A sessions court in Patiala on Tuesday sentenced former chairman of Punjab Public Service Commission Ravi Sidhu to seven years rigorous imprisonment, along with a fine of Rs 1 crore in the infamous cash-for-job scam that was unearthed by the Punjab Vigilance Bureau in 2002.
Investigators had caught the errant official red-handed in Chandigarh, while accepting a bribe of Rs 5 lakh from an excise inspector in lieu of nominating him to the Punjab Civil Service. Both participants in this exchange had reportedly struck a deal worth Rs 35 lakh. The investigators had also unearthed Rs 8.16 crore during a raid they conducted on Sidhu’s bank lockers in April 2002.
The biggest fallout of the scam, however, was that the state government was forced to cancel the recruitment of 639 persons, who had been selected during the errant officer’s tenure. The cash-for-job scam in Punjab is reminiscent of the current corruption saga unfolding in Madhya Pradesh. The multi-billion rupee scam in the latter relates to the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board, which is responsible for conducting tests for admission into the state’s medical colleges and for recruitment to government departments.
An investigation into the case has implicated numerous officials and politicians, including the State Governor and his son. Even Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s name has done the rounds after senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh submitted a 15-page affidavit before Justice Chandresh Bushan-led Special Investigation Team (SIT), constituted by the Madhya Pradesh High Court. The current scam unfolding in the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board and the indictment of a former Punjab official presents a pathetic picture of how state-level institutions induct their cadre.
One can only imagine the level of competency available in state institutions, if someone has to pay a bribe worth Rs 35 lakh for a job in the state civil services. Somewhere along the line State governments will have to fix their institutions, especially after the Centre decided to give away a large share of its tax revenue to them. Questions, however, remain whether they possess the requisite political will to tackle high-level corruption. This judgment should serve as a reminder.