Corruption ruining India, warn leaders

By Andrew Buncombe

In an embarrassing blow to the Indian Government, a group of senior businessmen and members of civil society have published an open letter claiming rampant corruption is destroying the "fabric of the nation".

Following a series of controversies over corruption, the group has warned there is a "governance deficit" in almost every area of national activity. It calls on the authorities to restore confidence in the country and in the Government.

"What we are deeply worried about is not to allow India's huge growth potential and poverty alleviation challenges to be diluted or digressed from and which would be a great loss, especially to the poor and the dispossessed," says the letter.

Bribes and kick-backs are part of everyday life for hundreds of millions of people in India. But this allegation that corruption is undermining the country is particularly damaging given the calibre of the members of India Inc, who have attached their names to it. Among the signatories are Azim Premji, the chairman of technology giant Wipro, Deepak Parekh, the head of HDFC bank, Godrej and Boyce chairman Jamshyd Godrej and the former head of India's reserve bank, Bimal Jalan.

The letter, handed to an Indian newspaper, comes amid a series of high-profile issues of corruption that have triggered concerns within the highest levels of the government, headed by the Congress Party.

Inquiries are under way into allegations of fraud and kick-backs surrounding New Delhi's hosting of last October's Commonwealth Games and the flawed 2008 auction of 2G spectrum licences, an undertaking reckoned to have cost the country up to £22 billion ($45 billion). The then minister who organised the auction, A. Raja, was forced to resign. The auction scandal found its way as high as the Prime Minister, when the country's most senior court asked Manmohan Singh to explain why the Government had taken more than a year to respond to questions from Opposition politicians about Raja's conduct.

Subsequently, Sonia Gandhi, head of the Congress Party, announced a five-point plan to tackle corruption.

Gandhi and Singh met yesterday to discuss an anticipated reshuffle of the Cabinet.

The letter from the business leaders reflects concern among India's upper-middle classes that corruption is standing in the way of the country's progress. At the same time, regional chief ministers such as Narendra Modi in Gujarat and Nitish Kumar in Bihar - who have promoted themselves as efficient and corruption-free administrators - have been rewarded with re-election despite, in the case of Modi, the controversy over his government's role in the 2002 killing of hundreds of Muslims.

COMMONWEALTH GAMES

India's Central Vigilance Commission is investigating 22 corruption allegations after the event last October. One of the most high-profile cases involves treasurer Anil Khanna, who resigned after it emerged he contracted his son's company to lay 14 synthetic tennis courts that could have increased injury risk. He denies any wrongdoing.

MUMBAI

A member of the ruling party and Maharashtra's chief minister, Ashok Chavan resigned when it emerged his relatives owned flats in a Mumbai housing development built for war widows. It is thought apartments were also sold to politicians at low prices. The Government has ordered the block to be demolished. Chavan denies wrongdoing.

- INDEPENDENT

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