India's Anti Corruption Initiatives

Legislation: The Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 and its 2008 amendment is a specialised law aimed at curbing corruption in India. It criminalises corruption in the public and private sector in the form of attempted corruption, active and passive bribery, extortion, bribery of foreign public officials, abuse of office, and money laundering. Public servants' involvement in private sector activities is also restricted by law. Moreover, a Prevention of Money Laundering Act has been in force since 2002.The Right to Information Act (RTI Act), which took effect in October 2005, has played a central role in the fight against corruption in India. According to the RTI Act, citizens have the right to access government documents within 30 days from the filing of the request. Thereby, a mechanism of control of public spending has been granted to ordinary citizens. Some commentators are enthusiastic about the effects of the RTI Act, while others point at the difficulty citizens from rural areas have to make full use of the law and to the need of making citizens and public servants more aware of the RTI Act. For example, among others, Reuters has pointed out in a July 2010 article that the RTI Act measure has largely failed to reach the country's poor. Read more about the RTI Act and different views about its implementation on the Transparency Reviews regularly published by the Centre for Media Studies. India signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2003, and after continuous delays it was finally ratified May 2011.

Government Strategies: In September 2010, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) unveiled the long-awaited long-term governmental anti-corruption initiative, the Draft National Anti-Corruption Strategy. The Draft Strategy aims at creating a legal and regulatory anti-corruption framework and strengthening the existing institutions to effectively combat corruption. This draft piece of legislation is expected to increase the role of institutions such as the CVC, Central Bureau of Investigation, Comptroller and Auditor General, as well as the various anti-corruption agencies. It is also expected to address political and administrative corruption, as well as corruption within the private sector. Independence of civil servants is sought by various initiatives, such as, among others, the rotation of senior officials in sensitive positions every two to three years and the prohibition for civil servants to accept gifts/lavish hospitality by companies with which they are having official dealings unless the government has given its approval.

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI): The CBI functions under the Ministry of Personnel, Pension & Public Grievances. The CBI consists of three divisions: the Anti-Corruption Division, the Special Crimes Division, and the Economic Offences Division. These units have the power to investigate cases of alleged corruption in all branches of the central government, ministries, public sector entities and the Union Territories. The CBI does not have the power to investigate cases in the states without the permission of the respective state government. However, the Supreme and High Courts can instruct the CBI to conduct investigations. The CBI has a whistleblower/complaint mechanism on its website, where corruption can be reported.

Central Vigilance Commission (CVC): The CVC is an independent watchdog agency established in 1964 with a mandate to undertake inquiries or investigations of transactions involving certain categories of public servants and has supervisory powers over the Central Bureau of Investigation. The CVC can investigate complaints against public officials at the higher levels of central government in cases where an official is suspected of having committed an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988. The CVC is mandated to deal strictly with public sector corruption at the federal level, as opposed to state level. The CVC has been advocating for India to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). The CVC has a whistleblower/complaint mechanism on its website; however, it requires citizens to register first before they can lodge a complaint. It is important to point out that the independence of the CVC has been sometimes questioned. For example, Global Integrity 2009 is somewhat critical towards the efficiency of this institution and claims that it is not sufficiently protected from political interference in practice. In addition, according to the report, the appointments to the agency do not always support its independence, and individuals appointed may sometimes have party loyalties.

Office of the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG): The C&AG of India is the supreme audit authority in the country. The Office of the C&AG is located in New Delhi, but Accountant Generals (AGs) offices can be found in all state headquarters (AGs are independent of state governments and are accountable only to the C&AG). Public expenses management reportedly suffers from poor monitoring, poor targeting and corrupt practices. According to Global Integrity 2007, the C&AG has sought to improve the accountability of the executive by producing several reports on various subjects, including state departments, railways, telecommunications, state-owned companies and tax administration. These reports have revealed many financial irregularities in various branches of the state; however, the government allegedly often fails to act on the findings of the reports. According to  Global Integrity 2009, the C&AG does not have power to initiate investigations, and has to work with the Central Vigilance Commission to make enquiries into ‘red flag’ issues. Furthermore, the appointments to this agency do not always support its independence from the executive and can sometimes be based on political considerations. On the positive side, the C&AG publishes audit reports regularly on its website, with free public access. Hence, Global Integrity evaluates the C&AG as ‘very strong’.

Supreme Court: The Bertelsmann Foundation 2010 reports that secondary powers, such as the Supreme and High Courts, have become more proactive in carrying out their duties. Judges have displayed unprecedented activism in response to Public Interest Litigation over official corruption, environmental issues, and other matters, and this expanded role has received considerable public support. The Supreme Court has been taking and tackling corruption seriously in recent years, both in general and political domains. The Supreme Court has challenged the legislative decisions of ministers and the exercise of powers to pardon politically connected individuals based on 'arbitrary' and 'irrelevant' considerations. According to Transparency International Global Corruption Report 2008, one method that the legislature has employed since 1951 to evade judicial scrutiny concerning the constitutionality of legislation is to place such laws under the Ninth Schedule, which granted legislation immunity from being tested in court. This provision enabled the legislature to prevent any judicial review of a law even when it conflicted with fundamental rights. More than 300 laws found political sanctuary under the Ninth Schedule. However, the Supreme Court did away with this immunity in April 2007, leading the Prime Minister to complain of judicial overreach. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has established a police commission and complaints authority to look into police corruption and malpractice, ordered fixed tenure for police chiefs and other senior officers, and ruled that corrupt police officers can be prosecuted without government consent.

Reserve Bank of India (RBI): Transparency International's Global Corruption Report 2009 states that the Indian Central Bank published guidelines in 2008 taking serious note of complaints received against recovery agents for abusive practices and violation of guidelines. This initiative by the RBI aims at ensuring that banks refrain from hiring disreputable people to recover debts and to prevent malpractice in the offering and management of loans by banks. The guidelines include provision of recording of calls made by recovery agents to customers and vice versa, placing of updated list of recovery agents on bank's website, periodical verification of antecedents of employees of recovery agents which may include verification through police, additional conditions for repossession of assets. To achieve this, it has threatened erring banks with a ban on engaging recovery agents in a particular area, either jurisdictional or functional, for a limited period.

Chief Information Commission (CIC): The CIC was established in 2005 and became operational in 2006. According to Transparency International Global Corruption Report 2008, it has delivered decisions instructing government, courts, universities, police, development NGOs and ministries on how to share information of public interest. State information commissions have also been opened, thus giving practical shape to the Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI Act), although they have not been immune to criticism. Of India's 28 states, 26 have officially constituted information commissions to implement the RTI Act.As of February 2009, the CIC had penalised public information officers in over 200 cases and recommended disciplinary action in over 20 cases for not following the RTI Act in response to public requests.

E-Governance: A wide range of public services have been digitised, which has considerably increased the speed of government services and removed some of the direct contact points with public officials. Obtaining licences, permits, official documents, paying taxes and clearing goods are some of the services that have been digitised. The Government of India has created the National Portal of India which lists all these services and thus serves as an ideal entry point for companies wishing to do business in India. The customs service is increasingly integrated into the e-governance project of the Government of India. Under the e-governance project, many possibilities for extraction of bribes related to trade across borders have been removed.

Whistle-Blowing: The protection of whistleblowers has improved since the Dubey case in 2003, where a technical manager of the National Highways Authority was killed after reporting several incidences of corruption among contractors of the project to the Prime Minister's Office. His request for anonymity was ignored. Following massive protests from the public and international organisations, the courts made it clear that the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) is authorised to protect whistleblowers and to act on their complaints. The CVC can now take action against anyone who leaks names of whistleblowers and witnesses and can request police assistance to investigate complaints. The CVC provides a secure whistleblower/complaint mechanism for exposing corruption and has received over 1,300 complaints since the PIDR's passing in 2005. The Right to Information Act 2005 has reportedly improved bureaucratic transparency by giving citizens better access to records. Nevertheless, according to a July 2010 article by Hindustan Times, in practice, these measures have not provided sufficient protection for whistleblowers. According to the article, eight whistleblowers were killed in 2010 - at least two of them because they attempted to expose corruption. This signals serious institutional flaws within the whistleblower protection system. The CVC reports that some 30 whistleblowers have suffered from harassment or victimisation despite the supposedly confidential PIDR complaints. Those who knowingly file a false complaint can be subject to prosecution. In August 2010, the Parliament approved the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosure Bill, which enables the CVC to provide harsh penalty to people revealing the identity of whistleblowers.

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