The courage to fight corruption:

An Interview with Mrs Jayashree J.N

We welcome you to the western and NRI readers. Please give an introduction to the audience about your current focus.

As the answer is not so direct readers have to bear with my following lengthy reply. I have been focusing on two things through my website

1. I started the website initially with the purpose of creating a shield from being harmed by the corrupt officers against whom my husband is fighting. I took up the issues he had raised independently using the Right to Information Act. Initially there was lot of resistance to give any information. The leniency showed by the Information Commission to whom appeals are made it more difficult. Luckily after studying various orders of other Information Commissions now I am getting information within two weeks in most of the cases. Most of the information sought relate to corruption at high levels. If you see my website most of the information obtained by me has been made available to the public through media. This has served two purposes: My website goal is to expose, embarrass and punish the corrupt. I am mainly focusing on corrupt practices by the highest authority in Bureaucracy i.e., the Chief Secretary. Most of the information given to the media had really embarrassed the Chief Secretary so much so that he issued a notice to my husband either to disown me or my website. Against that notice I filed a complaint with the Women’s Commission and it has created more embarrassment to the Chief Secretary, particularly because he misused his position to direct a senior lady IAS officer to issue a letter to the Commission to withdraw the notice issued by it claiming that it was not legal. There was final hearing by the Commission on 8/10/07. Commission is expected to pass an order any time. Once the order is made this allows at least a good number of wives of honest officers to join the fight against corruption. I have been receiving mails from many officers and their wives informing that they have stated similar things. This makes the fight more effective.

2. My husband against all obstacles has succeeded in taking his fight against corruption to a new level. He has used his Service Rules to mobilize not just honest officers but also citizens. In this regard the call given by the Prime Minister to IAS probationers to tackle corruption head on has really helped my husband. My website gives information about all such initiatives taken by my husband. What is important to note that he is doing all these in spite of continuous threats (Last two serious threats being on 11/9/07 and 26/9/07). My husband was shifted to a post 500 km from Bangalore after he lodged corruption complaints against the Chief secretary and another officer and the post is normally held by Engineers can indicate the level to which the corrupt go and also the extent to which they are afraid of my husband. Only consolation is that today a police with a machine gun is present 24 hours with my husband.To summarize my focus is to involve more honest people in the fight against corruption using the RTI Act. Secondly to keep public informed about what ever my husband is doing to curb corruption.

Q2: It’s rare for anyone to pick up courage to stand up and fight for justice. What motivated you?
In India, we have the examples of Sri Manjunath and Sri Satyendra Dubey losing their lives when they fought corruption. If the fact of their fighting had been widely known and if these officers had documented their fight, it is quite possible that both of them could have been alive today. I did not want to do something only after something very bad happened my husband. As the Chief Secretary never cared about my husband’s safety in spite of repeated requests in writing and as my husband also never wanted to stop his fight against corruption, the only way I thought I could protect my husband was to make his struggle public by collecting information under the RTI Act. Eventhough a Police officer visited our house on March 12th to collect information and it did not result in any protection to us as is evident from a serious threat to me in a public place on 28/3/07 and a retired Chief secretary warning us on 5/4/07 that a person against whom we are fighting will decimate us. The latest three Chief Secretaries deliberately ignored my husband’s report on serious corrupt practices. Most of my husband’s reports are concerned with how at the highest decision level seeds of corruption are sown to deprive the poorest in the society their rightful dues by those making tall claims about helping the poor. All these motivated me to do what I am presently doing.

Q3: Public is very active in causes like this in western countries. What is the situation there and what is your solution?
Corruption affects the poorest most. In fact majority of them are poor because of corruption and the poor are not even aware of this. There is no way to mobilise those who are worst affected by corruption. Most of the people who can read or browse internet do not feel the pinch of corruption or they may have accepted it as a part of life. But still there are people who hate corruption, who want to fight corruption but do not have a proper forum. Even though attacking corruption at the highest level is very difficult, the fight is more effective if corruption is hit at its roots. While many people may come forward to join and fight corruption at lower levels the same cannot be expected if the fight is against those who occupy high positions A determined small group of people is what I am aiming at and I have been fairly successful in creating a small group; of highly dedicated people. Majority of them know that anything could happen to them but in spite of it they are ready to fight corruption. During the last three months period the fact that corruption cases have been filed against three IAS Officers show that we are moving in the right direction. This number should be compared with not more than 10 cases filed over last 20 years period.

Q4: Corruption is becoming a bigger dinosaur each day India. How can this monster be tackled. How do you see corruption impacting the future of the nation?History reveals that civilizations have been destroyed because of corruption. Unfortunately not many are aware of the impact of corruption and its magnitude.It is not the case that a rupee lost because of corruption causes only a rupee reduction in development. The fact that each rupee lost in corruption can cause 20 to 100 times loss in development in a span of less than five years is not known to many. The fact that Karnataka being the fourth most corrupt State in the country shows more and more people below the poverty line year after year should convince this observation. As earlier said the worst affected by corruption are the poorest and they cannot be mobilized to create a mass movement. By attacking corrupt people at the highest level i.e. striking at the root of corruption though very risky appears to be the only solution available today . If we do not act today this even this approach may not be possible in a few years from now.Hence our website talks of “fight corruption NOW”

Q5: What percentage of Indian politicians are aware of the dangers of the corruption. What segment of the pubic are most affected?
Most politicians get elected through corrupt practices only. If there are non-corrupt politicians, then they are an exception and even may be an aberration. Considering the natural resources of the country it is sad that India having more than 50% of its children mal-nourished and more than 30% of its population below the poverty line. Most of the services and things which should go to the poorest never reach them because of the nexus between the corrupt officials and politicians. The increasing population below poverty line which gets publicity now and them should have made the politicians know in which direction our State is moving. Even such glaring things which they see frequently do not affect them. Under these circumstances we can confidently say they are fully aware of the dangers of their acts but continue to do so. As is evident the poorest are the most affected.

Actually corruption is the tax paid by these poor . What is not understood is the fact that while those who pay tax never pay more than 30% , the poorest by being deprived of their rightful income pay taxes ranging from 200% to 1000%.

Q6: What small steps should the government do to give public the message that there is a will to fight corruption?
A simple message by the Head of the Bureaucracy that corruption case should be reported without fear by any Government servant and those who report corruption would not be harassed has the power to drastically reduce corruption by 25% overnight. The very fact that Chief Secretaries in spite of repeatedly requesting in writing did not issue any such statement clearly shows what is to be done immediately. As long as honesty is not treated as a crime there is no way public can be given any message. In fact, my husband is asked everywhere that if the corrupt could trouble a senior officer like my husband what about a common man. It is under these circumstances the message indicated above becomes very important and urgently needed.

Q7: Do you think that lack of resources in India and the demands of the huge population are contributing to corruption?
Neither the natural resources nor the population of the country is fully responsible for corruption in India. What is not to be forgotten is the fact that money taken away through corrupt practices mostly belong to the poorest. The very fact that in the entire country most probably except my husband no IAS officer has declared his assets to be given to any one seeking under the RTI Act indicates the magnitude of corruption.. Even the so called honest officers have not come forward to declare their assets. Head of the Bureaucracy instead of setting an example has refused to give details when asked under the RTI Act. In fact my husband’s argument is that as every IAS officer is bound by his Service Rule which requires him to work with absolute integrity at all times, if any citizen questions an officer’s integrity and seeks details of his assets it should be given. Unfortunately this is not happening. The magnitude of illegal assets of a very small percentage of corrupt officers can easily lift all the poor above poverty line.

Q8: Tell us about the process of corruption in India?
Majority of the people are aware of corruption at lower levels. For corruption at lower level to thrive seeds of corruption are sown at the highest level. If proper audits of all government decisions are made, it will reveal how corruption permeates down the system. In view of this there is brazen corruption Luckily for the few citizens who hate to pay bribe today RTI Act provides a means to not to pay bribe .But majority do not resort to this method.

Q9: Are you being personally attacked / harassed. If yes what is your message to them?
I have been personally harassed but it was short of attacking. We receive many threats in the garb of advice from very senior officers and even from retired officers. We normally inform some statutory authorities as Police never take action and of course these are also put on my website.

Our message to the corrupt is that there will be more Jayashrees and Vijayakumars if any thing should happen to either of us.

Q 10. What kind of support are you receiving?
My website has got good response from people across the world. Comments are made in the guest book and I also receive lot of private mails. I have created a forum where many issues are discussed .People from different parts of the world with varied expertise are participating . Through all these we receive lot of ideas, suggestions and if nothing at least moral support. We have made it clear that we don’t want to receive any funds from any one. If any of the groups in the forum feels it needs any assistance including funds, we have given guidelines for them to involve a willing donor as an active member in implementation.We have extremely good mass media support as can be seen under the media/report section of my website.

Q 11: What should be the response of western nations to your cause? If they want to help how you do suggest they should do it?
India is a signatory to the UN Convention against corruption, the western countries should insist that India should immediately ratify the Convention, so that money lodged outside India could also be brought back.

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