On 3rd February, BIC had arranged a panel discussion on “Corruption and Sleaze in Public Life”. An eminent group of speakers- Shri. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (well- known journalist), Dr. Sandeep Shastri (Pro-Vice Chancellor, Jain University), and Ms. Nomita Chandy (Secretary, Citizens Action Group)- constituted the panel. Dr. Samuel Paul, Founder and Former Chairperson of Public Affairs Centre, chaired and moderated the discussion.
The tone of the discussion was set by Dr. Samuel Paul in his opening remarks. He said that a lot has been talked about this subject and can still be talked about endlessly. What is important is to consider in a constructive manner as to what needs to be done to stem the rot. He felt that awareness about how the malaise is corroding the very base of our democracy needs to be generated and heightened so that corrective actions can be initiated and energetically pursued. He also lamented over the fact that there is passive acceptance of corruption and malpractices by the community in almost every sphere of life- political, economic and social. He emphasized that corruption has to be fought both at the individual and collective level.
Shri. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, in his incisive observations laced with wit and humour, highlighted how greed is at the root of all corruption and how the unholy nexus between business and politics has bred and nurtured scams of increasing magnitude. According to him, electoral reforms to prevent the subversion of electoral rules and norms is the crying need of the hour, and one significant way this can be achieved would be to lay down that the State would fund all the election expenses of the candidates. He was aware that this suggestion is not easy to achieve, but felt that this option could be seriously considered to cut down electoral malpractices. Another point emphasized by him was about the arbitrary, and often secretive, use of its discretionary powers by the State and its agencies. He cited the Spectrum Policy and the 2G Scam as a case in point. He however felt that the situation is slowly changing and, with greater awareness, the people are increasingly asserting their rights against corrupt practices. Determined action by RTI activists and certain landmark judicial pronouncements in several Public Interest Litigations have also compelled the official hierarchy and the bureaucratic system to gradually become more transparent and less opaque – all very welcome changes which would certainly lessen the extent of corruption and sleaze in public life.
Dr. Sandeep Shastri asked the obvious question- is politics the only area where one sees corrupt practices? He emphasized that politics is only a mirror where attitudes and approaches, formed much earlier, find reflection and that unless one looks at how such attitudes get formed, mere political reforms would not be productive. He drew attention to the fact that ethical values and norms are on the decline over the years and that people in general have tended to accept the proposition that ends always justify the means. Urging that “Charity has to begin at Home”, Dr. Shastri advocated value education and normative behaviour as an essential part of upbringing of an individual and strict adherence to societal norms as the basic instrumentality with which corruption can be fought. He was clear that only that individual, who is honest and of unquestioned integrity, can really fight against abuse of authority and corrupt practices.
Ms. Nomita Chandy developed the theme of individual efforts further. She gave several examples to show how corrupt practices and abuse of authority have been exposed by social activists through PIL-s and RTI mechanism. According to her, the citizens should not have any diffidence in raising their voice against any arbitrary departure from norms, but it would be necessary to be hundred per cent sure about the facts and figures before taking on the authorities head on.
In the lively interactive session that followed, there was general agreement that awareness was getting generated, even though the pace is agonizingly slow. However, this slow pace has generated sufficient heat to convert the hitherto “low risk” corrupt practices into high- risk ones. And therein lies our hopes of redemption. The highly informative discussion ended on this optimistic note.