10 years after CVC got statutory status, scams still continue

August 18, 2008: The Times of India

Be you ever so high, the law is above you,¶ asserts supremacy of rule of law. This quotable quote is often used by the Supreme Court in its judgments, especially while dealing with cases under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

To check corruption, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) was born in 1964, on the recommendations of the Santhanam Committee. Pursuant to a direction of the Supreme Court in Vineet Narain case [1998 (1) SCC 226], the CVC was accorded statutory status in 1999 to become the apex authority on the subject of vigilance in the country.

The supremacy of law, aided by a tough vigilance commission and zealously guarded by the apex court, has not been able to rein in corruption, which is all pervasive given the deluge of scams — Bofors, JMM MPs bribery, urea import, HDW submarine, securities, Kargil, cash-for-query, kidney and cash-for-vote.

If the scams had left one institution — judiciary — untouched, the latest, illegal PF withdrawal scam in Ghaziabad judiciary allegedly involving judges from all three tiers, has raised a big question on the national character as well as the unchallenged run of the corrupt.

Conferment of statutory power on CVC was intended to make it act as a watchdog to the Prevention of Corruption Act, that is to ensure that corrupt do not get away. For that purpose, it was made the supervisory body of two premier probe agencies — Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED). Has it helped? Can we say today that N N Vohra Commission report on the nexus between politicians, police and mafia is no longer true, or that it has been effectively curtailed?

The Vohra Commission report, though every citizen had an inkling about the nexus, had startled many by bluntly stating that there was almost a parallel government being run by a nexus between politicians, police and mafia. It was a pity that the former home secretary did not take names in his 1993 report.

Why has CVC not been able to dent the ¶unholy nexus¶? Is it because corruption is taken as an acceptable companion in national life? Or, is it because the national character matters little in the present day when divisive politics rule the roost?

The lack of national character among Indians was felt immediately after independence by Rajaji, who had said, ¶It is the improvement of individual character that goes to make the uplift of national character which in turn becomes the keystone in the arch of national prosperity.¶

If on one hand, we have failed to enthuse individuals to imbibe the basics of national character, on the other, we have not moved sternly against the corrupt.

In 1996, the Supreme Court pointed out the inadequacy of anti-corruption measures in the case of Delhi Development Authority vs Skipper Construction [1996 (4) SCC 622]. It recommended enaction of a stringent law, like SAFEMA, that would place the burden on the corrupt, not on the investigating agency, to prove that the disproportionate assets were not acquired through the monies and properties received through corruption.

The Law Commission took the SC’s suggestion seriously and in its 166th report, recommended enaction of a special law. It even took pains to draft the ‘Corrupt Public Servants (Forfeiture of Property) Bill and sent it to the government in February 1999.

After eight years, in February last year, the Veerappa Moily-headed Administrative Reforms Commission in its fourth report on ‘Ethics in Governance’ virtually reiterated the Law Commission’s recommendations for enacting a law providing for forfeiture of corrupt officials’ property.

If the government has the intent to break the unholy nexus between politicians, police and mafia and crack the whip on the corrupt, it would do a lot of good to the country by bringing in a special law that would entitle the state to seize properties gained through corrupt means.

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