Column by Mr Joginder Singh (ex Director CBI) in Pioneer 31 January 2008: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnist1.asp?main_variable=Columnist&file_name=joginder%2Fjoginder134%2Etxt&writer=joginder
Corrupt rule the roast
India remains the World Bank's single largest borrower. In 2007, it was the largest borrower from two World Bank institutions, accounting for $3.75 billion, or 15 per cent of their total lending as the Bank globally committed $34.3 billion. In 2005, the country borrowed $2.9 billion from the World Bank. However, for the second time in less than two years, the World Bank has levelled allegations of rampant corruption in implementing schemes with its money, which includes even those related to control of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
A Detailed Implementation Review, launched by the World Bank in 2006 and supported by the Government of India, has found "significant indicators of fraud and corruption" that include "collusive behaviour, bid-rigging, bribery and manipulative bid practices".
World Bank President Robert B Zoellick has said, "This probe has revealed unacceptable indicators of fraud and corruption." In 2005, the World Bank's investigation into a reproductive and child health project found similar instances of corruption, including alleged kickbacks to Government officials. Following these findings, the Bank withheld funds worth nearly $2 billion meant for pending proposals in the health sector. The important cases highlighted in the report are as under:
The Food and Drug Capacity Building Project (2003-08): The $54 million project was meant to upgrade food testing labs and technicians. The report alleges questionable procurement practices in contracts representing 88 per cent of value of equipment procured, shifting of bidding deadlines and favouritism, widespread deficiencies in delivery and installation of equipment in all 15 labs, besides discovering more than half of 282 equipment uninstalled or undelivered.
The Orissa Heath Systems Development project (1998-2006): This $82.1 million project was the only State-level project that sought to improve the healthcare system in Orissa, which has the highest infant mortality rate in the country. The project, meant to renovate healthcare facilities, supplying additional medical equipment, was marred by fraud. As high as 93 per cent of the 55 project hospitals had problems like uninitiated or incomplete work, leaking roofs, crumbling ceilings and moulding walls and non-functional sewage system. Yet, all were given completion certificates. The report cited 17 equipments that violated technical specifications, including autoclaves that could explode and neonatal equipment, which lacked adequate electrical grounding, exposing babies and medical staff to electrical shocks.
The Second National AIDS Control Project (1999 to 2006): This $193.7 million project aimed to reduce the spread of HIV infection in India and strengthen the country's capacity to respond to HIV/AIDS. The review found that selection and oversight of NGOs chosen for workshops and targeted interventions were corrupt. Procurement officials demanded and received bribes in exchange for awarding contracts. Several NGOs were not qualified to carry out HIV prevention activities and some did not even exist. They furnished false certificates to show their eligibility. Fraud was detected in 82 per cent of the 217 locally procured contracts.
The Malaria Control Project (1997-2005): The $114 million project sought to assist the National Malaria Eradication programme by introducing effective mechanisms to control that disease. The review found bid-rigging, bribery, and collusion in procurement of medicine, bed nets and pharmaceuticals. The firms that debarred by the Bank for collusive behaviour in the earlier review, too, were found indulging in similar practices.
The Tuberculosis Control Project (1997-2006): It was estimated that up to half of India's population was infected with TB and this $124.8 million project was meant to support the country's newly-launched DOTS programme. The review found collusion, fraud and corruption in 100 of 143 contracts.
The irregularities exposed in World Bank-aided health projects in India are only a tip of the iceberg. Regrettably, neither masses nor politicians feel outraged at the high level of corruption in the country. Regrettably, a survey has shown that Indians pay bribes worth more than Rs 26,725 crore every year, though this figure could be much higher.
In India, public sector undertakings are often made to sing and dance to their Ministers's tune. But for the first time, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner in November 2003 complained to the Prime Minister that six Cabinet Ministers were allegedly harassing PSU chiefs for "personal favours". The PSU chiefs themselves made these complaints to the CVC. One PSU chief was reported to have complained that he was asked to get Rs 20 crore delivered to his Minister's party office and when he refused, he was "denied" an extension.
Despite India claiming to become a new destination for global investors, 38 per cent of over 5,400 companies' representatives surveyed by global consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers said they were asked to pay bribe to get licences.
It's a way of life for some Government officials to take bribe. Despite our talk about Indian culture, philosophy and time-tested spiritual values, how can we justify such corrupt practices? Poverty in India is wedded to corruption -- in education or healthcare, roads or public distribution sector. Due to corruption, funds meant for development projects mostly end up in the pockets of custodians of public trust and money. This system has to go. But how does it go? It can go if there is a prompt justice system.
Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan observed in May 2007: "California's population is touching 38 million. In India, that's the number of cases pending in courts across the country." The Chief Justice also said that that India has only 12,000 judges -- 2,000 short of the sanctioned strength. As a result, there are over 2.5 crore cases pending in lower courts, 37 lakh in High Courts and 46,000 in the Supreme Court.
"We need one judge for 500 cases to clear the backlog -- that would mean 77,664 judges. At best, however, the judges' strength can be pushed up a few thousand more. We need more courts and more budget for the judiciary," Mr Balakrishnan said. Will the Government wake up?