Whither Anti-Corruption Drive in India

It is extremely distressing to note that many people have started thinking that corruption is the order of the day, whether in private or public sector activities.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Uzbekistan is attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit on last week. He holds a few bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit including the meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin [Photo: MEA India]

In the last nine years after Mr. Narendra Modi assumed office as Prime Minister of India, there is no doubt that India has achieved significant progress and has made rapid strides in multiple directions. Several infrastructure projects, welfare programmes, proactive policies towards industrial development and number of reform measures have been implemented. However, one area where there is not much of difference is in the level of corruption at different levels all over India.

While Mr.Modi has ensured that top administration in central government is nearly transparent without corrupt dealings, this is not so in the case of lower level of administration and in several states in the country.

Cross section of people living in various parts of India in different age groups, educational level and economic strata are of the view that the most serious problem confronting India today is the widespread corruption in government departments and public life. Not only several politicians, bureaucrats, but government employees at various levels are also indulging in corruption, widespread corruption is prevalent in private educational institutions, private hospitals, real estates and even in places of worship and other areas from bottom level to top level. Of course, occasionally , it is also seen that there are honest and incorruptible people in government departments and public and private sector organisations. They are few and far between. The non-corrupt person today is considered as an exception rather than a rule.

It is extremely distressing to note that many people have started thinking that corruption is the order of the day, whether in private or public sector activities. As a matter of fact, corruption has become cyclical , in that one person who takes bribe at one place also gives bribe at another place to get things done.

In spite of such conditions, Prime Minister Modi remains as the most popular leader in the country enjoying public confidence, as people believe that he is a man of great personal integrity and if anyone in India can root out corruption in India today , this cause can be achieved by only Prime Minister Modi.

On more than one occasion, Mr. Modi has said or give an impression by his decisions that the best way of rooting out corruption in India is by making changes in the system of transaction and administration. He has been stressing on the importance of massive and large scale digitalization as the best method of promoting transparency and rooting out corruption.

Mr. Modi has taken some steps in this regard by opening zero bank account for millions of poor people in India and ensuring that welfare fund for the poor people including agricultural farmers would be provided by bank transaction, so that middle men would be avoided and syphoning of the fund would be eliminated. This is good as far as it goes ,but certainly many other stronger steps are needed.

It is well known that most of the corrupt dealing takes place in the form of cash transaction. Therefore, high level of digitalization and minimum amount of currency in circulation is the strategy and pre condition that is required to root out corruption.

While the level of digitalization in the country has been steadily increasing, unfortunately the currency circulation has also increased to high level.

The currency circulation in value terms has soared from ₹17.74 lakh crore on November 4, 2016, to ₹32.42 lakh crore on December 23, 2022. Currency in circulation, which was ₹18.04-lakh crore in end-March 2018, jumped to ₹31.34-lakh crore in end-March 2022 and further to ₹32.42-lakh crore as on December 23, 2022.

With huge currency in circulation, many raids carried out by investigating agencies like enforcement directorate, Income tax authorities have seen huge bundle of currency notes worth several crore of rupees kept in the raided premises. Obviously, this bundle of currencies are the black money and corrupt money accumulated by evading taxes and indulging in corrupt dealings.

While campaign for honesty in public and private life by various sources have been taking place for long time in the country, this has not seen any reduction in the level of corruption in India. The repeated catching of corrupt persons by vigilance department have also not yielded much benefits ,as they are only the tip of iceberg.

The only way is to reduce rapidly the circulation of currency note in the country, which inevitably would lead to greater level of digitalization and transparency in transactions and bring down the currency led corruption. The recent rapid increase in currency circulation by Reserve Bank of India is a mistake with serious adverse consequences.

This situation has to be retrieved by steadily decreasing the level of high value currency notes in circulation.

N.S.Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause and to promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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