenges that may arise in their enforcement.
Suppressing corruption in a democracy like India is unlikely; instead, it is openly questioned, analysed, and scrutinised. Corruption is a political issue in India with far-reaching economic implications, as seen by the country’s history. For many years, India has been plagued with corruption, which has failed successive governments. Bribes were formerly paid for doing the wrong thing, but today they are compensated for doing the right thing at the right moment. However, these corruption cases eventually get uncovered, and voters react by holding politicians accountable when the opportunity arises.
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