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Taking on the corrupt

Print edition : Feb 19, 2000 T+T-

UNDER the stewardship of Nagarajan Vittal, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), which was reconstituted through an ordinance 19 months ago, is acquiring a persona that compels attention. Sneers at some of his orders that were perceived to be of mere c osmetic value have given way to dismay in some quarters and admiration in others even as the ex-bureaucrat continues his relentless drive. Recently he wrote to 60 departments of the Government asking them to include in their Citizens' Charter a statement that the services they offered to the public would be available without the payment of bribes. He directed them to display this message prominently in their offices.

The CVC also wants certain groups of citizens to be empowered to trap and arrest officials who demand bribes.

In January, Vittal put on the CVC's Web site the names of about a hundred officers of the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service, against whom the Commission had initiated action on the basis of prima facie evidence. It create d a furore among the bureaucrats, who had hitherto succeeded, by and large, in placing themselves above the law. Sanction for prosecution/departmental action against officers found guilty of corruption still subsists under Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) and Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) although the odious "single directive" that required investigative agencies to obtain departmental sanction even to begin investigation against corrupt officials has been done aw ay with in the new CVC Act. Vittal told Frontline that departmental sanctions took an enormous amount of time practically in every case. "There are cases where sanction is pending for 15 years now. Often it happens that the official has already ho nourably retired or is, in some cases, even dead." "Delay breeds corruption," he said, and added that exposing such delays should force the departments to grant sanction promptly. "After all, secrecy and delay are at the root of corruption," he said.

Vittal also said that he planned to put on the Net the names of another 2,000 officers of other Central services who were under the CVC's scrutiny for corruption charges. The cases of persons whose names were already on the Web site were in the first sta ge of action, he said. "That is, the CVC has found prima facie evidence to proceed against them." He also plans to put the names of persons who face cases that are in the second stage of action and finally the names of those who have been recommen ded for prosecution. There will also be a list of officers who are acquitted of charges.

Many officers named in the CVC's Web site and others who perhaps fear that their names will soon figure in the list are up in arms against Vittal for what they consider his "high-handedness".

The CVC Bill is yet to be passed by Parliament. The two earlier ordinances that set up the CVC in the first place have lapsed and the present CVC is virtually a toothless, non-statutory body. Vittal, however, maintains that the Commission he heads now dr aws its powers from the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Jain hawala cases. The court ordered the setting up of an autonomous CVC with supervisory powers over the corruption cases investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and expressl y stated that until such time the statute was passed, its own judgment would be law.

The CVC recently directed the CBI to look into the possibility of reopening the Jain hawala case, now that Amir Bhai, an accomplice of S.K. Jain, is in police custody and that his statement could corroborate the entries in the Jain diary (Update, Fron tline, February 4). The CVC has also directed the CBI to look into the possibility of finding corroborative evidence to the diaries in income-tax records.