The evolution of the Lokpal Bill over the last few months reflects the strong anti-corruption sentiment in urban India. The government has had to concede ground—the lower end of the bureaucracy is expected to come under the Bill’s purview. This, it is claimed, will help reduce petty corruption and delays of the kind witnessed in public offices.
At the other end of the governance spectrum, the Lokpal movement has sought inclusion of the Prime Minister in the vigilante’s ambit. Sure, this does its bit too—presumably, fear is a great motivator for adherence to rule of law.
However, amid the two ends lies a deep dark chasm that is hardly addressed in the Lokpal framework. For external regulation is no substitute for self-regulation. The government’s first line of defence is the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), whose officers are posted in public sector firms and departments to oversee the functioning of these offices and report malpractices.
These officers are best equipped to deal with any scent of corruption in the public sector companies. But this instrument has rusted—for the institution stands compromised by its very design. The performance of chief vigilance officers (CVOs) in departmental enterprises is judged by the company’s chairman. This determines his professional growth in his company, which is extremely intolerant of any black ink in the report card. Worse, there is much to be gained by a pliant CVO remaining “friendly” with the chairman. This includes year-long company-sponsored courses overseas, or, for that matter, an extension to stay back beyond the stipulated tenure.
This capture has “softened” the vigil that CVOs observe in the working of the company. As a result, even though they submit a report to the CVC every month, there is little to take cognizance of. At its worst, it suppresses possible corruption cases and allows corrupt officials to rise in the company. It is not clear how the Lokpal can step into this mess and hope to clean the Augean stables. It is better to muster some internal will to do the required job.
Central vigilance commissioner Pradeep Kumar is rightly worried about the overlap of roles vis-a-vis the Lokpal, a concern he reportedly voiced recently. He should, in parallel, address the larger issue of the independence of CVOs in the existing framework itself. Efforts in this direction will vastly improve the effectiveness of CVOs and curb big-ticket corruption.
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