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human interest, Profiles

Fight against corruption has to come from below

arasuHis latest effort has been to start an Academy of Honest Politicians in the city along with the Tamil Nadu Lanjam Kodathor Iyakkam . Having spent much of his retired life fighting corruption to make life easier for the lay man, S.M. Arasu of the Anti-Corruption Movement told Vidya Venkat that a proactive citizenry and a firm leadership could help erase this menace from society.

“My first tryst with corruption was in 1963, when a public works contractor slipped in a few hundred rupee notes inside a diary as a gesture of gratitude for awarding a contract. Though I have resisted attempts to bribe me all through my days of employment, I took to anti-corruption activism fulltime post-retirement,” says Mr. Arasu, who was formerly chief engineer of the Tamil Nadu Public Works Department.

Denying that government officers come out into the open about corruption in public office only after retirement, he says, a number of serving IPS officers and government functionaries from other departments are members of the movement now. “In fact, our association’s by-laws encourage public officials to join us,” he says.

Started in 2001, today the movement has 4,500 members all over the State. “Many of them are students. We have four to five branches in the State and also bring out a monthly journal named Nermai Neri,” he says. Quoting a study report brought out by Transparency International last year, he says Tamil Nadu figures among the most corrupt States in India. The study says the police, revenue and regional transport offices are among the most corrupt departments in the State.

“In any building or road repair project, up to 50-60 per cent of the project cost is siphoned off by contractors and lower-level officials,” he says. He says most local bodies such as municipalities are corrupt and utilise only half of the allotted money for project work.

While the Right to Information Act has empowered activists like him to question the authorities when a public project is incomplete or taxpayer’s money is squandered, he says most Public Information Officers are not adequately trained to handle queries under the RTI Act. Due to unsatisfactory responses or delays in sending replies, he says a number of cases are pending with the State Information Commission.

However, he credits the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption for trapping several bribe takers whenever a representation is made. But he says, this is not enough and that the leadership, at the end of the day, must show its resolve to fight corruption.

“When leaders at the top are firm about eradicating corruption, the system will become clean and efficient,” he stresses.

For, corruption is a practice that percolates from top. The fight, however, he says has to be waged from below.

(Originally published in The Hindu, Tamil Nadu edition, dated Sep 13, 2009)

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About Vidya Venkat

Senior Assistant Editor, The Hindu. Anthropology graduate from SOAS, UK.

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