Opinion
When political corruption is unchecked, and the state’s many anti-graft bodies are toothless, will government employees be inspired to stay clean?
Courtesy: PTI

In his first stint as the Chief Minister of Telangana, TRS founder Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao decided to keep government employees happy with doles. After all, they were crucial in the fight for a separate state for Telangana. But four months into his second term as the Chief Minister of India’s youngest state, KCR has decided to crack the whip on corruption in the administration.

The Chief Minister has stated that the revenue and municipal administration and urban development departments are steeped in “stinking corruption” and called for an overhaul. The reason? While TRS had a strong showing in the Assembly Elections in the state, and hopes for a repeat performance in the just concluded Parliamentary Polls, Local Body Elections are a different ball game.

The people at the grassroots are allegedly forced to grease the palms of revenue officials to get pattadar passbooks, income and caste certificates etc. Therefore, the ruling party may feel the heat of people’s angst in urban and rural areas if they don’t act on corruption – and fast.

In fact, just six months before the Assembly elections, a survey report released by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS) ranked Telangana number 1 in corruption, beating its sibling state of Andhra Pradesh.

Is KCR doing an NTR?

In undivided Andhra Pradesh, the revenue department under the regime of the then Chief Minister NT Rama Rao of the Telugu Desam Party underwent reforms with replacement of five-tier structure by a four-tier one. The move made way for mandal system and abolition of village karaneekams (clerk/accountant) in 1985. NTR’s move to abolish the post of karaneekams triggered massive protests from those who had lost their inherited jobs.

But it was well received by people at the village level as the move offered a lasting solution to end land disputes.

While KCR has not made any specific comments so far on changes he intends to bring in the revenue department, will he take a leaf out of NTR’s book?

Political corruption is the real problem

But what could be KCR’s undoing is corruption outside of the administration that is an open secret

Political analyst K Nageswar says that KCR is unlikely to succeed in his fight against corruption in the administration without checking political corruption. “Parties in the state are liberally fielding candidates with a wealthy background, and there are allegations of purchasing of votes for a high premium, setting a bad example for employees working in the government,” Nageswar says, citing the affidavits of several candidates from both ruling and opposition parties contesting the General Elections with assets up to Rs 1,000 crore.

Toothless anti-graft agencies

The government has constituted an army of agencies to check corruption in governance. Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB), Vigilance and Enforcement Department (V&ED), Tribunal for Disciplinary Proceedings (TDP) and Lokayukta, to name a few.

But the Lokayukta post has been lying vacant in the state for two years. A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the High Court seeking appointment of Lokayukta, but there appears to be no response from the government.

The Tribunal for Disciplinary Proceedings is left without a judge to try the graft cases for over seven years. Responding to a petition filed by a Hyderabad-based watch group Forum for Good Governance under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the government admitted that there are around 400 graft cases pending trial before the tribunal for want of a presiding officer.

M Padmanabha Reddy of the Forum for Good Governance, speaking to this writer, describes the anti-graft talk of KCR as nothing but hypocrisy.

Reddy, a retired Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer heading the forum, says an ‘alert note’ forwarded to various departments by the Vigilance and Enforcement Directorate seeking action against personnel found guilty of accepting bribes, went into cold storage. “The directorate in the note recommended disciplinary action against 120 employees in Revenue, 143 in the municipal administration and urban development, 90 in panchayat raj, 62 in Irrigation and Command Area Development and 73 in Agriculture and Cooperation department. With no progress in these cases, it shows the government’s lack of commitment to provide clean governance, as a result of which a sense of fear is missing in the official machinery,” Padmanabha Reddy says.

Gali Nagaraja is a journalist with over three decades of experience, and has worked in senior positions in The Hindu, Times of India, Hindustan Times and The Hans India. Views expressed are the author's own.