The lid on illegal sand mining in TN might finally be lifted (but perhaps for the wrong reasons)

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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.

Questions the CBI should answer before closing its probe in the Jindal coal block case

Even under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, the Central Bureau of Investigation’s inquiries into the captive coalblock allocation scam continue to be half-hearted. In the latest instance, as the Indian Express reported on April 2, India’s apex investigating agency has closed its probe into how former Congress Member of Parliament Naveen Jindal’s Jindal Steel and Power Limited landed the Ramchandi Promotional coalblock in Odisha.

This was one of two blocks allotted by the previous United Progressive Alliance government – not for captive use – but to convert the coal in these blocks to oil using a technology that had never been used before in India. The other block was North of Arkhapal Srirampur in the same state. It went to Strategic Energy Technology Systems Limited – a joint venture between India’s Tata Group and South Africa’s Sasol, an energy and chemicals company.

Controversy surrounded these allocations from the start.

And so, it is surprising to see the CBI’s explanation for wanting to close the probe. This, of course, is an old pattern. Back in 2014 too, the CBI was closing coal cases with gusto. See this. And this.

Explainer: Why #PanamaPapers is just the tip of the iceberg

The leak of information from the database of Mossack Fonseca, the giant law firm headquartered in Panama, is a reality check.

Not because the information, which went public in India late Sunday night, exposes over 214,000 offshore companies typically used as structures to evade taxation connected to people in over 200 countries.

Or because its dragnet includes 140 politicians and public officials including the president of Argentina, the king of Saudi Arabia, the children of Nawaz Sharif, folks close to Russian president Vladimir Putin, and more.

It’s daunting because – for anyone trying to understand black money flows – it is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

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.