Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday asked the CBI and Anti-Corruption Bureaux officials to pursue aggressively high-level corruption and change the perception that while petty cases were quickly tackled, the “big fish escaped punishment.”

Addressing the 17th biennial conference of the CBI, Anti-Corruption Bureaux and vigilance agencies, he said, “Rapid, fair and accurate investigation of allegations of corruption in high places should remain your 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.”

Setting the tone for the two-day conference, the Prime Minister told the top CBI and anti-corruption officials that very often the fear of harassment and damage to reputation made public officials unduly timid and slow thus rendering the whole government machinery ineffectual.

Ethics in governance

The government recently decided to set up 71 new CBI courts and expected them to function as model courts, hold day-to-day proceedings and avoid unnecessary adjournments. The government would soon take a decision on a wide range of recommendations of the report on “Ethics in Governance,” submitted by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission.

Noting that the CBI’s conduct had come under severe public criticism on certain occasions in the past, Dr. Singh asked it to have a critical look at itself and introspect deeply to further improve its functioning.

Dr. Singh said while quick investigation was important and necessary, it was not sufficient to bring the guilty to book. “Trials should be conducted expeditiously and judgments 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 period of three years or so.”

The Prime Minister said that there was no single remedy to fight corruption. It had to be tackled at many levels, one of which was making the existing systems less discretionary.

“The design of development programmes should provide for more transparency and accountability. Systems and procedures that are opaque, complicated, centralised and discretionary are fertile breeding ground for the evil of corruption. They should be made more transparent, simple, decentralised and less discretionary.”

Dr. Singh said there was a constant refrain that much of what the government provided like subsidised foodgrains, fertilizers or seeds never reached the intended beneficiaries. This was a matter of serious concern. “Our anti-corruption agencies must make the cost of corruption unacceptably high for those indulging in it.”

While stressing the need to combat corruption on an urgent basis, the Prime Minister said: “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 of a poor quality.” He pointed out that the inflated project costs consumed scarce resources that could have been better used in other important areas. “The poor are disproportionately hurt because of corruption.”

The conference is being attended by heads of the CBI, State anti-corruption bureaux and vigilance agencies from all States and Union Territories.

CBI Director Ashwani Kumar said the weak criminal justice system encouraged corruption. Departmental trials of corruption cases went on for years and these delays encouraged the dishonest to indulge in corrupt practices with impunity.

More In: National | News