Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Combating Corruption Today: Who is Undermining Democracy-People’s movement or Government?

In the wake of drafting of the Lokpal Bill that has generated a lot of heat, a symposium titled Combating Corruption Today: Who is Undermining Democracy-People’s movement or Government was organized by All India Students’ Association (AISA), Student-Youth Campaign against Corruption and Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA). The meeting took place at Gandhi Peace Foundation on 5th July, 2011 and witnessed huge participation of youths, Left intellectuals and activists.

Sandeep Singh, ex-JNUSU President (AISA) welcomed the overwhelming participation of intellectuals and media persons in the seminar. In his introduction, he informed that most people are worried about corruption in the government, which has weakened the exchequer. He asked for identifying the peculiar characteristics of corruption in the neoliberal era. Corporate houses are involved in large scale loot of technical and natural resources. The frequency and scale of corruption has increased. Policy generated corruption has to be focused upon. People like A Raja and Madhu Koda have been nabbed as criminals. But the real culprits are still hiding somewhere else. He mentioned about the Devas scam. The PMO too is involved in selling resources like spectrum at throwaway prices to corporate houses. Government policies are facilitating superprofits. The Global Financial Integrity Report has estimated that from 1948 through 2008 India lost a total of $213 billion in illicit financial flows. Minister Kapil Sibal is alleging that the civil society is dictating and undermining Parliamentary democracy. But people want to become part of the lawmaking process. Sandeep Singh asked how corporate houses could be allowed to keep territorial armies in a Parliamentary democracy. The UID project led by Nandan Nilekani has business contacts with L1 Identity Solutions, which has names associated with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other American defence organisations in its top management. It is also a defence contractor in the US. Indian democracy is facing risks from corporatization of public projects, Singh asserted. He informed that on the 69th anniversary of Quit India movement, i.e. 9th August, 2011, AISA will launch a massive struggle against corruption across Delhi.

Prof. Arun Kumar from JNU informed that the Supreme Court has appointed a high-level Special Investigation Team (SIT) to monitor the investigation and the steps taken to bring back black money stashed away in foreign banks. 50 percent of GDP is black money. Rs. 37 lakh crore is the black money generated every year out of which Rs. 4 lakh crore is taken out from the country. A huge amount of money comes to India via the Mauritius route due to the Double Taxation Avoidance Convention (DTAC). More than 40% of foreign direct investment (FDI) to India comes through the Mauritius route. FII investment through the non-transparent Participatory Notes is rampant. India is now witnessing ‘drain of wealth’ that happened under the British rule too. In India the police is engaged in illegal activities like hafta collection. 50 percent of economic activities in India involve black money. Black money is generated systematically by businessmen by avoiding excise duties and sales taxes. The political and executive classes need to be involved to expose black money. The Radia tapes have proven that the business and political classes enjoyed nexus with Niira Radia. The police know how hawala transactions take place. The Investigating Officer who was investigating Hassan Ali’s case after IT department raid took place at Mr Khan's residences in 2007 and documents were found that proved he had multiple bank accounts in Switzerland was involved in leaking vital information about the investigation to Hassan Ali for a hefty bribe. Arun Kumar informed that all the countries have taken action against LGT bank of Liechtenstein where black money is stashed except India. The United States fined UBS bank US$ 780 million in 2009 for helping Americans stash assets overseas tax-free. Black money in India was 5 percent of the GDP in mid 1950s which has increased to 50 percent of GDP presently. Various committees were set up by the Government of India which recommended several policy measures. Implementation of policies is the biggest challenge. The problem lies with the political economy. Without public pressure, the government does not work. Sustained mass movement is needed. The number of scams happening in a year and the amount of money involved has gone up exponentially.     

Seema Mustafa, Resident Editor at The Sunday Guardian, said that politics around corruption has emerged recently. Corruption has affected every level of the society. The quantity and quality of corruption has changed overtime. The government started intimidating civil society from the day Anna Hazare began his fast. However, Hazare was successful in igniting a section of the population. Ramdev was an easy target for the government as compared to Prashant Bhushan. A very watered down Lokpal bill is now being prepared by the government. The mining mafia, real estate mafia and the land mafia are receiving support from the government. The gas scam pertaining to Krishna-Godavari basin gas allocation has just been exposed. Most scams are leaked by the media. So far media has protected the corporate houses. Media is now attacking only Raja and Koda. Since the media is biased, one has to read 10 newspapers to get the real picture. Corruption is sensationalized and glamorized. A couple of honest editors are under attack. Uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources is affecting the poor. It is going to be a tough struggle in the coming days. There is a big cover-up undergoing to protect the corporate houses and the political parties.     

Prof. Maninder Thakur from JNU asked whether the progressive elements in the country during all these years forgot to raise the issue of corruption since they were busy fighting communalism. He urged to associate socialist movement to corruption. In the state of Bihar, all development projects are being funded by the World Bank, he added. The interest paid on the World Bank loan is yet to be known. The model of doing politics has changed. Consultancy firms are hired nowadays to fight elections. Corporate funding in elections is considered as a form of investment. Privatization of education is happening at full speed for e.g. one could see emergence of Lovely Professional University, Sharda University etc. Sibal’s statement that the government’s job is to bring a Lokpal bill and not to guarantee whether it can be made into a law should be noted. The English speaking elite is siding with the Government. But there is a need to ask them for joining the movement against corruption.    

Ajit Sahi, senior journalist said that for the educated masses it is difficult to understand the real world which is bad and corrupt. Those who believe in the Constitution find that illegality has been mainstreamed in the society. Institutionalized corruption is high in the media industry. By referring to the advertisement of iDiva magazine that appeared as a news item in the Times of India newspaper dated 1 July, 2011, he said that paid news phenomenon is rampant in India. This is happening because newspapers have to pay taxes if they publish advertisement directly. Ajit Sahi informed that the Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees (Condition of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act came into being in 1955. Under the same Act, journalists cannot be fired without a 3 months’ notice and editors cannot be fired without a 6 months’ notice (given in advance) by the media owners. Under this Act, there is a provision for Wage Boards. Since 1955, the Government of India has constituted 5 Wage Boards (1956, 1963/64, 1975/1976, 1985, 1994 and 2007) at regular intervals for the working journalists and non-journalist newspaper employees. In 1958, the Express Newspaper challenged the Working Journalists Act saying that the law created financial burden on the newspaper company. Contractual employment was started by the Times of India in 1993. The Indian Newspaper Society is spreading the message that the government wants to control the media by fixing the wages of journalists. Media houses have become shops for serving vested interests. There is no unionization of journalists presently. Under the Working Journalists Act if a journalist resigns due to conscience then the matter is brought under the purview of Industrial Dispute Act, 1947. Sahi informed that during the Singur agitation, police support was sought by the Tatas. For creating public opinion, media support is needed. People know that Sharad Pawar is involved in the Lavasa scam. Judicial corruption is high in Madhya Pradesh.

Sucheta from AISA informed that the present campaign against corruption was first launched in Narela, Delhi. Youths got involved in the campaign as they found corruption a serious issue. She found a stark disparity between the shopping malls and the slums located nearby at Narela. She questioned the government for the existing high level of unemployment in the country and for granting tax relief to the tune of Rs. 240 crore per day to corporate houses. The anti-corruption campaign has received extensive support from students and the youths, she added.

Senior journalist and economist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta mentioned that India is a unique country as one can distinguish between the least corrupt and the most corrupt. Alleging the political class, he said that a fish rots from the head down. A distinction has been made between the corrupt but efficient and the corrupt but inefficient. Tarun Das, former head of CII was found in the Radia tapes saying that he prefers Kamal Nath over TR Baalu as he is corrupt (takes 15% cut) but efficient (can do road construction).  Mauritius route for black money transit is in existence since many decades. 40 percent of FDI comes via the Mauritius route. The government is helping the nexus between business, politics and bureaucracy. While talking to the group of editors, on 29th June, 2011, the Prime Minister attacked the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) for holding a press conference. However, there is a 2005 judgment of the Madras High Court that upholds the right of CAG and its functionaries to brief the media on the contents of reports prepared by them and presented before the relevant Legislature. The CAG has estimated that the 2G scam involved an amount of Rs. 1.76 lakh crore. However, Kapil Sibal claimed that there was no loss at all to the government due to the allocation of 2G licenses and spectrum in 2008. Paranjoy criticized the government for fooling all the people all the time. The first come first serve system was subverted during 2G spectrum allocation. Mani Shankar Aiyar wrote many letters on corruption in the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2010. Resources like iron ore, spectrum, gas etc. have been systematically looted in full connivance with the government. The future generation will be affected due to this loot. More physical attacks on journalists who expose corruption and crimes are expected in the coming days.       

Aslam from AISA said that one can see two Delhi’s—one rich and another poor. Judiciary, media and police are not commenting on corporate houses. Companies like Walmart will face protests from youth organizations of this country. On the 69th anniversary of Quit India movement, AISA will launch an anti-corruption struggle, he informed.

Prof. Anand Pradhan from IIMC said that the Niira Radia tapes prove that there is enough evidence against corruption. The Radia tapes must now be included in the Political Science syllabus to let students know the state of corruption in India. Radia is a corporate lobbyist who lobbied for Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani. The foster son of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Ranjan Bhattacharya openly speaks in the Radia tapes that Congress is just another shop. The recent CAG report points to the wrong way production-sharing contracts were awarded to Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries in the Krishna Godavari Gas basin. The CAG is unable to estimate the exact amount of monetary loss to the exchequer in this case as it may be huge. It is now said that the position of the Prime Minister will be compromised if PMO comes under the Lokpal. The Constitution of India does not mention anywhere about the first come first serve policy, which happened in the case of 2G scam. India has also seen the Adarsh scam. According to the Census 2011, population in New Delhi district has declined. But this happened because of eviction of poor people during CWG 2010 in the name of beautification. In the pink newspapers, Maruti workers’ agitation was shown in a poor light as if it was a threat to India’s industrialization process. The workers were actually demanding for forming unions. The Haryana government called it illegal. Big scams have helped both the Congress and the BJP. Everybody knows that BS Yeddyurappa is a leading corrupt politician from Karnataka. New economic policies are like big scams. Laws are being made at the dictate of CII and FICCI. There are big industrialists who are influencing government policies and rules. If corporate houses are consulted for drafting bills, then civil society too should get the opportunity. Most of the jobs are contractual in nature. Labour laws are being violated in factories of Noida and Gurgaon. Violent labour movements arise out of weak labour laws. Students’ movement on corruption must connect corruption to employment and education. A radical student movement is the need of the hour to fight corruption, he emphasized.

Prof. Manager Pandey (JNU) recalled that when Manmohan Singh received the honourary doctorate degree from Oxford, he thanked the British for showing India how to rule. Perhaps the PM has learnt from the Britishers how to rule. We’ve learnt how to siphon off wealth from India to abroad. The fight against corruption is like another Independence movement. The US exploited the Latin American countries like its backyard and that is why the term ‘banana republic’ came into being. Special Economic Zones (SEZ) can be called as Special Exploitation Zones. The SEZ Act led to land grabbing by the corporate houses. Natural resources have been alienated from the people. In his write-up ‘Future Results of British Rule in India’, Marx uses two terms for the Britishers--'profound hypocrisy' and 'inherent barbarism'. In the current scenario, the word 'socialist', which was added to the Preamble by the Forty-second Amendment somewhat appears dull. There are 314 crorepati MPs who have been elected in the 15th Lok Sabha (2009) and they are bothered about the richer section of the population. No Parliament or MP is higher than its citizens. Anna Hazare can’t fight and win elections as he does not have muscle power. After losing elections, all the powerful MPs will become part of the civil society. Lalu Prasad Yadav is part of the civil society in Bihar and is part of the political society in Delhi. Citizens should change the leaders who are at the helm of affairs. Or else the government should reject its citizens. Student revolution in France should be remembered in achieving a better future.  

* Photo courtesy: Rupali Warke


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