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India I Care Conference: `corruption is anti-poor'.

Central Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal has emerged as one the main crusaders in India for honesty in public life. He has been in the headlines for publicizing on the Internet a list of senior government officials accused of corruption.

Recently Vittal appealed for a corruption-flee administration as a basic human right. He was giving a keynote speech at an `India, I Care!' conference, held at Asia Plateau, the MRA centre in Panchgani. Nearly 200 participants from many walks of national life reflected on what each could do to create a `clean, capable and compassionate' India.

After over 50 years of independence the people of India were still living under the yoke of corruption, Vittal said. `We are rated as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. This corruption is anti-poor. Thirty-one per cent of food grains and 36 per cent of sugar in the public distribution system, which is designed to provide food for the poor, get diverted to the black market.' Corruption had become all-pervasive, he continued. Everybody talked about it, many justified it, many accepted it cynically and many believed that it could not be eliminated. `But, are we so helpless?' he asked.

He appealed for the Constitution Review Committee, which is looking into a Fundamental Rights Chapter, to make corruption-flee service a new fundamental right of every Indian citizen.

`This will enable a new mind-set to grow,' he continued. `It will be difficult for adults to justify their corruption to their children. For this to happen we will have to change from a "me first" culture of grabbing to a more cooperative one.'

Inaugurating the conference, B G Deshmukh, former Cabinet Secretary and Principal Secretary to the Government of India, said: `To build a clean, capable, compassionate India will not be possible unless we undertake an extensive and deep exercise to rebuild our character and create a sense of social responsibility.' He emphasized the need for a national consensus and common endeavour. It was not a subject for political one-upmanship but a matter of grave concern. `If we do not tackle this in a comprehensive way, I am afraid we are in for a long stretch of instability, if not a violent decade.'

Dr Saeeda Hameed, a member of the National Commission of Women, spoke about a women's initiative for peace with Pakistan. A recent delegation to Pakistan had received a heart-warming response from, among others, the President of Pakistan, General Musharraf. A similar warmth had been shown to the women's delegation from Pakistan which paid a return visit to India in May. `It shows that ordinary people of both these countries want to live in peace and harmony,' she said.

The renowned rocket scientist Vasant Gowariker urged that Indians should not decry the nation's achievements nor be pessimistic about the future of the country. Dr Gowariker led the team at the Indian Space Research Organization that put India's first satellite into orbit with her own rocket. He said that Indians should take pride in their achievements. `The education system which we all decry as inefficient is in fact producing some of the ablest brains in the world who are manning the leading research and industrial organizations overseas.'

He predicted that `within the next few years India will emerge as the second largest economic power in the world'.

Evaluating the conference, Palash K Roy, an engineer from Jamshedpur, said that he used to blame the government for corruption, which foiled the business venture he had started after completing his education. Now it was difficult to find a job in a city which is `reeling under the recession'. Since the era of economic liberalization began, companies in Jamshedpur had been doing very badly and almost half the workforce was now idle. `Those who are lucky, like my own father, have got some benefits under voluntary retirement schemes but many have been sacked. In the old days Jamshedpur was a model. Children of all employees were assured a job in their respective companies. All that has changed. The job opportunities for people like me are very small.'

But the tough stance against corruption in public life by Vittal and others had given Roy flesh hope for the future of the country. `People like him also give me the courage to step out of my own comfort zone and put up a fight for a clean, capable and compassionate India.'
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Author:Kale, Bhanu
Publication:For A Change
Date:Aug 1, 2000
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