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Why does the IAS Association defend HC Gupta but not Ashok Khemka?

Our second piece on this ghastly caterwauling over ex-coal secy HC Gupta.

The fervent defence of former Coal Secretary HC Gupta seems to be taking India into dangerous waters.

India’s Prevention Of Corruption Act, 1988 should be amended, wrote Partha Sen Sharma, a serving Indian Administrative Service officer in The Times Of India on Tuesday, to “make it mandatory to prove pecuniary benefit to a civil servant before he can be implicated in criminal liability”.

Sharma is not the first person to articulate this demand. In the last two weeks, ever since the former coal secretary HC Gupta, currently under trial for his role in the captive coal block allocation scam, told the special CBI court that he wanted to withdraw his personal bond due to financial difficulties, a clutch of serving and retired IAS officials have said that a quid pro quo – a favour or advantage granted in return for something – needs to be established before a bureaucrat can be put up on trial.

Take former cabinet secretary BK Chaturvedi. In a column titled “Civil Servants Bear The Brunt Of Corrupt Governance”, a sentiment that India’s poorer millions would probably have sharp words about, Chaturvedi wrote: “Unless there is clear proof of mala fide decisions made by the officers and clear benefit received by them, criminality cannot be assigned.”

These are problematic suggestions. If accepted, they will result in a dramatic reduction of the bureaucracy’s accountability to the rest of the country.

What the people defending former coal secretary HC Gupta are not telling you

Last week, former Coal Secretary HC Gupta surprised everyone in the Central Bureau of Investigation Court. He intended to “face trial from inside the jail” and withdraw the personal bond he had submitted in order to obtain bail, he told Special Judge Bharat Parashar. Gupta is an accused in several coal block allocation cases relating to corruption. On being asked why, Gupta said he was in financial difficulties, struggling to even engage a lawyer.

The news triggered a minor furore – especially amongst the bureaucracy. The IAS Association announced it would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to communicate, as the Indian Express said, the duress officers will be “under if “honest decisions” are construed as mala fide.” “There can be errors of judgement in the course of work,” said secretary of the Association, Sanjay Bhoosreddy. “But that does not mean there is any criminal intent or quid pro quo.” Subsequently, news reports and op-eds – like this and this and this – also warned that the court’s decision to charge Gupta might paralyse the bureaucracy.

On the whole, it seems that both the IAS Association and the people defending Gupta need refresher courses in both accountability and the captive coal block allocation scam.

while in ET, my friends john samuel raja, avinash singh and i had taken a close look at the coal scam. it was educative then. and it is educative now. at that time, we got to see some of the processes damaging india up close. right now, it is a window seat to a different process — on the contest between those wanting to deliver justice and those trying to thwart it.

Every business in Punjab leads back to an Akali Dal leader (well almost)

out today, our sequel to the previous story on why healthcare is underfunded in punjab.

Industry is fleeing Punjab – an investigation by Scroll.in found a growing number of companies have shut down or are planning to set up newer units outside the state. Among the reasons cited by businessmen for the exodus were the bribes they claim they are compelled to pay to politicians belonging to the ruling Akali Dal.

But rent-seeking is not the only way Akali Dal leaders are strangling industry in the state.

Over the past decade, Punjab has seen a handful of players come to dominate what earlier were fragmented industries composed of hundreds of small companies. This consolidation happened in a bewilderingly diverse set of industries, including stone crushing, sand mining, cable distribution, liquor distribution and bus transport. Most of these new, big players are alleged to have links to the Akali Dal.

How do so many industrialists get into the Rajya Sabha?

Vijay Mallya’s flight to England has opened up a veritable can of worms. Every day there are little-known strands coming to light about his business and personal life, from the giant loan defaults to the marquee properties. What is not being discussed as much is his political life and the conflict of interest.

The chairman of the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines has been a member of the Rajya Sabha since 2002 and is a member of the Consultative Committee for the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Standing Committee on Commerce. The committee oversees India’s aviation ministry. Its responsibilities include vetting bills drafted by the ministry, and evaluating its demands for grants.

A seat on the panel gives Mallya “access to information, and an unfair advantage to influence policy”, said former Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, calling this “a serious conflict of interest”.

There have, of course, been numerous such instances of conflict of interest in recent years.

The question is: how do these emerge. How do so many bizmen get into the Rajya Sabha? Once in, how do they land up in the Parliamentary Committee of their choosing?

Part 3: How Odisha squandered valuable mineral resources without any gains for its people

In Unchabali village in Odisha’s Keonjhar district, a massive house is under construction atop the ridge that looms over the village. It belongs to the local MLA, Sanatan Mahakud. Given his zealous security guards, you cannot give the sprawling complex the close attention it deserves, but as you drive by, you see a temple coming up inside the complex, stonemasons chiselling away at idols in the shade of a tarpaulin, and a three-metre-high boundary wall with large statues of gods and goddesses plastered onto it.

Mahakud is a rich man. As the previous story in this series reported, his assets have grown by 1,700% between 2009 and 2014. Drive down the hill and you are in Unchabali. The village is an odd amalgam of large, brightly painted mansions with trucks parked outside and broken-down earthen houses with tiled roofs and muddy courtyards. The government middle school has 144 students but just four teachers – two of whom are matriculates. Here, and in two neighbouring villages, people complain of grinding poverty, lack of work, and the threat of violence towards anyone who speaks out against the local MLA.

This pattern – islands of affluence in an ocean of penury – is something that you see across Keonjhar.

The third — and concluding — story in our series on the mining boom of Odisha.

Part 2. Meet the Odisha MLA whose assets grew by 1,700% in five years

Travel around the district of Keonjhar and you hear stories of the MLA who distributes money among his constituents every month. Elected as an independent candidate in 2014 from Champua constituency in the heart of Odisha’s richest iron ore-rich belt, Sanatan Mahakud distributes anywhere between Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 to more than half the families in his constituency.
Just as strikingly, Mahakud funded the election campaigns of a clutch of other independent MLAs contesting elsewhere in Keonjhar. According to press reports, these candidates – who spent a lot on their campaigns – were presenting themselves as Sanatan Mahakudna Samarthita Prarthi, or Sanatan Mahakud-backed candidates.
Mahakud can evidently afford the largesse. According to his election affidavits, his assets have grown from Rs 3 crore in 2009 to Rs 51 crore in 2014 – a growth of 1,700% in five years.
Today, Mahakud is the unquestioned king of Keonjhar. But it wasn’t always so.

and, sigh, one more lal thanzara story

In a decision which underscores the impunity India’s political leaders enjoy, the Congress party’s Mizoram unit has chosen tainted state minister Lal Thanzara as its candidate for the bypoll in Aizawl North constituency on November 21.

and, then, an excellent development. Pu Vanlalvena, the Mizo National Front Youth leader who took on Pu Lal Thanzara over these complaints of corruption, decided to stand against him. Game on.