By Rumel Dahiya
The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), published annually by Transparency International, is perhaps the world’s most credible measure of domestic public sector corruption. CPI 2010 published in October 2010 places India at the 87th position among 178 countries, with a score of 3.3 out of 10. The CPI scores countries on a scale of zero to 10, with zero indicating high levels of corruption and 10, low levels. The score for India both in 2009 and 2008 was 3.4.
As part of the same report, the World Economic Forum assigns a score of 3 whereas Global Risk Service by HIS Global Insight for 2010 and Asian Intelligence by Political and Economic Risk Consultancy for 2009 assign a score of 2.6 only.
Many common people in India would perhaps assign an even lower rating to public services. Bribery and corruption is, unfortunately, accepted as a way of life in India. Those who can, pay factor bribery as input costs and get along. The poor state of public services like roads, drains, water supply and sanitation can be seen everywhere but people tend to take it in their stride rather than agitate against it collectively. Our collective shame does find expression occasionally like in the case of CWG scams but that is because it was brazen loot.
Cases of corruption involving the Armed Forces personnel receive more serious attention for various reasons.
Firstly, people have always felt that India’s Armed Forces are at least less corrupt then other organisations of the State, even if not totally above board. This is due to the fact that the common man does not have to deal with the Armed Forces often and therefore there is a lack of knowledge about what happens behind the barbed wire and sentry posts. Also, since the Armed Forces are the best organised and most professional institutions of the State, the people do not feel the need to question their routine functioning. Perhaps also, in a country short of heroes, people like to look at the soldiers (expression includes sailors and airmen) as their knights in shining armour.
Secondly, the Armed Forces have always had a strong ethos of leading by example. Most of the officers understand that one cannot expect one’s colleagues and subordinates to face danger and lay down their lives if the leader lacks credibility. The leaders and their actions are under scrutiny all the time by their subordinates. The officers, as leaders, have therefore been generally circumspect about indulging in corrupt activities.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the corruption in the Armed Forces affects those very people whose honour, comfort and safety one has sworn to take care of – one’s own comrades in arms. Be it cutting corners in construction of barracks and field works or provision of poor quality arms and equipment or rations and clothing, it is the soldiery that suffers the most serious consequences. Corruption in the Armed Forces therefore qualifies to be termed as treachery and not merely wrong doing.
Corruption involving Armed Forces personnel obviously and rightly attracts greater attention because they are not expected to be indulging in it. It goes against a soldier’s ‘dharma’. One wanting to get rich has no reason to join the Armed Forces.
Some would argue that the Armed Forces come from the same society which condones and indulges in corruption as a matter of routine and that the CPI score of the Armed Forces, if measured separately, would be much higher. Some others would argue that the Armed Forces have systems in place which ensure that culprits are dealt with speedily and effectively.
It is true that the Armed Forces are reasonably efficient in administering speedy justice whenever cases of corruption are revealed. A person once accused, leave alone legally punished, cannot hope to move up in his career. That is the minimum of the punishment one can hope to receive.
But all these arguments are fallacious for the simple reason that a corrupt soldier is no soldier. The citizens would be right in thinking that such soldiers are not worthy of their trust. Caesar’s wife has to be beyond doubt.
Let us now come to the crux. Is there corruption in the Armed Forces? Yes, there is and it is not restricted to just a few. The self image of the Services has eroded considerably due to internal and external factors. Pride in service is no more the paramount consideration. For some, soldiering is an occupation just like any other. More shocking is the fact that it is widely known within the services and yet there is no serious attempt to deal with it systematically. The cases that get reported are taken cognisance of but the reported cases are just a miniscule percentage of actual number of cases partly because of lack of solid proof since ‘partnership in guilt’ ensures that tracks are well covered. Very few people have access to documents which can prove guilt. Also, the fact that people shy away from reporting against their superiors in the chain of command for fear of retribution, provides a degree of protection to the corrupt at higher levels.
Indeed there are many honest and upright senior officers. But conversely, many are unable to supervise these matters effectively. The tenures in command being short, commanders at various levels have to prioritise, lest more important operational matters should get neglected. It is a fact that given a choice most officers would like to handle command and not logistics. Since they are disinclined to spend time dealing with procurement and administration related issues these tasks are left to the service advisers and administrative staff officers. And when issues come to light there is a tendency to deal with them lightly rather then getting involved in long drawn investigation and prosecution. Cumulatively, these acts of commission and omission encourage corruption. Thus many cases have gone unpunished.
Now comes the question of what to do? Obviously, there is a need for deep cleansing and early surgery. Mere platitudes and half hearted measures would not do. The first act should be to acknowledge that the incidence of corruption is deeper than what can be seen on the surface. Secondly, it needs to be ensured that whenever an incident of corruption is reported officially or anonymously, it is investigated promptly. The person concerned and his immediate superior in chain of command as also his immediate superior in the technical reporting chain must also be investigated to find out if either or both of them were guilty of omission or are partners in crime, unless the offence has been reported by him/them only.
Most importantly, a credible ‘whistle blower’ system needs to be put in place to ensure that acts of corruption are reported without fear of retribution. The Discipline and Vigilance directorate has been found inadequate to the task. Perhaps a Vigilance Board always under an officer of unimpeachable integrity should be established to whom the incidents of corruption can be reported in absolute confidence. This will provide an overview to the service Chief of the organisational health of the organisation. This will put the fear of God in the minds of even the mightiest.
A major clean up exercise needs to be undertaken at the level of general officers. The reputation of senior officers is generally known within the service. In case of doubt, Service Chiefs can obtain inputs through the resources at their command. Thereafter, even if other officers in the chain of reporting have failed to report objectively on an officer’s integrity – the Chief, who writes every general officer’s report – must write off the officers with doubtful integrity. Once such people are debarred from rising, others will draw appropriate lessons.
Lastly but most importantly, the service officers need to rise about narrow loyalties and think of the common good. They should socially boycott the known corrupt officers amongst them. This will have the biggest impact as the corrupt will be deprived of the life sustaining social support base.
Some people may see this commentary as too harsh and critical. But as a soldier with great pride in service and its ethos one can say nothing less. A soldier cannot afford to be subjected to collective shame by the greed of a few black sheep. That indeed would be unsoldierly.
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/ProbityintheArmedForces_rdahiya_011110