There is a national consensus today on the need for wide-ranging systemic reforms and their effective implementation to root out corruption. At the core of the demand for these reforms lies the need to strengthen and empower the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) as the apex body for ensuring probity and integrity in public life. Decried as a “toothless tiger”, there is growing recognition for a paradigm shift in the CVC’s mandate; what is required is its elevation into the league of effective constitutional bodies such as the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
In the context of the ongoing Lokpal debate, the role and mandate of the CVC within the larger anti-corruption institutional regime requires careful thought and consideration. To begin with, a fully autonomous CVC covering all central public servants other than Group A officers must be placed in conjunction with the Lokpal. Placing junior-level central government officials under the Lokpal would do away with the existing appellate system of administrative tribunals, creating procedural difficulties. Such functional integration would also prevent the Lokpal from being unwieldy and unfairly burdened with vigilance matters, focusing its efforts on “grand” or high-level corruption. At the same time, the CVC should continue to be vested with supervisory powers over the functioning of the Central Bureau of Investigation with regard to all officers under its jurisdiction.
Further, there should be a formal mechanism for communication and coordination between the offices of the CAG and the CVC. The audit reports of the CAG are examined by the Public Accounts Committee and often there is a time lag of almost four to five years between the CAG report and the committee’s deliberations. It should be possible to identify and transfer all such cases to the CVC for further inquiry on a concurrent basis when the integrity of public officers is under question. Wherever criminal proceedings need to be instituted for acts of omission and commission committed by Class I central government officers, these may be referred to the Lokpal.
It is often felt that the CVC is overburdened with a large number of departmental enquiries concerning junior officers with a considerable number of enquiry officers in the CVC office assigned to these tasks. Some of them even have vested interest in such enquiries, as the complaints are often filed when the concerned officer is under consideration for promotion.
Perhaps, all such cases of complaints can be delegated to appropriate vigilance officers or to competent authorities in the department concerned. This would enable the CVC to address major cases of corruption at senior levels of the bureaucracy. Moreover, the CVC must devote considerable attention to preventive mechanisms to curb corruption rather than ex-post facto suggestions on action to be taken. This preventive vigilance needs to be reinforced further so that it is a deterrent to acts of corruption in the future.
In order to meet this objective, the CVC should have a specialized wing to study the procedures and processes of decision making, particularly in key corruption-prone ministries and departments. Public procurement, which is presently under the consideration of a special committee, is one such function that needs to be reformed in toto.
It may also identify areas such as allocation of public assets, disinvestment, open and transparent tendering of public works, etc. for active intervention and recommended action. Such cutting-edge measures would bring great relief to the common man and provide whistleblowers with the motivation to raise the alarm on all such cases of corruption.
In addition, the CVC should operate in a totally open and transparent manner, including the disclosure of all its statistical details to the public. This should include all pending enquiry matters leading to final decisions, all recommendations made to the government in which action has not been taken, number of cases pending for prior sanction, number of cases in which prior sanction has been denied and grounds for doing so, etc.
At the same time, all requests for prior sanction must be publicly displayed for the ultimate sanctioning authority is the people who have every right to learn about the integrity of public officers.
The department of personnel and training recently decided that the immovable property returns submitted by members of all Group “A” Services of the Union government will be placed in the public domain by the respective cadre-controlling authorities; those failing to submit documents in time are to be denied vigilance clearance and would not be considered for promotion and empanelment for senior posts. While this marks a positive step towards systematizing transparency within the bureaucracy, the CVC as the pivotal cadre controlling authority should play a supervisory role in monitoring timelines, keeping proper records and validating the accuracy of declarations made by public servants.
Lastly, it is sincerely hoped that the CVC remains open to constructive criticism of its work and seeks the assistance and advice of experts and activists in its campaign to root out corruption. It remains to be seen whether its newly appointed chief displays strong leadership in spearheading the CVC’s fight against graft.
Nripendra Misra and Nidhi Sen are director and research associate, respectively, at the Public Interest Foundation.
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