By Sandeep Sahu
The UPA government has done yeoman’s service to the nation by passing a series of rights based legislations during its two consecutive terms in office from 2004 – the Right to Information Act (RTI), the Forest Rights Act, the Food Security Act and the Land Acquisition Act being some of the more people friendly ones. But as it prepares to lay down office in 2014, it will do a lasting service to the people of this great nation if it signs off with the one rights based legislation that has been long overdue: a Right to Corruption Act that gives the ‘public servants’ the shield that they need to carry on with their ‘public service’.
Such a legislation makes eminent sense. After all, if public servants spend the better part of their time answering corruption charges, when will they do public service? In any case, the vast majority of them have no basis whatsoever and are more often than not politically motivated or based on mere hearsay. Is this not proved beyond any shade of doubt by the fact that not a single public servant – either of the political or bureaucratic variety – has so far been convicted in the sixty six years since the country became independent? A Raja here or a Kalmadi there may have cooled his heels in jail for a few months on corruption charges. But has any of them actually been convicted by a court of law?
Starting from the Mundhra scandal during Nehru’s time, through the Bofors scam in Rajiv’s rule to the coal scam during the UPA regime, politicians and bureaucrats have had to endure multiple investigations, commissions of inquiry and court cases. But at the end of the day, each of them has emerged unscathed and stronger from the ordeal. Would the courts have spared them if there was even an iota of proof against them?
In any case, what are a few hundred crores in a country where the annual budget is worth billions of dollars? Does the ocean ever dry up because someone has drawn a few buckets of water from it?
Habitual spoilsports who scream ‘corruption’ at the drop of a hat are unable to see the brighter side of corruption. As A Raja was at pains to explain, mobile phone services would not have reached the remotest possible corner of the country at the cheapest possible rates had it not been for spectrum being gifted away to service providers for a song. If those in power also made some money in the bargain, why should anyone grudge that? Going after corporates for rendering this great public service smacks of plain jealousy. Why on earth would a company provide this service if there is nothing in it for itself? After all, corporates are not public servants. As for the loss to the exchequer, it is not as if the amount has gone out of the system. As Andhra Pradesh chief minister Kiran Reddy emphasised during a tete-a-tat with IAS probationers the other day, “it all comes back into system at election time.”
Similarly, in levelling charges of corruption in the two-fold hike in gas prices to $ 8.40 per unit, the naysayers are unable to see the rationale behind the government’s move. Petroleum minister Veerappa Moily, a paragon of virtue if ever there was one, hit the nail on the head when he talked of the ‘import lobby’ that wanted to ensure that India never achieves self sufficiency in oil and gas production and remains perpetually dependent on imports. It is only the ill informed, blissfully unaware of the nuances of international oil diplomacy as they are, who see corruption in a decision taken in the best interests of the nation.
By the way, what is all this fuss about the coal scam? After all, not one of the alleged beneficiaries has cut even a blade of grass in the coal blocks allotted to them. When the entire coal remains buried under the ground and not an ounce of it has been extracted so far, where, pray, is the loss to the exchequer? Finance minister P Chidambaram was only stating the obvious when he forcefully made the point a few weeks ago.
The case for protection against corruption charges is thus unexceptionable. And given the importance of legislation in this regard, there is an even stronger case for passing a bill sooner rather than later.
The credentials of the Congress led UPA government to pass such a legislation are impeccable. After all, no government in the history of the nation has faced as many charges of corruption (all false, one might add) as it has. If it gets the legislation passed during the few remaining months of its tenure, it would win the lasting gratitude of generations of public servant, who can get on with the business of serving the people instead of constantly looking over their shoulders to see who is aiming a sniper at them.
Since corruption charges are nothing but a tool to harass the public servants, it would make eminent sense if the proposed Right to Corruption is made part of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Better still if it is made part of Article 19 and an extension of the Right to Life and Liberty. After all, what is a corruption charge if not an infringement of the right to life and liberty of the public servant?