By Hema Vaishnavi:
A 2005 study conducted by Transparency International in India found that more than 62% of Indians had firsthand experience of paying bribes or influence peddling to get jobs done in public offices successfully. Corruption often starts from birth, literally. Fathers are forced to pay bribes to see their newborns. Others are extorted to get their child’s birth certificate. Corruption has found its roots deep into the society and people who try to bring to light such heinous crimes often find themselves begging for mercy for their lives. When the problem of corruption is seen as a grave crime, how do you think one should be punished?
Sections 169 and 409 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) give the provision of imprisonment of the convicted along with an appropriate fine and confiscation of acquired property and money. While it is an acknowledged fact that the anti-corruption laws prevalent in the Indian system are far from effective, we find the likes of Anna Hazare trying to bring in the concept of Lokpal into the system, one that also ensures that the Prime Minister’s office comes under the purview.
Yes, India is trying every bit to do away with this social evil called corruption. Even when some say that the laws need to be revamped, others say that we need to learn from countries like China that sentences death to the perpetrators. Certainly, China has often seemed smoothly technocratic compared with the messy, chaotic, highly corrupt reality of India. And there’s still some truth to this observation. Bureaucratic institutions do function better in China, and from what we can tell there is less corruption there than in India in the routine provision of things like licenses and permits.
In theory, China considers corruption as an act of sedition and thereby its anti-corruption laws come across as only seemingly justified. But then again, is it really the case? There seems to be some kind ambiguity to this as well. It is often said that a death sentence is given to a person in order to silence him or her from exposing corruption by the government officials who may have been involved. Also, given the Communist form of government, it is almost unheard of Chinese judges dealing with corruption cases to make independent judgements by relying solely on the judicial procedure, evidence submitted and the law.
With such an agreement, one cannot really adopt a law that is fit for a Communist government into a democracy, with a smooth transition. Again, coming back to the point of sedition, why doesn’t the Indian judiciary explore the options that this law provides us with? For instance, A Raja caused a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crores to India. This is almost 30% of the annual Gross Tax Receipts of the Government of India. Therefore, he almost threatened the economic sovereignty of India. Interestingly, that is not sedition. That is ‘corruption,’ which invites the same punishment as would be awarded to a food inspector who takes Rupees 1000 as a bribe to make a ration card. Interestingly, such grave offences, which have the potential of destabilizing the Indian economy, are not treated as ‘sedition’.
Although the option of a death penalty does seem lucrative, it surely seems to fail to fit into the Indian system. While the public anger is understandable, it doesn’t really make an easy way for death penalty into the system. The reasons for abolishing the death penalty are equally strong, with many suggesting that corruption is merely a social dimension that needs to be dealt with in a subtle yet firm manner. While people involved in the act of corruption should never go unpunished, it is of the common notion that the society also owes quite a bit in terms of responsibility.