FORMER PM’s ADDRESS AT GOLDEN JUBLEE CELEBRATIONS OF CENTRAL VIGILANCE COMMISSION ON FEBRUARY 20,2014

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I am delighted to participate in the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Central  Vigilance Commission, or the CVC as it is commonly known. The CVC is a very  important part of the institutional framework for fighting corruption and ensuring  probity, transparency and accountability in the work and conduct of public servants.  Ever since it was established 50 years back, it has served our country with distinction.  I compliment the CVC for its outstanding record. The past 50 years have witnessed an increase in the scope and complexity of  the work of the CVC. When it was set up in 1964 by an executive order, it was  expected to monitor all vigilance activities in the Central Government and advise  Central Government organizations in planning, executing, reviewing and reforming  their vigilance work. Later, in pursuance of the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Vineet Narain case, it was accorded statutory status and superintendence of  investigation of corruption cases by the CBI was added to its responsibilities. The  Central Vigilance Commissioner was also given a major role in the selection of  Director and other senior officers of the CBI. More recently, the responsibility of  protecting whistle blowers has been entrusted to the CVC. And very recently, the  coming into force of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act has added to the charter of the  Commission’s responsibilities like preliminary enquiries on matters referred to it by  the Lokpal and action against those making false and vexatious complaints. It has also  enlarged the jurisdiction of the CVC to cover Group B, C and D employees of the  Central Government in cases referred to it by the Lokpal. This widening of scope of  the work of the CVC over the years has also been accompanied by increasing  complexity, as public policy formulation and implementation have become more and  more complex with the passage of time.

In fact, it is not only the CVC but the whole institutional set up for fighting  corruption that has undergone a transformation with the passage of time. This process  of change has particularly picked up in the last 10 years. New laws have been enacted  to ensure probity, transparency and accountability in administration. The Right to  Information Act and the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act are major examples. A number  of new laws are under consideration of Parliament. These include the Right of  Citizens for the Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their  Grievances Bill, the Public Procurement Bill and a Bill to amend the Prevention of  Corruption Act. These legislative initiatives have been accompanied by administrative  steps in the same direction. Greater use of Information and Communications  Technology has also helped in increasing transparency and reducing opportunities for  corrupt practices.

The last few years have also seen a very vigorous debate on corruption in our  country, with civil society and media being active participants. As I have said earlier,  I believe this debate has been on the whole for the good. It has led not only to  increased awareness in the people about their rights and the responsibilities of public  authorities but also a realization in public authorities of the heightened expectation that our people have from them.

The agenda of this conference covers all these developments. In fact, it is a vast  agenda that is before you – from the effectiveness of the legal and institutional  frameworks for fighting corruption to the use of Information and Communications  Technology, from the role of investigating agencies to the role of media and civil  society, from autonomy and accountability of investigating agencies to electoral  reforms and political accountability. The conference also brings together men and  women of distinction from diverse fields – Government, public and private sectors,  media, law and academics. I am sure that the discussions that follow will be  stimulating and of great benefit to the participants, and will also contribute towards strengthening our efforts for fighting corruption.. On my part, I would like to briefly mention some broad issues which I believe are of abiding importance in our anti-corruption initiatives. I have stressed on some of these issues earlier occasions as well,  but I think they are well worth repeating.

It is important to remember that the ultimate aim of any anti-corruption  mechanism is to contribute towards improvement of the processes of governance and  delivery of services. This can happen only when we encourage bold and innovative  decision making. Therefore, we must make sure that honest officers are not harassed  for bonafide mistakes that they might make while taking well-meaning decisions. At  the time of establishment of the CVC, the then Prime Minister Shri Lal Bahadur  Shastri had observed that the Commission was to be a fearless champion of the man  of integrity and source of terror to corrupt officers. We must ensure the championing of the cause of the man of integrity in all our institutions. In the scenario in which this  does not happen, decision making would suffer badly and instead of improving the  processes of governance, we would end up stifling them.

Maintaining this balance necessarily involves a high degree of expertise in  analyzing and scrutinizing complex decisions pertaining to policy formulation and  implementation. This points to the need for greater professional expertise in diverse  fields in agencies like the CVC and the CBI. Such agencies would perhaps do well in  also inducting officers from expert organizations.

Another balance that agencies like the CVC ought to maintain is between the  need to be careful and detailed and the need for speed. Matters like disciplinary  proceedings and grant of vigilance clearance must be disposed of in time. Excessive  delays make such exercises meaningless.

There is a need for moderation in the public debate about corruption as well. In  the past few years, we have been witnessing a very vigorous public debate in our  country on matters relating to corruption, with accusations flying thick and fast. While  informed discussion on such matters is certainly desirable, much too often we see a  trivialisation of complex public policy issues. This is accompanied by unwarranted  condemnation of the decisions taken and imputation of guilt and malafide on the part  of those who took those decisions. I sincerely think there is a need to change this state  of affairs.

Autonomy of investigating agencies is a subject on which I have spoken earlier  as well. Investigating agencies have always enjoyed complete autonomy in  investigation of criminal cases. Our Government has also been willing to do more to  insulate the CBI from extraneous influences. However, it is also necessary to ensure  that the political executive exercises the oversight that it is expected to in a democratic  polity over any investigating agency.

These are the few brief thoughts that I wish to share with you. I am sure that the distinguished men and women who are participating in this conference will examine  these and other such matters in much greater detail. I wish you very productive  deliberations. I also wish the CVC all success in the future.

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