Ways to bury corruption cases
Posted on: 06 Jul 2012
T V R Shenoy
About a quarter of a century ago, while in Europe, I met one of Indira Gandhi's 'Old Guard', that cadre of dedicated professionals who made, and sustained, the Iron Lady in her glory years before the Emergency. It was the late 1980s, Bofors was the flavour of the season, and the veteran was scathing on the stupidity and the corruption of all involved.
'But Sir,' I ventured when the flood of eloquence ebbed away, 'all that used to take place in your days too, didn't it?'
'Hotha thha,' he said after a thoughtful sip of his drink, 'lekin tareekey se hotha thha!' — 'Yes, but there was a certain etiquette observed about such matters.'
The Left Front and the B.J.P. are babes in the wood compared to India's oldest party. They have much to learn from the Congress when it comes to the proper 'tareeka'.
Look at the way in which the C.P.I.(M) is reacting to the multiple charges of murder (and other violent crimes) levelled against it in Kerala. With all the aplomb of a baby throwing a fit, the Marxists howl that they will refuse to cooperate with investigators, indeed that they will actively hinder the very process of investigation. This simply reinforces the perception that the C.P.I.(M) cadres have much to hide.
So, what is the proper 'tareeka'? Observe and learn from the master.
The Opposition demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee after the Comptroller & Auditor General of India said that potential losses from the sale of 2G licences could have been as high as Rs. 1.76 lakh crore. In February 2011 the U.P.A. government conceded this, and a Joint Parliamentary Committee was constituted under the chairmanship of my old friend P. C. Chacko.
What was the purpose of the Joint Parliamentary Committee? It was not meant to conduct a particular investigation; the courts — going all the way up to the Supreme Court itself — had the criminal aspects of the 2G Scam well in hand. The Joint Parliamentary Committee's task was to look into not just the specifics of the 2G case but also into the systemic failures that made such a scam possible.
The Joint Parliamentary Committee was, as noted, constituted in March 2011. Parliament has now extended its term, at least up to December 2012, and P. C. Chacko says no further extensions will be sought. How far has it delved into the systemic failures?
The 2G Scam might not have been possible without the collusion of some bureaucrats but it began with the political class. Yet, as late as the first week of 2012, with fewer than six months to go before its deadline, how many politicians has the the Joint Parliamentary Committee questioned?
Actually, forget how many it has queried, can P. C. Chacko's Joint Parliamentary Committee show us even the list of politicians to be questioned in the future?
Yes, such a document was prepared, but it proved to be so idiotic that P. C. Chacko was forced to withdraw it. To demonstrate just how stupid this draft list was, both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and George Fernandes appeared in it — though neither men has been a minister since 2004 and the 2G Scam took place over the 2007-2008 period. Yet Dr. Manmohan Singh's name was absent though he was Prime Minister when the scam took place.
P. C. Chacko clarified that the names had been proposed by the Joint Parliamentary Committee secretariat. And after the meeting was over, one member was reported saying, 'In principle, it has been decided that the political executive and corporate officials would now be called. We have called administrators and regulators. So now we also need to call other stakeholders.'
This says it all. The J.P.C. chairman was not responsible for anything, it was all the fault of his civil servants. And while 'administrators and regulators' — civil servants, once again — have been questioned, corporate bosses and politicians have not been brought before the committee in the past sixteen months — and yet there is talk of a draft report in September and a final report in December.
Effectively, the purpose of the Joint Parliamentary Committee has been smothered. The same 'tareeka' is visible in the Adarsh Housing Scam.
Three former Chief Ministers of Maharashtra — Sushil Kumar Shinde, Vilasrao Deshmukh, and Ashok Chavan — have found themselves in the news for all the wrong reasons. What is the current government doing to separate the innocent from the guilty?
The Congress-N.C.P. coalition set up a 'panel', chaired by Justice (Retd.) J. A. Patil, to look into the matter. Some question whether the panel has any actual legal standing. Be that as it may, the undisputed fact is that the panel, which was supposed to complete its task in three months, has received at least six extensions. (The latest one extends its term up to 30 September, and the panel has already said it would like a further extension up to 31 December, 2012.)
Ashok Chavan, Revenue Minister when the Adarsh scheme got the green signal, offered this explanation: 'In the Revenue Department, the file is processed by various officers like the Under Secretary, Deputy Secretary and Principal Secretary after which it is sent to the Revenue Minister along with a note from the Principal Secretary. Usually, the Revenue Minister goes by the recommendation made by the Principal Secretary and forwards the file to the Chief Minister who takes final decision.'
Vilasrao Deshmukh, the Chief Minister at the time in question, responded: 'Once a file seeking allotment of government land is submitted to the Chief Minister's Office, the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister sees if the proposal has been approved by the Revenue Minister. If the file is positive, that is, if there is no difference of opinion between the Revenue Minister and the officers, then the Principal Secretary briefs the Chief Minister and approval is given.'
If civil servants take all the decisions why do we need any ministers?
On 4 July, 2012 the C.B.I. filed a chargesheet in the Adarsh Scam, naming Ashok Chavan among others. On the same day the Government of Maharashtra filed an affidavit in the High Court questioning the C.B.I.'s jurisdiction in investigating the case. Just coincidence?
The 'tareeka' used to handle controversies is becoming clearer, is it not?
First, set up a body to look into the matter — a Joint Parliamentary Committee in Delhi, the J. A. Patil panel in Mumbai.
Second, set an unrealistic deadline, followed by extensions given drop by drop.
Third, all the politicians agree that the civil servants are always at fault — the J.P.C. chairman blames his secretariat for including Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the list of witnesses but not Dr. Manmohan Singh, Ashok Chavan and Vilasrao Deshmukh blame their officers in Mumbai.
Fourth, if some politician must be blamed, ensure it is a junior minister like A. Raja or Ashok Chavan but always absolve the Prime Minister or Chief Minister of the time.
By the way, the Adarsh Housing Scam started off as an alleged benefit scheme for the Indian Army. The construction, reportedly, began over the objections of the Indian Navy. And yet the one person who has been conspicuously silent on the issue is the Defence Minister.
Are the C.P.I.(M) and the B.J.P. taking notes? This is how you bury a controversy — by setting up panels of enquiry and then weakening it with procedural disputes, by foisting all the blame on your civil servants, and, if necessary, by maintaining complete silence. That is the Congress 'tareeka' — and who can say it doesn't work up to a point?