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Lokpal Bill & CWG Sleaze:CRUSHING INDIA’S CONSCIENCE, by Poonam I Kaushish, 6 August 2011 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 6 August 2011

Lokpal Bill & CWG Sleaze


By Poonam I Kaushish


Politics is the last refuge of scoundrels. This truism was starkly exhibited on the political theatre last week. Twice over, when the Lokpal Bill and the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report on the CWG scam was tabled in both Houses of Parliament. Both standing testimony to how our netagan trample all over India’s conscience! 


In the first, notwithstanding that the Government kept its word to Anna Hazare and tabled the Lokpal Bill it presented such a watered down version which does nothing for curbing statutory corruption by our politicians, babudom and judiciary. Thereby, underscoring our polity’s best known secret: Ingenuity to collectively close ranks to insulate themselves from prying eyes and being accountable to the aam aadmi.


Bereft of anti-graft venom it has kept both the Prime Minister and the judiciary out of the Lokpal’s purview. On the Prime Minister’s exclusion our powers-that-be offered a puerile explanation that there could be “pitfalls” if this were done. One, it could have adverse effects on the stability of a Government and would lead to uncertainty. How?


What happens if the PM is corrupt and enjoys a majority in the Lok Sabha. Can Parliament afford to remain a mute spectator if a PM is accused of any wrong doing? If we adopt the Government formula of the PM being investigated once he demits office, then a PM can make money hand over fist and continue to lord over a corrupt regime. The PM is only primus inter pares, first among equals, so why special treatment?


Significantly, in a radical innovation, the Bill forbids the Lokpal to register any FIR without first giving a hearing to the accused. This is contrary to the general criminal law under which the police are obliged to register a case on the basis of an FIR. Worse, the Bill stipulates that the Lokpal, on completing investigation, should give another hearing to the accused before filing a chargesheet in court. This is again a gratuitous safeguard.


Equally absurd, the Bill provides that a cross case could be filed against the complainant and he would be liable to be punished severely if the complaint was found “false and frivolous or vexatious”. The supreme irony lies in the provision that the minimum jail term for a “frivolous” complaint is two years, while the public servant in the event of conviction for corruption could get as little as six months.


More shocking is our sarkari mai-baaps brazen reaction to the CAG’s report on the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Astonishingly, the Congress without blinking an eyelid masterly trashed the CAG’s brutal indictment of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for the appointment of Suresh Kalmadi as the Organising Committee Chief, it’s "best” Chief Minister Delhi’s Sheila Dikshit, Union Sports and Urban Development Ministry, Delhi Lt Governor, Delhi Development Authority etc for massive wastage of public money in organizing the games.

“The report findings are of normal administrative nature which may be found to be unacceptable by the Court. They are not a ground for Dikshit to resign. The CAG’s objections do not automatically lead to this kind of thing``,” defended the Union Law Minister Khurshid. Cooed, the Chief Minister, “When the CAG report goes to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) whatever departments are asked to come before it and answer any query we will cooperate with them completely and fully.” Sic. No matter that the games tab rose 15-fold to Rs 18,532 crores in 7 years.


The report running into nearly 743 pages is a sordid saga of free-for-all hustling of Rs.35,000 crores that vanished into the pockets of the politico-officer nexus. It underscores the "active involvement of Delhi’s Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit for rabid favouritism, whimsical decisions and adopting an inconsistent process to ‘favour’ particular bidders. There are numerous instances of ‘single tendering’ and the awarding of contracts to ‘ineligible vendors’.


This is not all. She has been blamed for causing the Treasury Rs. 31 crores in losses by approving inflated contracts in street lighting, ill-conceived and ill-planned street-scaping that caused wasteful expenditure of Rs 101 crore, financial irregularities in the purchase of low-floor buses, construction of bus shelters and the LED light panels used on the buses, over Rs 2 crore in the granite colour for the face-lift of Connaught Place et al.


Most scandalous, is the arraignment against the PMO for appointing Suresh Kalmadi as the CWG OC Chairman in 2004 and giving him wide-ranging powers despite strong objections from the then Sports Minister late Sunil Dutt, his successor Mani Shanker Aiyar and other leaders. This is not all. The PMO ignored complaints of Kalmadi turning the OC into a body without accountability to the Government.


Instances of nepotism and bias by Kalmadi’s OC are a plently, particularly in rigging of bids, gold-plating and sanctioning of projects not needed at all, fake completion certificates etc of games venues, infrastructure, city upgrades, selecting surfaces for athletic tracks, hockey turf and badminton courts. More, cash payments were made to select vendors by the OC to avoid a transaction trail. All game for wealth!


Further, the Kalmadi-centric OC re-tendered the catering contract in 2010 despite his officers warning him that it would have disastrous consequences. He also did not put this up for approval of the OC or its Finance Committee. Against a commitment to get Rs. 1780 crore income, his OC recorded total committed revenue of just Rs. 682 crore of which only a mere Rs. 440 crore was realized. Resulting in losses to the national exchequer and leading to the Government raising taxes to make up for its revenue loss.


Clearly, India needs to take a leaf of Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption. Set up in 1974 to rid the island of heady sleaze and stymie growing discontent it adopted a three-pronged strategy. By setting up three departments: operations, corruption prevention and community relations to develop public consciousness against fraud and making people realize that corruption was a high-risk crime and if caught would land one in jail. It set an example by arresting 200 policemen in the first year alone. Today Hong Kong prides itself for rigid accountability and transparency.


Today, the aam aadmi’s patience in accepting corruption as a way of life is waning fast. The issue is not whether Shiela Dikshit resigns or the CBI files a case charge-sheeting her, but that people are no longer willing to mortgage their conscience to corrupt and tainted leaders. Whereby, they cannot allow myopic partisan politics to recklessly play havoc with the country’s future. No longer will India and its people remain silent.


In the ultimate, given our acute governance and leadership deficit, widening trust chasm between the Government and the public and spreading revulsion, our polity needs to introspect. They need to get rid of crony capitalism, the passionate and scorching liaison between our polity and industrialists. Enough is enough. The time has come for our leaders to wake up from their deep slumber of self-conceit and deception and hear the voice of democracy, the aam janata  who knit the fabric of India into a whole. Will they heed? ----- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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