Bihar’s corruption battle: Intensions good

Mere Paper tiger?

Amit Kumar Pandey

The Nitish Kumar government is locked in a ‘ruthless battle’ against volcanic corruption in the state. Almost ever day newspapers carry government resolve and new steps to fight the demon to finish. Laudable measures have been taken for speedy trial of lingering corruption cases in courts. Almost all ‘bahubalis’ (musclemen) have been put behind the bars. Their cases are being speedily tried and punishment delivered. It is for the first time in the Bihar’s history that bahubalis have been forced to retreat to cocoons or change tracks.

The opposition parties, however, find the Nitish war cry ‘a mere rhetoric’ and a ‘paper tiger’. Ground realities also belie the Nitish claim. In fact, corruption is assuming new dimensions every day. Now nothing moves in the government without ‘pleasing’ the bureaucracy. Price tags hang openly for any kind of work in the government offices, from the Secretariat to grassroots offices. Manrega and Indira Awas Yojna have emerged as big sources of corruption. At least 40 to 50 per cent of funds to banish poverty are siphoned off by corrupt officials, contractors, extremist outfits, and politicians. In fact, entire political system in the country is sustained by corrupt practices.

Undaunted by public criticism, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has decided to launch ‘Anna Hazare missile’ to annihilate the scourge of corruption. On a request from Nitish Kumar, the Hazare team has prepared draft bill to set up an anti-corruption ombudsman in Bihar. “We have completed the work”, said Arvind Kejriwal, a member of the Hazare team on the joint drafting panel for the Jan Lokpal bill. The draft Lokayukta bill provides for bringing the CM in its ambit. The bill also empowers the Lokayukta to initiate a probe against officials, once it is convinced that the complaint is genuine. It has done away with the procedure to seek permission of higher officials before beginning an inquiry against any public servant.

Only time will say whether the NDA government adopts and makes it into law, but prima facie, the effort is nothing more than a move to gain political mileage. It may be noted here that Bihar already had Lokayukta. But it rarely functioned fruitfully. And successive governments forgot Lokayukta like a bad dream. People also accepted the death of the office of Lokayukta as a fate accompli.

An India Corruption Study report for 2010 has estimated that corruption eats away over Rs. 1,200 crore per annum in Bihar alone. Villagers can not get any work done in block or panchayat offices without paying bribe. The survey report says that villagers had to spend Rs. 800 for getting benefits from the public distribution system (PDS), Rs. 950 for obtaining water for irrigation, Rs. 800 for taking scholarship money and certificates and Rs. 400 for securing death, birth or caste certificates. (The Bihar government has now enacted a Right to Service law to ensure delivery of these certificates in seven days. Let us hope this measure should end bribe and harassment. The taste of pudding lies in eating.)

A newspaper report has quoted former Chief Secretary VS Dubey as saying that a correct estimate of bribe should cross Rs. 1,200 crore. And this bribe comes from the pockets of poor and downtrodden and not rich persons. Every villager in Bihar and Jharkhand would support Dubey’s assertion. Wearers know where shoes pinch.-
The survey of this voluntary organisation report has found that a villager has pay Rs. 250 or more to obtain a ration card and kerosene oil coupon and over Rs. 100 to get included in the BPL (below poverty line) list. A poor student has pay Rs. 200 for getting scholarship. Even free school uniform, cycles and books carry bribe tags. To top it all, only Rs. 500 to Rs. 700, out of Rs. 1,500 is paid to a family for cremating the dead under Kabir Antyesthi yojna. Can there be a greater shame than robbing the dead of shrouds in the last journey?

The problem of corruption, however, is not a single layer affair. It has penetrated deep into the blood of the society. Rather very gene is affected. No single measure can end this affliction. There are many laws in the statute book to tackle this scourge. But, the single factor that allows the corrupt officials and politicians to go Scot free is the lack of will power. All successive governments use anti-corruption laws to gain political mileage or subjugate ‘errant bureaucracy’. There are stringent laws to banish dowry system in marriages. But, the demon of dowry is growing every day on an alarming pace. There is no foolproof mechanism to monitor if the laws to end social maladies are being implemented honestly or not.

Therefore, mere enactment of new laws and providing more teeth to them are no answer to the nagging problems. There should be proper machinery to monitor and oversee if the laws are implemented in a fixed time frame. The Anna Hazare crusade against corruption has shaken awake people’s conscience. The entire nation stood up and the Parliament had to bow to the people’s pressure. It is perhaps for the first time in the world history that a Parliament discussed a public bill drafts to banish corruption. It is the maturity of our democratic system that the Indian Parliament could accept ‘in principle’ to enact tough laws and create the office of Lok Pal to probe corruption charges, if any, against the Prime Minister and other high and mighty in the government. But, even this hard step may flounder on the hard rocks of corruption if there are no eagle eyes to monitor their work and functioning. A social campaign should be launched among the masses and they are made to agree that they should be a strong soldier in the fight against corruption. Social awareness is essential for the success of any law or welfare programme. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

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