Corruption in Public Life: Can the Menace be Curbed?


Pragya Mishra*


BA+LLB (Honours) Student – IX Semester, Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur (Chhattisgarh)




Corruption, the most widely quoted issue these days, is a growing menace infested in many growing economies around the world including ours. Defined as the use of public office for private gain, or in other words, use of official position, rank or status by an office bearer for his own personal benefit, corruption inflicts collateral damage upon a political entity resulting in delays, disturbance, distortion and diversion of growth and development. Efforts to fight corruption over the past decades have shown that the dynamics of corruption are inherently political. Now that corruption has entered centre stage on the development agenda, reforms must address several fronts: improving the bureaucracy and civil service, strengthening checks and balances in government, promoting political competition and accountability, facilitating citizen participation, and strengthening economic competition.



“Hidden away behind the closed doors of aristocratic and bourgeois privilege, concealed under those ultra-respectable masks of black frock coat and veil, the green glow of corruption flickers into sight, steadies, and spreads everywhere. This decadent detective is at one with the criminal he pursues, acknowledging openly that the representation of corruption is one of the most pleasurable forms that corruption can take. In this enterprise, art is the mask that both exposes and conceals culpability.”  ― Jennifer Birkett


Corruption is the most widely quoted issue in news these days. It is discussed on electronic media, print media and in the drawing room political sittings, including forums available on the Internet. This is a menace infecting both the developed and developing nations across the world.


Despite its omnipresence, it is still fair to say that the prevalence of corruption and its negative consequences are much severe in developing countries where systems institutions are weak and the economy frail. As John Heilbrunn points out, countries lack the “efficient ‘Weberian’ bureaucracy” and well-defined “political economic institutions.”1 These states are not “self- restraining”2 and systems and accountability are very thin. With such minimal constraints, therefore, opportunistic public officials are able to engage in unbridled self-dealing and with impunity.



The temptations of public office aside, the governance of the economy also offers fertile grounds for official corruption. Managers of the economy and corporate entities, again taking advantage of the poorly regulated business environment and the absence of transparency and accountability mechanisms, indulge in influence peddling and self enrichment to the detriment of the national economy. With grave deficits in corporate governance,3 the key role of government in mediating between the domestic and international economies in the public management of the domestic economy is often subverted and corrupted.


Corruption in India:

Our country, like many emerging economies is also infested with this menace of corruption. India’s stellar performance in rankings on growth indicators and its innovative approaches to poverty  alleviation  are  often  compromised  by  absence  of  noticeable  efforts  in  governance  reforms for ensuring high levels of integrity, enhanced transparency, accountability and probity in public and corporate life. Studies and public surveys have reinforced this public perception and have consistently  shown  that  corruption  persists  in  India  despite  many  steps  by  the  government.


A 2005 study conducted by Transparency International in India found that more than 55% of Indians had first-hand experience of paying bribes or influence peddling to get jobs done in public offices successfully.4  Most corruption at the citizens’ level is extortionary, and people have often no choice when faced with the dilemma of having to lose much more in the form of lost money, time and opportunity, not to speak of anxiety, harassment and humiliation if they did not comply with demands for bribes.


An even more alarming trend is the shift of corruption from licensing and permits to more dangerous and pernicious areas of sovereign functions of state like policing. The increasing nexus between hardened criminals, policemen and corrupt politicians is one such example. Transparency International estimates that truckers pay US$5 billion in bribes annually.5 In 2011 India was ranked 95th out of 178 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.


In the book 'Corruption in India: The DNA and RNA' authored by Professor Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari it is said that the public officials in India may be cornering as much as Rs.92,122 crore ($18.42 billion), or 1.26 per cent of the GDP, through corruption.6 The books estimates that corruption has virtually enveloped India growing annually by over 100 percent7 and most bribery is accrued from the transport industry, real estate and "other public services"8. On March 31, 2010 the Comptroller and Auditor General of India said that unutilised committed external assistance was of the order of Rs.1,05,339 crore.”9


“The recent scams involving unimaginably big amounts of money, such as the 2G spectrum scam, are well known. It is estimated that more than trillion dollars are stashed away in foreign havens, while 80% of Indians earn less than 2$ per day and every second child is malnourished. It seems as if only the honest people are poor in India and want to get rid of their poverty by education, emigration to cities, and immigration, whereas all the corrupt ones, are getting rich through scams and crime. It seems as if India is a rich country filled with poor people",10 the organisers of Dandi March II in the United States said.11


Examining the root causes of corruption in India and understanding its several manifestations  is  necessary  to  place  the  problem  in  its  context  and  is  an  essential  prerequisite  for  policy formulation.


What is Corruption?

Transparency international(TI)12, the leading NGO in the global anticorruption efforts defines corruption as : “Corruption involves behaviour on the part of officials in the public sector, whether politicians or civil servants, in which they improperly and unlawfully enrich themselves or those close to them, by the misuse of the public power entrusted to them.”


Following from this definition, examples of corrupt behaviour would include:  (a) bribery, (b) extortion, (c) fraud, (d) embezzlement, (e) nepotism, (f) cronyism, (g) appropriation of public assets and property for private use, and (h) influence peddling.


Causes of Corruption

Corruption equation: A corruption equation can be setout as follows (Klitgaard 1998):


C = R + D – A


In the above equation, C stands for corruption, R for economic rent, D for discretionary powers, and A for accountability. The equation states that the more opportunities for economic rent (R) exist in a country, the larger will be the corruption.


Similarly, the greater the discretionary powers (D) granted to administrators, the greater will be the corruption.  However, the more administrators are held accountable (A) for their actions, the less will be the corruption, and hence a minus sign in front of A.13


Adverse Effects of Corruption

Corruption disrupts and even prevents orderly competition and weakens institutions. Klitgaard14 has explained this with the following schematic equation:


Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion – Accountability


Monopoly plus discretion undermines competitive participation while discretion minus accountability weakens official institutions and creates illicit ones.


Corruption today is viewed as a major source of economic and political retardation of nations( Rose- Ackerman)15. Ironically, corruption also is seen as an aid to augmenting efficiency(Kaufmann and Kaliberda)16 - efficiency of extortion. Decline in investments for human development also leads to a corresponding decline in the quality of public services


(Mauro and Rauch)17 the value and positive inclination of prospective investors too takes a hit as corruption becomes a tax on such investment (Wei).18


Corruption also fosters crime. Corrupt businesses are sheltered from competition with legitimate businesses by their illegality. The danger for economic development arises when organized criminal groups begin to dominate otherwise legal business e.g., control over petrol pumps and coal transport contracts in India Such criminality can generate financial resources at usurious rates by threatening violence in a scarce capital scenario in certain industries (Webster; Webster and Charap; Yabrak and Webster)19, e.g. the Bombay film industry which is, to a large extent, financed by the underworld. As per the Vohra Committee Report, “Over time, the money power thus acquired is used for building up contacts with bureaucrats and politicians and expansion of activities with impunity. The money power is used to develop a network of muscle-power which is also used by the politicians during elections.”


Measure to Eradicate Corruption

It is clear that the state’s gradual withdrawal from economic activity does not automatically eliminate corruption. Curbing corruption and improving economic governance in India is a daunting task that requires strong political will, institutional reforms, and formation of international partnerships. These are some of the possible ways to fight and win over the corruption.


Institutional Restraints

Corruption can be stemmed through institutional restraints. Through the separation and independence of the three branches of power, “horizontal accountability” creates a system of checks and balances within the government itself. Strengthening the judiciary’s institutional capacity is essential to curbing corruption because law enforcement officials are often under the sway of powerful interest groups, which means that they are unable to enforce the existing laws. Thus, through capacity building and oversight, an independent judiciary but also the legislative branches can ensure that the executive does not abuse its power and that it is punished if and when it does.


Political Accountability

A multipronged approach to corruption would not be complete without a measure of political or “vertical” accountability which ensures that the power of public officials is circumscribed by a series of checks and balances (for example, asset declarations and conflict-of-interest rules) implemented by parties outside the government. In this context, free and fair elections (accompanied by transparent party financing) can also be a mechanism of public accountability. It follows that freedom of information and (by extension) free media are indispensable if the electorate is to make informed choices.


Civil Society Participation

Through advocacy, awareness raising, and monitoring of government activities (including draft legislation), civil society organizations (CSOs) (that is, citizen groups, non governmental organizations, trade unions, business associations, think tanks, academia, religious organizations, and the media) have an important role to play in curbing corruption. Indeed, coalition building is the cornerstone of TI’s approach to fighting corruption, which has fostered coalitions constituted as national chapters in approximately 90 countries20


Furthermore, CSOs, by working in concert with public officials, can encourage the mobilization of resources and protect their members from reprisals. Their effectiveness is therefore contingent on a permissive legal environment and the receptivity of public officials.


Involving people: 

The fight against corruption is too important to be left to a few formal institutions or politicians. The people at large have enormous stakes in clean public life and corruption-free services. A publicity campaign to create greater awareness on the adverse effects of corruption and a clear and unequivocal official pronouncement on the desirability to bring it under control would be helpful.  Once people are convinced that a sincere and genuine effort to combat corruption is underway, they will respond and extend their full cooperation in resolving the problem



Public Sector Management and Competitive Private Sector

Corruption can also be curbed via public and private sector reforms. The former reforms include creating a meritocratic civil service, encouraging sound financial management and revenue collection, restructuring service delivery, and decentralization. Private sector reforms (that is, liberalization, deregulation, and simplification of rules, as well as privatization and restructuring of monopolies) would also significantly reduce the opportunities for corruption.



For proper house cleaning and repairs, it is a good idea to begin by fixing the roof.  Hence, many authors, including Professor Syed Hussein Alatas of Malaysia, a noted authority on corruption, are of the view that the leadership in a country has a key role to play in combating corruption (Alatas 1999).  It is an Asian tradition to hold leaders and those in authority in high regard and esteem.  Hence the top leadership must set a good example with respect to honesty, integrity and capacity for hard work, firmness, political will and commitment to carry out the required reforms.


Political will to tackle corruption, as rightly pointed out elsewhere “is best demonstrated through leadership by example, enforcement of a leadership code of conduct/ethics, and whenever the occasion presents itself, willingness to prosecute and punish corrupt and or proactively protect and empower those who blow the whistle on corrupt insiders and key political allies.”21


Responsible press:

A responsible press to gather, analyse, organize, present and disseminate information is considered vital to create greater public awareness and to provide the momentum for undertaking reforms to overcome corruption.


Steps to Combat Corruption in Public Governance:

In order to meet the threat of corruption to good governance, the following steps are necessary:

1.      Breaking the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and criminals.

2.      Ensuring a cost-effective administration of justice.

3.      Setting up of Public interest litigation courts at the national, state and local levels.

4.      Making right to information more effective.

5.      Strengthening law enforcement agencies in terms of autonomy, skills, attitudinal change and awareness of the social problems.

6.      Forfeiture of the properties of the corrupt immediately after the charges are framed. Such a property can be released only after the person is proved innocent.

7.      Improving bureaucratic functioning by way of simplification of rules, regulations and procedures of work.

8.      Mobilizing the society to support the system of rule of law.

9.      Putting an end to the system of patronage and nepotism from government organizations.


Effective Legal and Practical Measures for Combating Corruption in India: If, indeed, the entry point for curbing corruption is “an awareness of prevalence,” recognition of its seriousness as a problem and the expressed commitment to control it22, then India is on track.


Right to Information Act

The Right to Information Act(2005) and equivalent acts in the states, that require government officials to furnish information requested by citizens or face punitive action, computerization of services and various central and state government acts that established vigilance commissions have considerably reduced corruption or at least have opened up avenues to redress grievances.23 The 2006 report by Transparency International puts India at the 70th place and states that significant improvements were made by India in reducing corruption.24



The Lokayukta is an anti-corruption organization in the Indian states.25 These institutions are based on the Ombudsman in Scandinavian countries. An amendment to the Constitution has been proposed to implement the Lokayukta uniformly acrossIndian States as a three-member body, headed by a retired Supreme Court judge or high court chief justice, and comprise of the state vigilance commissioner and a jurist or an eminent administrator as other members.26


Social welfare worker Anna Hazare has led a movement to compel the Indian Government to notify the Committee for the implementation of the Lokayukta against corruption as an independent body and also giving enough powers to the Lokayukta to also receive corruption complaints against politicians, bureaucrats and even sitting judges. Anna Hazare is currently pursuing an agenda to pass a bill called Jan Lokpal bill, and he has gathered the support of many citizens residing in metropolitan cities of India. He was on an indefinite fast at the Ramlila Grounds, Delhi, in order to campaign for the cause.27



Whistleblowers play a major role in the fight against corruption. India currently does not have a law to protect whistleblowers, which was highlighted by the assassination of Satyendra Dubey. Indian courts are regularly ordering probe in cases of murders or so-called suicide of several whistle blowers. One of the latest cases of such murder is of V Sasindran Company Secretary of Palakkad based Malabar Cement Limited, a Government company in Kerala and his two minor children, Kerala High Court ordered CBI probe on 18 February 2011. Initially, CBI showed its unwillingness for probing into such cases citing over-burden as a reason.

Anti-Corruption Laws in India

Public servants in India can be penalized for corruption under the

·        Indian Penal Code, 1860

·        The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988

·        The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988 to prohibit benami transactions.

·        Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002

India is also a signatory (not ratified) to the UN Convention against Corruption since 2005. The Convention covers a wide range of acts of corruption and also proposes certain preventive policies.28


Anti-corruption police and courts

The income tax department of India, Central Vigilance Commission and Central Bureau of Investigation all deal with anti-corruption initiatives. Certain states such as Andhra Pradesh (Andhra Pradesh Anti-corruption Bureau) and Karnataka (Lokayukta) also have their own anti-corruption agencies and courts.29


Moral Restraints:

As explained by noted philosopher J.Krishnamurthy, corruption is essentially a phenomenon of moral degradation and hence curbing corruption requires self transformation and value education at individual level. “Corruption begins with self-interest. If I am interested in myself, in what I want, in what I must be; if I am greedy, envious, harsh, cruel, there is corruption. Corruption begins in our heart, in our mind. Not just giving money—that also is corruption, but the real cause of corruption is inside us. Unless we find that out and change that, we will be a corrupt human being.” 30



Efforts to fight corruption over the past decades have shown that the dynamics of corruption are inherently political. Anti-corruption efforts therefore require a thorough understanding of the politics of corruption. Now that corruption has entered centre stage on the development agenda, reforms must address several fronts: improving the bureaucracy and civil service, strengthening checks and balances in government, promoting political competition and accountability, facilitating citizen participation, and strengthening economic competition. Indeed, the evidence points to the need for a more holistic approach to development that links institutional, legal, political, and economic variables and provides a climate for successful development. This requires the active involvement of all key stakeholders for a sustained improvement in governance. In this regard, legislators can play a pivotal role. As lawmakers, financiers, overseers, and representatives, legislators can help to strengthen the accountability framework and foster political and economic competition. Through such work, they can make a notable contribution to reduced corruption in their country.


In the end, I would like to quote Allama Iqbal’s lines: “God never changes the condition of a nation which does not care to change its own condition.”



1.       John R. Heilbrunn, “Corruption, Democracy, and Reform in Benin,” in Schedler, Andeas, L. Diamond and M. F. Plattner, (eds.) The Self-Restraining State: Power And Accountability in New Democracies 277 (Boulder, CO.: Lynne Rienner, 1999).

2.       The concept “self-restraining state” refers to a liberal democratic system that “ requires governments that are not only accountable to their citizens but also subject to restraint and oversight by other public agencies.” See: SCHEDLER, andeas, L. Diamond and M. F. Plattner, (eds.) The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies 1 (Boulder, CO.: Lynne Rienner, 1999)

3.       The term refers generally to “ the internal and external mechanisms that define and regulate the relationship between the ownership and the management of a corporate entity (or firms) so as to ensure that the equity (capital) and other resources of the firm are managed responsibly and in a sustainable manner.” See: Premph, The Persistent Corporate Governance Deficit in the Ghanian Public Sector 4

4.       “Transparency International - the global coalition against corruption". Retrieved October 7 2011 India: Where Shipping Is Shaky. Businessweek

5.       "How much do the corrupt earn?". THE ECONOMIC TIMES. September 11, 2011. Retrieved December 11, 2011

6.       IANS;"Corruption has 'taken over India' but can be eliminated: Book". Republished by December 9, 2011. Retrieved December 11, 2011.

7.       "How much do the corrupt earn?". THE ECONOMIC TIMES. September 11, 2011. Retrieved December 11, 2011

8.       "India sitting over Rs. 1 lakh cr of unused external aid: CAG". THE HINDU (India). March 18, 2011

9.       "India: Billionaires among a sea of poor people - Business". October4,2010. Retrieved March 7, 2011

10.     "NRIs In US Organize March Against Corruption In India | Link Newspaper". 2011-03-12. Retrieved 2011-10-07.

11.     Jeremy Pope, Confronting Corruption: The Elements of a National Integrity Sysytem (2nd ed: TI Source Book 2000).

12.     Mathematically speaking, we can say C varies directly with R and D, and inversely with A.

13.     Robert  Klitgaard, Controlling Corruption. (Berkley: University of California Press)(1988)

14.     Susan Rose-Ackermann, “When is Corruption harmful?” (World Bank, Washington DC)(1996)

15.     Daniel Kuafman,. “Diminishing Returns to Administrative Controls and the Emergence of the Unofficial Economy: A Framework of Analysis and Applications to Ukraine.” Economic Policy. .51-69(1994.)

16.     Paolo, Mauro, “The Effects of Corruption on Growth and Public Expenditur.” in Hidenheimer, Arnold J. and Michael Johnston, 2000. (Political Corruption 2000. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press)

17.     James Rauch, “Bureaucracy, Infrastructure and Economic Growth: Evidence from US Cities During Progressive Era” 968-979 American Economic Review 85(4)( 1995)

18.     Shang-Jin Wei, “How taxing is corruption on International Invstors?” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 6030, Cambridge, Massachusetts(1997)

19.     Leila M Webster, “The Emergence of Private Sector Manufacturing In Hungary”. World Bank Technical Paper 237 Washington D.C. (1993)

20.     See Transparency International’s Web site:

21.     H. Kwasi Prempeh, Making the Policy of “Zero Tolerance for Corruption” a Reality in Ghana: A Focus on the Serious Fraud Office. Critical Perspectives, 18 No.12. Accra: Ghana Center for Democratic Development , 2003

22.     Cuadrado D, Strengthening the institutional capacity anti-corruption. Construct ion of an active and normalized set of directives for transparency and clean governance. (Accessed on 11 March 2012) Sourced at < http: / / / comm/ external_relations/ mexico/ confen/ pre/ 13.pdf>(2002)  .

23.     Example of a central government department's implementation of the Right to Information Act.

24.     Transparency International Press Release

25.     "Karnataka Anti-Corruption Laws (Acts)". National Informatics Center. Retrieved June 24201

26.     "Lokayukta may get constitutional status", Deccan Herald. India. Retrieved June 30, 2010

27.     "Anna Hazare latest news: Lokpal bill in monsoon session, fast track courts for corruption cases – Economic Times". The Times of India (India). April 9 2011

28.     Issue Brief: PRS Note of Corruption Laws in India

29.     "A.P. Departments > Anti-Corruption Bureau". A.P. Government. Retrieved 2010-06-25

30.     J. Krishnamurti ,  Krishnamurti in Dialogue with Students (K F I, India, 1986)


Received on 16.05.2013

Modified on 20.06.2013

Accepted on 30.06.2013

© A&V Publication all right reserved

Research J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 4(4): October-December,  2013, 449-454