Friday, July 2, 2010

Disease of corruption: The scale of loot enormous

The Tribune by Inder Malhotra Friday, June 25, 2010, Chandigarh, India
Betrayal of Bhopal and Recruitment Scams
EVEN in the midst of the current rage, recrimination, blame game and damage limitation over the “betrayal of Bhopal” there was at least one other news item that drew attention. The son of the chairman of the Bombay-based Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) and eight others from diverse places had been arrested for leaking the question paper for the all-India recruitment examination to rather petty posts of assistant locomotive pilots and assistant station masters. But such is the state of unemployment in rising India that for 20,000 posts on offer a lakh of aspirants were competing at the Bombay (sorry, Mumbai) centre alone. For the RRB chairman’s son and cohorts this was literally a golden opportunity.

For, according to the Central Bureau of Investigation, they had sold the question paper to no fewer than 444 candidates at Rs 3.50 lakh each! But luck seems to have run out on these suckers because soon after the arrests the relevant examination was cancelled. The Bombay RRB chairman was suspended immediately. But by the time the authorities decided to arrest him, too, he had done the usual vanishing trick.

Only the most na├»ve would dismiss this as small beer, compared with the scale of loot in some other sectors. It is part and parcel of an established, and apparently ineradicable, pattern that extends far beyond Bombay or the railways alone. It afflicts all government agencies and organisations where mass recruitment takes place. A retired high railway officer with whom I discussed the scandal, retorted: “Why should the railways alone be honest,” he asked me with mock sternness, “when every recruit to paramilitary forces and indeed to the police in every state has to buy his way in”?

Can CRPF succeed in anti- Maoist/ Naxal Operations?
This suddenly reminded me that in May last year a massive scam had exploded in the recruitment to the Central Reserve Police Force. The CBI had arrested and produced in a Patna court an inspector-general, two deputy inspector-generals and three battalion commanders of the paramilitary force. The charge against them was that they had extorted from the recruits to their ranks a sum of Rs. 225 crore over a few years.

Some time earlier a chairman of the Punjab Public Services Commission had also been apprehended after several crores of rupees in cash were recovered from his residence. His modus operandi allegedly was to collect from every police inspector desirous of becoming deputy superintendent of police Rs. 2.5 lakh. There was a similar tariff for all other recruitments and promotions. And, with regret and reluctance, I must record that, according to sources most sympathetic to the military, tragically the jobs-for-cash contagion has begun to spread to the army recruitment, too.

Two initial, if painful, questions arise at this stage. If cash is the only or the main key to recruitment, what happens to merit and suitability and, at one remove, the efficacy of vital national organisations? Secondly, and more importantly, whoever has to pay lakhs of rupees to secure a job, won’t he use whatever opportunity that job offers him to amass at least 10 times that amount?

MCI lowers the Nation's Medical Standards
Since the problem is much wider than that of recruitment to the government’s countless branches, let us look at the broader picture. Not long before the railway recruitment scam in Mumbai had come into the open, the startling news of the arrest of the president of the Medical Council of India, Ketan Desai, had burst. He had allegedly demanded a bribe of Rs 2 crore from a Punjab medical college to give it a year’s extension to run a 100-seat MBBS course. The exact amount of Rs 2 crore, neatly packed in cardboard boxes, was seized when a professor of the college concerned was delivering it to a “middleman”.

Dr Desai’s angry and loud denials have yielded place to silence because far too many skeletons have tumbled out of the cupboards of the MCI, the sole controller of medical education until the other day. Alarmed by what had come to light, the government belatedly dissolved the MCI’s executive committee and replaced it by a compact board of governors. Nobody is prepared to explain, however, as to how Dr Desai had been able to run the MCI as a virtual personal fiefdom for so long.

Bureaucrats delve deeper
There has been a cascade of such cases of egregious corruption in recent times but they are only the proverbial visible tip not of the iceberg but of the glacier. For example, the Postmaster-General of Goa was arrested in Mumbai while allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 20 crore. In Bhopal, two relatively junior IAS officers - constituting an enterprising husband-wife team - were also arrested. The cash recovered from their home amounted to Rs 3 crore, and the CBI estimated their total wealth to be Rs 40 crore, an obvious case of assets disproportionate to known sources of income. In New Delhi, a mere police inspector owning assets worth Rs 12 crore was also arrested. But because no charge-sheet was filed against him in 60 days he is out on bail.

Minister Madu Kodu amasses Rs 4000 crore
And this brings me to the incomparable case of Madhu Koda who is alleged to have amassed Rs 4,000 crore (not an amount to be sneezed at) during just two years when this lone independent MLA was the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, courtesy the Congress. Before that he was Mines Minister in the BJP-led ministry, which only proves that the gift of the grab cuts across party lines. If Mr Koda’s case underscores the enormous dimension of amounts involved in alleged graft, it also shows that nothing happens to those in very high positions, no matter how grievous the charges against them. He and his henchmen were arrested more than a year ago. Has anyone heard a word about the progress of this case?

Satyam and Spectrum Scam
The perpetrators of the gargantuan Satyam scam in Andhra were arrested well before Mr Koda. Their prosecution hasn’t begun, nor would it. All such cases routinely disappear in the impenetrable maze that is the politico-bureaucratic-judicial labyrinth. As for A. Raja, Union Minister for Communications, even the most preliminary investigations would not be held into the G-2 Spectrum mega-scam (an estimated loss of revenue Rs 60,000 crore), thanks to the “compulsions” of coalition politics.

Is it any surprise then that corruption in India has become a galloping cancer without cure, and that this deadly disease is steadily spreading to every vein and sinew of the nation?
Disease of corruption: The scale of loot enormous

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