Article of Mr. N. Vittal, IAS(Retd), former Central Vigilance Commissioner for Vigilance Awareness Week 2018 : 29th October – 3rd November 2018

The Central Vigilance Commission launched the tradition of observing the Vigilance Awareness Week from the year 2000.  31st October was chosen as the date for launching the Vigilance Awareness Week, because that was the birthday of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel the great leader who not only stood for integrity, in terms of moral, intellectual and financial integrity but also stood for the integrity of India as a nation.

In a  remarkable period of less than two years from the day 15th August 1947 when , the British left, he succeeded in welding India into a single nation including not only the British India directly governed by the colonial power, but also the more than 600 princely states who accepted the paramouncy of Britain as well as the frontier areas of North East and North West which had command of British influence, but were mostly governed by their traditional tribal leaders.

Sardar Patel also symbolized integrity in another sense, probably very important when it comes to governance.  He demonstrated an ideal example of integrity in public life and as the very important leader of the Indian National Congress next only Mahatma Gandhi.  He demonstrated how a leader could handle huge amount of money in the course of running a political struggle but maintain  absolute transparency and integrity at every stage of operations.  

I was fortunate to be the Central Vigilance Commissioner between 1998 and 2002, when we launched the Vigilance Awareness Week.  The idea of launching such a week was given to me by one of my heroes in the IAS the legendary Shri T.N. Seshan who as Chief Election Commissioner transformed single handedly into a model institution for all electoral bodies in the world. 

I am glad that the tradition and the practice of observing the Vigilance Awareness Week has grown from strength to strength and the theme for this year ‘Fighting corruption for strengthening new India’ is not only timely but also inspirational.  

Corruption has been defined as use of public office for private gain.  New India as defined by our visionary Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands for a resurgent India which operates on the principle of being all inclusive and lives up to the Upanishidic ideal of sarve jana sukhino bhavanthu as well as vasudaiva kudumbakam.

The new India, in a sense stands for good governance.  As I see it, good governance must have the following features:

•Rule of Law : All citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law

•There should be no corruption and this has to be achieved by ensuring absolute transparency in governance without compromising national security

•Every human is blessed with some talent or other.  Government must create an environment  which can help each person can raise to his / her full human potential;

•There should be no wastage of any resource, which should include not only human time, physical and financial resources.  In other words, the total factor productivity must be optimized if not maximized.

A brief recapitalization of the years since Central Vigilance Commission was set up as an institution will not be out of place here.  Soon after independence, when Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of the country, there was a major scam called the Mundra Scandal.   This lead to the setting up a Commission headed by Shri K. Santhanam, one of the leaders of the freedom struggle.  The Santhanam Committee in 1962, submitted its Report, which suggested setting up of two institutions, the Central Vigilance Commission, so far as the public servants are concerned and Lok Ayukta, so far the political side of executive is concerned.

In 1964, when Lal Bhahadur Shastri became the Prime Minister, the Central Vigilance Commission covering public servants was set up in February 1964 by an administrative order office memorandum [OM ].

This situation continued till 1998 when following the directive of the Supreme Court delivered by the chief justice J.S.  Verma in the Vineet Narain case also known as the Hawala Scandal case, the Central Vigilance Commission was made in to a Statutory body headed by Central Vigilance Commissioner and two Vigilance Commissioners.  The CVC and the V.Cs, as directed by the Supreme Court must be selected by a High Power Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha. 

The judgement was delivered in December 1997 and in 1998 the United Front Government headed by I.K. Gujral accepted the direction of the Supreme Court and decide to  implement  the decision through an Ordinance .

I was appointed as the first Central Vigilance Commissioner under this system on September 3rd, 1998.  Supreme Court also directed that the CVC will exercise superintendence over all matters of vigilance so far as all the public servants coming under the purview of the government of India is concerned. (Group A & B of central government).  CBI will function under the direction of the CVC and the selection of the Director CBI will be by a Committee headed by the CVC and Home Secretary and Secretary, Personnel.  The CVC, after the directions of the Supreme Court in the Vineet Narain case, became relatively more effective compared from the period from 1964 onwards. 

Even though the CVC Act was passed only in 2003, from 1998 onwards, the CVC could operate more effectively than in the past because under Article 141 of the Constitution, till the legislation is passed, Supreme Court judgement itself had the power of the law.  

The role played by the Supreme Court in ensuring that the issue of corruption is kept under check and effective vigilance can never be forgotten or underestimated.  At every stage of evolution of India, the Supreme Court played a major role in guiding the executive and setting the stances which govern the essence of corruption free good governance.  The judgement of Justice Verma in 1998 followed later on by the judgement of Justice Kapadia who brought in the concept of ‘institutional integrity’ when the appointment of a person as CVC who was an accused in a case are of vital significance.  The recent judgements of Justice Kehar and Chief Justice D.K. Misra have also had a great impact on the quality of governance in the country and in the process help in fighting corruption and strengthening New India.

Till the period of economic liberalization was ushered in 1991, from August 1947, the government of India’s policies was based on principles of socialism under which the commanding heights of the economy were controlled by the State.  With the active intervention of the government in the economy, the net result was what Rajaji called as the ‘permit licence raj’.  This in turn gave rise to the growth of middlemen and corruption on a wide scale. 

The economic liberalization which had to be undertaken in 1991 following the critical situation arising as a result of the policies followed till then led to a perception or hope that corruption will be greatly controlled because government would be  playing a lesser role in the economy. 

 On the other hand corruption took a new avatar relating to the Stock Market and Financial Institutions connected with various development activities including infrastructure.  The possibility of crony capitalism also emerged.  This in turn led to the growth of civil society activism especially in the first decade of 21st century by leaders like Anna Hazare who was able to mobilize a large number of people especially including the poor and middle class to directly come out on the streets.  Anna Hazare focused on the need for a Jan Lokpal to curb corruption of political leaders and also the bureaucracy which was hand in glove with the political leadership.

This in turn has lead to corruption becoming a major theme in elections of 2014 which was a watershed election.  The government headed by Narendra Modi came to power with not only promising the end to corruption and also ensuring good governance.

Happily, the Modi sarkar has opened a new chapter of good governance in the country.

In the last four years, a series of measures have been taken which will go a long way in not only fighting corruption but strengthening new India.  The key measures which have been taken in the last four years are the following:

•Enactment of the Binami Transaction Prohibition Act and declaration of Rules so that the Act which was enacted in 1989, enabling the government to confiscate illegal wealth acquire by corrupt public servants and which could not be implemented because of want of Rules, has been tackled.  

•The government has gone beyond this, in order to ensure that scamsters do not commit scams and escape, new legislation has been brought so that those who commit financial frauds and escape out of the county can still have their assets confiscated and brought back to India to face the trial.  This is a new development which is being already put into operation.  

•The third measure taken by the government was the demonetization announced on 8th November 2016.  This was an unprecedented action and it was the third time in India that demonetization was being attempted by the government and it was successful unlike the previous two occasions which were not so effective.  The net result has been an enormous increase in the number of income tax payers and the brazen manner in which a parallel economy was growing has been checked.  The follow up action on demonetization has been still continuing and this is one of the measures which will not only fight corruption but also help in building a clean new India.

•The best anti-dote for corruption is transparency.  A number of measures have been taken recently especially after 2014 to increase transparency in the system.  Demonetization and the legislations passed relating to GST are measures which bring in greater transparency in the system, not only improve the ease of business and correspondingly reduce the scope for corruption and illegal greasing of palms.

•One major thrust of the government to improve the quality of governance and reduce corruption is increasing use of digital technology.  The whole framework of digital India programme has created an ecology where transparency is more a norm than exception.  

•Equally important than transparency is the punishment of the guilty and this is being ensured by enacting appropriate law to pluck the loopholes in the present system.

As we observe the Vigilance Awareness Week this year, therefore, we can be confident that the ideal of fighting corruption and strengthening new India is being realized and we are going to witness a continuous evolution of India as a great nation.

N.Vittal

 

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