Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, May 30, 2005
Industry & Economy
Columns - Random Walk
Pangs of corruption in Kerala
AS a land that is generally looked up to for its laudable standards in social and human development, Kerala ought naturally to have been at the head of the table in matters of good governance, transparency and the eradication of patronage and kleptocracy. "Corruption", that ugly C-word, should never have found an entry in the dictionaries of the morally and ethically enlightened State. But most Keralites know better.
That is why they only yawned in bored acquiescence at what the Director of the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB), Mr Upendra Verma, told the annual conference of vigilance officers of VACB, government departments and public sector undertakings at the State capital last week.
He said that hardly one per cent of the corruption in the State gets reported to the Vigilance Department. He added that corruption had become a part of daily life, whether it was to obtain a water supply connection or to avoid a fine after committing a traffic offence.
These are, of course, the most classic and common instances of corruption that the citizenry face. Corruption is, after all, the withholding of a service, information or goods that, by law and by right, should have been provided or divulged. Invariably, as so many hapless citizens will testify, the service, information or goods that are withheld are withheld only because no benefit was provided or promised by the recipient.
According to Wikipedia, the reputed and increasingly popular free-content encyclopaedia written collaboratively by people from around the world, "In broad terms, political corruption is the misuse of public office for private gain. All forms of government are susceptible in practice to political corruption.
Degrees of corruption vary greatly, from minor uses of influence and patronage to do and return favours, to institutionalised bribery and beyond. The end-point of political corruption is kleptocracy, literally rule by thieves, where even the external pretence of honesty is abandoned."
True, Kerala has not reached that "end-point" yet, where K = kleptocracy, and it is unlikely to do so, given the powerful countervailing policing by democratic civil society institutions (especially the media), which are nonexistent in some other Indian States that are higher up the alphabet scale. Yet, there is hardly much for "God's Own Country" to be proud of on this score. Remember, the Vigilance Director said that more cases of corrupt practices and instances were pending at the VACB, despite the low level of reporting. The sorry inference: the Kerala public has started accepting corruption as the norm.
Earlier, the VACB Director had claimed that the number of cases being investigated was highest in the Revenue Department, a charge that understandably upset the Chief Minister Oommen Chandy so much that he chose to stay away from the VACB officers' annual conference.
The Chief Minister was also miffed that the VACB Director should have chosen a press conference to make a statement about the delay in handing over the files needed to inquire into the alleged irregularities in the award of contract for renovation of the Pallivasal, Chengulam and Panniyar hydroelectric projects.
Mr Chandy stressed that the government did not share the view that the Revenue Department was the most corrupt department.
Regardless of the official "take" on what most citizens now consider de rigueur, the sorry fact is that - as anyone who has stood in a queue for a public good or service - corruption is widespread in Kerala. The less charitable would prefer the term "pandemic," while the cruellest would opt for "endemic". Both terms, sadly enough, fail to provide the sociological camouflage for the imperfections of a supposedly perfect State.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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