Everyone loves to talk about corruption in Indian public life but few would do anything to fight it. Politicians cry foul over it when they are in the opposition but thrive on it while in power. Even those who genuinely want a corruption-free society find their goal almost unattainable. Given the sweep and the depth of corruption in India, Nitish Kumar’s plan to fight it deserves to be commended. The Bihar chief minister’s move to abolish the quota of development funds allotted to the members of the state assembly is remarkable on two counts. First, it is proposed in a state which has long become a byword for the worst kinds of misrule and corruption. When the abolition of the quota comes into effect, Bihar will be the first state in the country to do such a thing. Second, the abolition could force political parties, their leaders and the people to take a fresh look at professional politics. Funds allotted directly to elected representatives are among the major sources of corruption not just in Bihar but all over the country. Governments and politicians know this but they have a vested interest in not only retaining the quotas but also periodically increasing the sums available under these.
A more serious economic argument against these quotas is that they delay or even derail development schemes. Most of these funds are meant for the development of basic facilities such as roads, water supply or minor irrigation. In practice, these funds become the elected representatives’ major source for distributing patronage to contractors and party loyalists. As such, they create a network of corruption from which the people’s representatives benefit infinitely more than the people themselves. Moreover, reports of different committees of Parliament and the state assemblies routinely show that the funds sometimes lie unused because of the local leaders’ failure to draw up viable plans. Since the funds are theoretically allotted to the elected representatives, the administration has little choice but to abide by their wishes. Yet, such quotas were introduced in order to usher in a democratic process in local area development. The complaints about the misuse of these quotas are so widespread that their abolition seems the only way to stop the charade. Mr Kumar has taken a bold and necessary step. It is time for other governments to follow his example and end the quota raj.