The recent story of US companies bribing Indian public servants presents an interesting contrast in attitudes to corruption in India and those prevailing elsewhere. While we mostly fail to secure prosecution of those involved in corrupt practices, other countries mostly manage to send the guilty to jail.

The involvement of US companies in giving bribes came to light after the Indian ambassador to Washington Meera Shankar sent a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office in May detailing payments to officials in the railways, a state electricity board and other departments.

In the US, the companies that were involved are being prosecuted under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In India, the debate is not about action against the erring officials but on inaction against them. As always, much of the argumentation is either politicized or is fruitless scoring of points.

A lot has been said on why this situation prevails in India. Some would argue that we don’t implement laws such as the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Others would say the enforcers of the law are the biggest impeders in implementing the law.

Illustration: Jayachandran /Mint

Most countries that have checked this menace have a mix of preventive and punitive strategies. In India, given the shoddy quality of investigation and the painful caseload on the courts, the importance of such institutions cannot be stressed more. In this situation the role of watchdogs, whistle-blowers within departments and oversight can supplement the prosecution of those involved in wrongdoing. In addition, laws such as the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, can go a long way in checking the menace.

Unfortunately, our representatives are at best lukewarm to such mechanisms or are overtly hostile to these ideas. The constant attempts by the department of personnel and training to whittle the scope of the RTI Act by excluding official notings from its scope are a case in point. In fact, when seen together with the usual delays in sanctioning of prosecution of officials involved in corruption, this can only be seen as extending a shield to the corrupt.

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