Chief minister and crusader
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Pratap Singh Kairon, whose birth anniversary was last week, fought corruption institutionally
Corruption is not a new thing. It has been dogging government in India for ages. It generates universal condemnation — even from those indulging in it — without much being done by way of creating an institutional infrastructure to contain it.
One of the first individuals to actually fight corruption institutionally was the chief minister of Punjab, Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon. His efforts at curtailing corruption through systematic interventions soon yielded results. It also showed us the importance of structural, as contrasted with emotional, action in curbing corruption. By creating a specialised department, vigilance, to investigate charges of corruption, he ensured the public had a simple way of informing government of wrong-doings of civil servants.
Punjab in the years after Independence was in administrative chaos. The entire edifice of the state government had been left behind in Lahore. Instead, from Pakistan had come almost 6 million people in need of resettlement.
The property of those who had migrated to Pakistan needed to be documented and safeguarded. That alone provided opportunities to do wrong. Then there were the infrastructure projects that provided opportunities for siphoning off public monies. Land consolidation required remapping of agricultural land and it was believed that a small monetary gift to revenue officers could ensure a superior adjustment.
While other governments were busy making tall moral statements about the need to maintain probity, Punjab under Kairon had already begun to move forward to contain corruption. The solution Kairon found was to establish a direct link with the people to know how they were being treated by government servants. This was much like the present effort to display the name and phone number of the vigilance officer in each government department. The big difference between then and now is that people then were still substantially in thrall of government servants. It required a special effort on the part of Kairon to ensure people lost their fear. His continuous and energetic travelling across the state and intermingling with workers from the field provided much needed inputs.
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