An ominous sign for government
31 Jan 2012 11:31:00 PM IST
Here is a telling contrast in fighting corruption. The nation has seen in the last couple of years two distinct endeavours to fight corruption. One is the fight for a new anti-corruption law with the blessings of even the suspects. And the other is identifying the suspects and fighting them under existing laws. Anna Hazare and his team have launched an agitation for an anti-corruption law — the Lokpal Bill — without which, they told the nation, corruption could not be fought or contained. In their enterprise against corruption they first appealed to Sonia Gandhi for her support to fight corruption! And she also wrote to Anna offering her support! Subramanian Swamy, on the other hand, took the view that corruption could well be fought under the existing anti-corruption law provided the corrupt are targeted directly. First, he filed an application with the prime minister for prosecuting A Raja for his role in the 2G scam. Next he applied to the prime minister for sanction to prosecute Sonia Gandhi, whose support Anna had sought to stop corruption. Swamy, a seasoned politician and accomplished intellectual, knew that without the visible picture of the corrupt, corruption is a theoretical issue — a point which the apolitical Anna and team had missed.
How Subramanian Swamy has cornered the UPA finally is not a complex story. The 2G licence issue had all the trappings of an open air theatre scam from the day the licences were fraudulently issued, namely, on January 10, 2008. When the government was covering up the 2G issue, everyone was merely wondering how to fix the government. But Swamy acted. He filed an application on November 24, 2008, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for permission to prosecute A Raja who had issued the 2G licences. At that time Raja was a powerful minister in the ministry of UPA-I, being from the DMK that was dominant in the alliance. The anti-corruption law mandates that no court can look at a complaint against a public servant “except with the previous sanction” of the authority competent to remove the public servant from office. Since Raja was a minister, who could be removed by the PM, Swamy approached the PM for the sanction.
The likes of Sibals and Chidambarams were perhaps laughing at Swamy. But Swamy persisted. He kept on writing letters to the prime minister reminding him about his application. He ceaselessly kept talking about it in public and through the media. But the prime minister, as he is sworn to in most matters, kept silent. The silence of the PM had made the government and the ruling party happy. But Swamy moved the Delhi High Court for a direction to the PM to take a decision on his plea. The high court dismissed Swamy’s petition. The ruling government and party were in ecstasy. But, undeterred, Swamy moved the Supreme Court. The PM had written to Swamy on March 10, 2010, that Swamy’s plea for prosecuting Raja was premature as the CBI was investigating the matter — a response authored by amateur legalism. After having trivialised Swamy thus, on April 26, 2010, the PM told the media — which asked him whether Raja’s statement that he had the approval of the PM to do what he did — that Raja had consulted him before issuing the licences. That what the PM had accepted as consultation, Raja has asserted as permission.
Swamy also complained to the Supreme Court about the inordinate delay by the PM in deciding the matter. Meanwhile, the 2G issue had exploded on the face of the government with the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India saying that the loss to the government was, on the lower side, some `69,000 crore and could be as high as `1,75,000 crore. The Supreme Court, seeing the government prevaricating at all levels, began monitoring the CBI investigation of the scam. The petition by Swamy too became part of the 2G scam litigation in the Supreme Court. The CBI did file charge-sheets in some cases of scam, including Raja as an accused in all except one. But Swamy’s plea to the PM to prosecute Raja and the PM’s inaction on it survived for consideration by the Supreme Court. The apex court did go deep into the matter, called for the records of the PMO and asked for an explanation from the PMO for the delay. By now, the ruling party and the government stopped laughing at Swamy. It became the turn of Swamy to laugh at them. It is the plea of Swamy to the PM to allow him to prosecute Raja which has been decided by the Supreme Court on January 31, 2012, in a landmark judgment.
First, the court has set aside the judgment of the Delhi High Court that had refused to direct the PM to decide on Swamy’s plea. Second, it has ruled that it is the constitutional right of a citizen to move to prosecute any public servant. Third, the authority to whom the application is made for permission to prosecute should take a decision within three months and if, within four months, no decision is taken, the permission shall be deemed to be granted. The import of the Supreme Court judgment is evident. The court has clearly indicted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for delaying the decision on Swamy’s plea. It has also directed him to decide on Swamy’s plea in 90 days. The court has also said that Parliament should lay down the guidelines for 2G prosecution. Finally, the court has said that for ordering inquiries into corruption against any public servant, criminal courts do not need sanction.
It may appear at the first sight that the judgment is against Raja and the PM. But, in substance, it is just an ant-bite on Raja and an embarrassment for the PM. Raja, already charge-sheeted, is in jail. The PM will have no difficulty in allowing one more complaint — that of Swamy — against Raja. But the real danger lies in the other application by Swamy — for permission to prosecute Sonia Gandhi — which the PM has labelled as “premature” and ducked. Under the anti-corruption law, the PM can sack Sonia, the chairperson of National Advisory Council, even though he himself may be removed by her. Swamy can now ask the PM whether the complaint has matured. He can also move the criminal court for inquiry against Sonia Gandhi for which, the Supreme Court has ruled, no sanction is needed. Swamy’s statement that he “can bypass Vadra and go straight to Sonia” is ominous. The Congress cannot laugh at him now.
(Views expressed in the column are the author’s own)
S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues.
And Manish Tiwari takes issue with Anna Hazare’s birthday celebration expenses???
Hindustan Times: 24-page issue; 14 RG ads amounting to 7 broadsheet pages
The Times of India: 32-page issue; 21 ads amounting to 9 broadsheet pages
Indian Express: 28-page issue; 15 ads amounting to 6½ broadsheet pages
Mail Today (compact): 36-page issue; 11 ads amounting to 6½ compact pages
The Hindu: 24-page issue; 13 ads amounting to 5 broadsheet pages
The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 11 ads amounting to 3¾ broadsheet pages
The Statesman: 16-page isuse; 7 ads amounting to 3 broadsheet pages
The Telegraph: 26-page issue; 9 ads amounting to 3¾ broadsheet pages
The Economic Times: 16-page issue; 2 ads amounting to ¾ of a page
Business Standard: 18-page issue; 2 ads amouning to ¾ of a page
Financial Express: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ pages
Mint (Berliner): 16-page issue; 0 ads
“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”
AND THAT CONGRESS MEDIA MAN MANISH TIWARY WAS SAYING SOMETHING ABOUT ANNA BEING CORRUPT OVER SOME CELEBRATION HIS FOLLOWERS ORGANIZED ON HIS BIRTHDAY??
|16 Aug 2011|
If a single event encapsulates the corruption, sleaze and political callousness that bedevils the common man today, it is the Commonwealth Games of 2010, whose reverberations are still roiling the polity and the ruling Congress party. Even as unending price rise drives the middle class and poor to despair, and the Finance Ministry and Reserve Bank insist no relief is likely, a brazen Delhi Government threatens citizens with a staggering 60% hike in power tariffs, after having scandalously intervened last year to inhibit a price cut that was originally envisaged by the relevant authority.
That is the true measure of the rot wrought by chief minister Sheila Dikshit. A necessary corrective would be to return this essential service to the public sector, while ensuring zero protection to power theft that makes the utility unviable. In fact, the profit allowed to the private companies would have ensured the necessary modernization of equipment, on which they anyway dragged their feet.
Ms Dikshit, meanwhile, despite blistering indictments by the Prime Minister-appointed V.K. Shunglu Committee and the Comptroller & Auditor General’s report on the Commonwealth Games, got powerful protection from the chief control of the Congress party and the fraying UPA coalition. She refused to resign, forcing the Congress to make a dramatic volte face, from bragging about how it secured the resignations of Shashi Tharoor, Suresh Kalmadi, Andimuthu Raja and others caught in one or other controversy, to rallying around the impugned chief minister. Ironically, the BJP had forced Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyyurappa to resign only so it could confront her.
Both Shunglu Committee and CAG Report brought the spotlight of corruption on Sheila Dikshit who was in-charge of the major expenditure, totalling Rs 16,560 crore on just eight city projects (including the sub-standard Barapullah flyover). Both found that the Delhi government overspent and wasted money by manufacturing an artificial crisis of deadlines by delaying the start of CWG-related projects till literally the last three years of a seven-year timeframe. This led to ‘emergency’ decisions, compromising cost and quality.
Though a full year has not passed since the Games were held, a drive through Games-related areas shows pot-holed roads, bumpy flyovers, crumbling pavements and chipped tiles, dead or dying plants on road dividers and the peculiar green net and stakes installed to hold the plants spilling out on the roads, creating a traffic hazard. They should be removed without further ado, before they cause accidents like the utterly ill-conceived and murderous BRT corridors. The BRT corridors – another money-making consultant-driven scheme – need to be ripped up, not extended. Even if workable in theory, the Metro makes them redundant.
In this writer’s mind, the most evocative image of the Commonwealth Games concerns the collapse of the new foot over-bridge near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, just 12 days before the inauguration ceremony, critically injuring several workers. PWD minister Raj Kumar Chauhan (recently indicted by Delhi Lokayukta but protected by his boss), glibly asserted that the structure collapsed because the pins were not secured properly. Then Urban Development minister Jaipal Reddy said, “This is a minor incident. The Commonwealth Games will not be judged by this.”
But Ms Dikshit took the cake. Stupefied citizens saw her on television, brushing aside the media with Antoinette-like memorable words: “The over-bridge was for spectators, not for the games officials or the athletes…” Did she mean she could bump off spectators, ordinary citizens like us? She got away with it because the Prime Minister appealed to let the Games happen for the sake of the nation, and old fashioned nationalism carried the day. But in those heady months of untrammelled power, Dikshit merrily spurned the Commonwealth Games Federation’s screams over the state of the Games Village, even as the filth of the residential towers became an international scandal.
Actually, the Commonwealth Games was from inception a non-government entity. Bizarre as it sounds, it was the brainchild, not of the then ruling party, but of the then Leader of the Opposition! This explains much of the confusion in execution, and the ability of the London-based Federation to covertly foist Mr. Suresh Kalmadi as chairman of the Organising Committee, keeping governmental supervision at bay (to its own regret).
The Delhi government’s functioning was opaque; selection of consultants arbitrary; standards and specifications amenable to instant modifications, and budgets eminently stretchable. The CAG found overspending of over Rs. 100 crore on streetscaping and beautification alone, with average cost for projects pegged at Rs. 4.8 cr/km. By contrast, a four-lane national highway costs Rs 9.5 crore/km; railway tracks come at Rs 4.1 crore/km!
Money was made on street lights (forget the contract to a disqualified firm). Violating norms, tenders were restricted to manufacturers of luminaries of international repute and higher financial eligibility, keeping competition restricted. MCD allowed deviance from design specifications in lighting standards, leading to larger number of poles and luminaries on certain roads and avoidable expenditure. Bids were altered in Phase I and II of tendering, again escalating costs.
The CAG found that the chief minister ordered imported lighting equipments in Type A and Type B roads, and indigenous lights for Type C roads. Besides creating a caste hierarchy of city roads, she permitted a huge cost differential which benefitted two private firms. One firm imported luminaries from a Gulf country at the rate of Rs 5,440/unit while charging Rs 25,704/unit. Worse, the chief minister imperiously ordered ripping out all tiles installed in Connaught Place as she did not like the colour!
If Dr Manmohan Singh wishes to restore public confidence in his government, he must give the CBI a free hand to investigate the chief minister, her erring colleagues and protégés, and bring them to book. We must know if we are a free country or a banana republic.
The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com
Courtesy: The Pioneer
Scam and the Whistle-blower
July 30, 2011 9:21:57 PM
2G Spectrum Scam
Author: Subramanian Swamy
Price: Rs 595
Subramanian Swamy not only throws light into the 2G scam, but also provides some solutions to prevent a scam of this magnitude to happen again, says Rajesh Singh
Of the many politicians who have taken up the task to bring the perpetrators of the 2G scam to justice, Subramanian Swamy stands out for his doggedness and an almost missionary zeal. He did not stop at merely stirring the murky pot and pursuing the matter in the courts; Swamy has now written an exhaustive account of the scam. While the massive irregularities the Telecom Ministry indulged in during A Raja’s tenure as Union Telecom Ministry is now all in the public domain, and whatever is not known will be out in the course of the investigations, the book is relevant for two reasons: One, it is a valuable reference material for academics, commentators and students of contemporary subjects; and, two, it raises larger issues of governance in an increasingly industrialised nation, where narrow materialistic considerations threaten to outweigh the larger national good.
The author takes us into the frightening reality of how corrupt the country is perceived by international agencies and the general causes of the malaise. From fudged accounts of corporate entities to the generation and siphoning away of black money to the role of illicit funds in promoting terror activities, he gives us a quick take on the vast and seemingly unmanageable problem. Towards the end, Swamy suggests a national policy to counter it. This would involve the integration of “spiritual values and organisational leadership”. He lays emphasis on the incorporation of the “evolved youth” in the plan since that alone could create a “modern mindset”. But for that to happen, as he rightly points out, there will have to be a greater accountability in governance — something that the political class talks of a lot but does precious little to execute. What remains unsaid, therefore, is that such a national policy will not be forthcoming unless the people, especially the youth, compel the Government to respond.
The author has relied on a heap of material that has emerged through the investigations, including the various correspondences among Ministers and Government officials on the subject. Again, while they are all known, they help in maintaining the focus and keep the issue in perspective, highlighting the callousness of those in power in allowing the scam to take shape. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s observations, too, have been used extensively, and rightly so, because it is the CAG findings that officially set the ball rolling for a probe, involving the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Bureau of Investigation. The latter had been rather reluctant in fully involving itself till the Supreme Court cracked the whip.
The large canvas of the scam included a number of personalities and institutions, and the author has done well to approach the issue in an uncluttered fashion. He has neatly categorised the important developments, such as those involving CAG, the Public Accounts Committee, the Radia tapes and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. He has also provided a chronology of the event dating from September 24, 2007, to January 25, 2008 — the time when the Telecom Ministry took the stand that no application under the Unified Access Services (UAS) would be accepted after October 10, 2007, to the questionable issuance of those licences. Swamy puts on record that then TRAI chief Nripendra Misra had said that the Ministry had never sought the authority’s views on grant of new licences. This is important since the Government has been saying that it had complied with TRAI guidelines. In fact, TRAI also took the position that its opinion should be sought even if the Telecom Ministry issued fresh licences under the existing policy. Misra had also warned the Government against what is now famously quoted as “cherry picking” of the recommendations the Authority had made on the matter of issuing licences.
A great deal of what the book contains will sound familiar to the regular readers of The Pioneer. The daily had been the first to break the 2G scam through a series of articles beginning 2008-end. For more than 18 months, The Pioneer continued to publish one informed expose after another, detailing the murky business of the 2G deal. The end result was that the authorities, compelled by the exposes and driven by the Supreme Court, had to take finally note and act.
There are many heroes in this tale. While Swamy is certainly one of them, he has been quick to acknowledge the others, particularly the whistle blower, Ashirvatham Achari, without whose cooperation the scam would have remained buried in the sands of time. The Pioneer correspondent J Gopikrishnan doggedly pursued the story, flinging aside temptations that were laid his way by those who wanted the matter forgotten. He is the other hero the author names.
While the probe is now on track and there is hope that the guilty will be eventually punished, the fact remains that a scam of this magnitude can happen again. The book provides some solutions to prevent that, but it is for the political class to wake up and recognise that. Meanwhile, we need more such whistle-blowers, news correspondents and activists.