The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, gave away the President’s Police Medals for meritorious services for the best investigating officers at the XVII Biennial Conference of CBI and State Anti-Corruption Bureaux in New Delhi today. Following is the text of the Prime Minister’s address on the occasion:
“I am very happy to be in your midst here today. Let me begin by greeting and congratulating today’s recipients of the President’s Police Medal for meritorious services. I hope they will continue to excel professionally and be an example, a resource of inspiration for other officers to follow in their footsteps.
This year’s biennial conference will deliberate upon a very important issue - that of corruption in our public life. The urgent need to combat this menace cannot be over emphasized. Corruption distorts the rule of law and weakens institutions of governance. It hurts our economic growth in a variety of ways, apart from hindering our efforts to build a just, fair and equitable society. Important projects, which have huge externalities for growth, do not get implemented in time, and when they do get finished, they are often of a poor quality. Inflated project costs consume scarce national resources which could have been better used in other important areas in the service of our people. The poor are disproportionately hurt because of corruption. We have some of the most ambitious and wide ranging programmes in place today to help the poor and the marginalised sections of our society. But, there is a constant refrain in public discourse that much of what the government provides never reaches the intended beneficiaries – whether it is subsidized foodgrains for the poor, loans, fertilizers or seeds on concessional terms for small and marginal farmers or the benefit of employment programmes for the under employed and unemployed. This should be a matter of serious concern for all of us collectively.
The world respects India’s democracy, our plural and secular values, our independent judiciary and a free press, our commitment to freedom and peace and our pursuit of equitable and inclusive growth. But pervasive corruption in our country tarnishes our image to an important extent. It also discourages investors, who expect fair treatment and transparent dealings when dealing with public authorities. As the country grows and integrates with the world economy, corruption continues to be an impediment to harnessing the best of technology and investable resources.
The malaise of corruption, so sapping our efforts to march ahead as a nation, should be treated immediately and effectively. And all of you present here today can contribute substantially in this war against corruption. Indeed, you are in many ways in a privileged position to do so.
There is of course no single remedy for fighting the menace of corruption. The battle against it has to be fought at many levels. The design of development programmes should provide for more transparency and accountability. Systems and procedures which are opaque, complicated, centralized and discretionary are a fertile breeding ground for the evil of corruption. They should be made more transparent, simpler, decentralized and less discretionary. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has given a wide range of recommendations in this regard in its report on ‘Ethics in Governance. I am told that these have been examined in great detail and it should be soon possible to take a decision on many of these recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commission.
While systemic improvement is a long term goal, one cannot wait for it to happen. Our anti corruption agencies must make the cost of corruption unacceptably high for those indulging in this evil practice. There should be clear focus on corruption prone areas and individuals so that the available national resources for anti corruption efforts are not dissipated. High-level corruption should be pursued aggressively. There is a pervasive feeling today in our country that while petty cases get tackled quickly, the big fish often escape punishment. This has to change. Rapid, fair and accurate investigation of allegations of corruption in high places should remain your utmost priority. The nation expects you to act firmly, swiftly and without fear or favour. And you have the constitutional and legal protection and safeguards to do so.
The ever evolving levels of sophistication and complexity in different cases of corruption present no doubt special challenges for our enforcement agencies. The need is to stay one step ahead of the corrupt. For this, acquisition of new skills, through intensive and regular training, is an absolute pre-requisite. I hope all the agencies present here have already put in place a system of learning and disseminating new ideas and skills for their personnel. It is only a well-trained, well-equipped and well-motivated set of officers who can be equal to the task assigned to them.
It is also necessary for you to upgrade your capabilities by learning from the best global practices. I am told the Central Vigilance Commission has taken many initiatives in improving transparency in the procurement processes in government and public sector undertakings, including the introduction of an Integrity Pact for high value transactions. The Central Vigilance Commission has to play a pivotal role in sharing the best practices with all those involved in the anti-corruption effort. The State Vigilance Bureaus can also play and must play a similar role by interacting with the various State departments, studying their procedures and coming up with suggestions to make them more transparent and less amendable to abuse or manipulation of any kind.
To the officers of the CBI I would say that the people of India have great faith and expectations from you. This is evident from the frequent public demand for a CBI investigation especially when a serious crime takes place. I urge the officers of the CBI to do their utmost to live up to this expectation of our people. There have been occasions in the recent past when the conduct of the Bureau has come in for public criticism. I would like the CBI to have a critical look at itself and introspect deeply with an end to further improve its functioning. I have been informed that CBI has set a target for itself in investigation of cases for the next one year. I would urge the State agencies to set similar targets and goals for themselves and aim at acquiring an enhanced credibility in the eyes of the people at large.
While quick investigation is important and necessary, it is not sufficient to bring the guilty to book. Trials must be conducted expeditiously and judgements delivered quickly. To begin with, the aim should be to conclude the trial in two years so that punishment could be given to the offenders within a reasonable period of time. We have recently decided to set up 71 new CBI courts and we expect them to function as model courts, hold day-to-day proceedings and avoid unnecessary adjournments.
I must also emphasize as I have done before at this forum, the need for the right balance which all of you need to strike in your anti-corruption efforts. It must be ensured that the innocent among our officials are not harassed for bonafide mistakes, even while the corrupt are relentlessly pursued and brought to book. Officials have to be encouraged to take decisions, to accept responsibility, to show initiative and, whenever required, to take risks if our bureaucracy is to shed its slothful and lethargic image. Very often, the fear of harassment and damage to reputation makes public officials unduly timid and slow and the whole government machinery becomes ineffectual. Anti-corruption agencies have therefore to develop a system of investigation that factors this element into their thinking processes. It is as much your duty to protect the honest and the efficient as it is to prosecute and penalise the corrupt.
As you begin deliberations, I wish the proceedings of this conference all the very best. I hope you will come up with concrete ideas on many important issues. Let me conclude by once again congratulating the medal winners for their splendid achievement. May your path be blessed.”