Fight corruption – at your own risk

March 4, 2011

The judges in the Supreme Court had finished hammering out for delivery the next day a landmark verdict in the battle against corruption, when a thousand kilometres away, another anti-graft crusader was beaten to death.

An activist shouts slogans during a protest in New Delhi March 4, 2011. REUTERS/B Mathur/FilesNiyamat Ansari’s killing on Wednesday night in the poor eastern state of Jharkhand came days after he exposed large scale embezzlement of funds meant for India’s flagship social security programme.

A recent spate of corruption scandals has sparked off outrage among Indians and the newfound zeal against graft has been reflected in the Supreme Court’s tough stance. But the killing shows, these measures may be just curing the symptoms, not the ills.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court axed P.J. Thomas, the country’s anti-graft chief, over his involvement in a corruption case, in a verdict that was widely seen as a bold step towards cleaning up India’s image as a corruption-ridden country.

The top court was following up on a series of strong observations on corruption in high places, including on the role of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a multi-billion telecoms licensing corruption case where a minister was arrested.

But away from these headline-grabbing actions, corruption remains a way of life, with officials and activists confronting it at the risk of death. At least 10 such people have been killed since the beginning of 2010.

In January, Yeshwant Sonawane, a government official was burned alive as he sought to crack down on adulteration of diesel in Maharashtra. Last July, Amit Jethwa, an activist who had filed cases against politicians for involvement in illegal mining, was shot dead in Gujarat.

The Congress-led coalition government in its first term brought in a right-to-information law, which has been used extensively by activists to uncover sweetheart deals. In its second term, it seems that the government has been unable to protect the users of this law.

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