Mumbai: Corporate executives, social activists and government officials differ on the reasons behind India’s poor corruption record, but they all agree that the malaise has dented the nation’s image as a business destination and dissuaded both domestic and foreign companies from investing.
While corporate executives advocate lesser government control to reduce corruption, the government says it is planning a slew of legislations to deal with it.
Corruption at the grass-roots level affects various walks of life in India, including education and health, said Huguette Labelle, chair, Transparency International, Germany. A recent survey indicated one in two persons in India paid a bribe over the past year, compared with one in four in other countries, she said.
Anti-corruption and social activist Anna Hazare. Photo: Bloomberg
In the last two years, a number of politicians and corporate executives have been jailed in high-profile corruption scandals involving the allocation of second-generation telecom spectrum and organization of the Commonwealth Games, among others.
Social activist Anna Hazare this year led a nationwide stir demanding a powerful anti-graft watchdog, the Jan Lokpal. He has threatened to campaign in elections against the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) if his demand is not met.
Kiran Bedi, a former top police officer and now a member of Hazare’s core team of supporters, said the economic liberalization started in 1991 has substantially increased corruption. While the nation liberalized its economy, it did not usher in administrative, judicial and electoral reforms, she said.
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Bedi made a case for widening the scope of the Lokpal system to bring in companies.
“Under the Lokpal system, corporates would be asked to publish their valuable contracts and political donations. Whoever violates the contracts will be blacklisted for the next five years,” Bedi said.
Bedi said “Team Anna” will again start an agitation if the government fails to get the law passed during the winter session of Parliament.
“They have to do it. They are not doing (it) by heart, but they are forced to (do) that because the government is boxed (in),” Bedi said. She added, however, that the Lokpal will only be the beginning of a long process to end corruption.
Godrej Group chairman Adi Godrej, differing with Bedi, said economic liberalization was not to blame for increasing corruption. “Opening of the economy has nothing to do with levels of corruption. In fact, it has reduced corruption. Corruption can be reduced only by having lesser government controls,” Godrej said.
He said the Lokpal alone will not solve the problem of corruption. The government, he added, should stop handling issues on a “case-to-case basis”.
“If we were able to fight corruption, that would have considerably increased foreign direct investment,” Godrej said. “Corruption has not only discouraged foreign companies investing in India, but also impacted Indian companies investing in the country.”
Ashwani Kumar, minister of state for planning, science and technology and earth sciences, also said corruption has an impact on investment.
“We are taking a series of steps to combat corruption. We are in the process of creating a robust legal architecture towards that. We will be introducing at least eight legislations to fight corruption,” Kumar said.
Rajita Kulkarni, president of World Forum for Ethics in Business, said the government cannot ignore the voices of the common man. “A Lokpal system will offer protection for those who are standing up against corruption,” Kulkarni said.