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Checking corrupt practices

Sadly, words do not match the actions on the ground.

Checking corrupt practices
While the Prime Minister is busy claiming that he has launched a crusade against corruption, on closer inspection the aggression seems to be missing on the ground. From a small office staff in a municipality making file noting of births and deaths to even a Chief Secretary of a resource-rich state can easily escape the loopholes available aplenty in the Indian administrative system. In the end, the Prime Minister's "Maan Ki Baat'' sounds empty. The fault lies with the system that has developed since India won Independence. In a well-distributed power structure a Prime Minister can set the agenda but how it is carried out depends on the functionaries at different tiers of governance.
The problem is reforms, even if it is aimed at punishing the guilty, must start at the bottom as strongly as it is propagated from the top. Given the labyrinth of the bureaucratic process, it does not happen. Take a recent news item from Jharkhand. This relates to the politically high profile "chara ghotala'' where money was siphoned off from the treasury. A former Chief Secretary of Jharkhand is in the dock and marks his presence in the voluminous photographs splashed in media. What escapes attention is that the current Chief Secretary of the state Rajbala Verma, as per media report, was guilty of dereliction of duties. As Deputy Commissioner of Chaibasa, CBI found that Verma did not submit reports of accounts to AG of then undivided state of Bihar. This helped hiding the fraud from the auditors. In 1998 CBI asked for departmental action, one of major punishment, on her. Since then reportedly 30 reminders have gone, with the case never been taken up. Rajbala Verma rose to the rank of Chief Secretary and is due for retirement in February 2018. This is how the high and mighty escape punishment for dereliction of duty.
Evidently, the case illustrates how the collusion among the fraternity helps breed corrupt practices. Clearly, as a junior officer, Rajabala Verma felt obligated to her seniors and avoided following the due procedure so as to help her seniors in swindling the exchequer, as subsequent court judgments proved. She could effectively stall action on the basis of CBI report with similar fraternity support. The same milk of fraternal love perhaps encouraged Verma to suppress many misconducts by her friends in the cadre. A case in point is illegality in Kathautia coal block in Palamau district which was allocated to Usha Martin Ltd, a Kolkata based company in 2003. This allocation was later cancelled by the Supreme Court by its order in 2014 and subsequently, it was allocated to Hindalco through e-auction. It was alleged that there had been illegal acquisition of forest land around the Kathautia coal block when the mine was first allocated. This could take place with the connivance of the officials of the district. In fact, when the issue first came to light, after the mine was reallocated to Hindalco, a revenue official was suspended for facilitating illegality in the mine. The illegality was noticed when Hindalco went ahead to work on the mine. This has created a problem for Hindalco which won it following a transparent system but is now caught in the mire of past illegality.
A six-member committee went through the complaints against the illegalities committed and found that the then Deputy Commissioner, Puja Singhal, was prima facie guilty of dereliction of duty and in October 2015 even prepared a charge sheet. Singhal is currently Secretary, Department of Agriculture in Jharkhand. Despite the matter reaching Supreme Court, the strong fraternal feeling has shielded the officer. In the volumes of files neatly bound in red tape in India's corridors of powers, there are, it will not be wrong to assume, millions of such cases where the guilty go unpunished. Not only that, the hard-earned taxpayers' money goes into defending the guilty in India's courts. No wonder to a common man the well-meaning " Maan Ki Baat'' sounds hollow for no fault of the leader himself.
Take another shadow area of the economy – the banking sector. Arun Jaitley, the Finance Minister, proudly claimed (Millennium Post, January 3, 2018) that "Most NPAs result of bank loans before April '14". Clearly, the smart communicator conveys his Herculean effort to clean the Augean stable left by the previous government. This is yet another instance where more is hidden than exposed in bank balance sheets. Apparently, the Finance Minister is not briefed on how much money was lent by banks in order to stop loan accounts turning NPA. According to RBI circular, a loan turns non-performing when interest or principal repayment is delayed beyond 90 days. The thumb rule is suitably reshaped to meet different kinds of advances. What does a bank do to avoid an NPA situation? Simple, they lend more money. Any inquisitive researcher can access a company's board discussions and find out how banks take care to infuse fresh funding in order to enable the potential defaulting company fund its repayment schedule. If the Finance Minister wants us to believe that this was the practice when UPA was in power, he is wrong; there are glaring evidence of the banks indulging in "evergreening'' of accounts well within the tenure of the present government.
There are many other cases of nepotism as well. In one particular case, it was seen that banks were lending money to a company which was manufacturing computers to help it meet the order book. Effectively the company was having orders on paper only since the indirect tax department of the state found out there was no additional tax paid from the reported additional order. Evidently, there was collusion with bank officials to siphon off funds. It is futile to shut eyes and claim that this had happened earlier and does not happen now.
Corrupt practices which have burdened Indian economy seem to be going on unchecked despite the best efforts from the top. Unless the political leadership everywhere is alert, the sincere efforts of the Prime Minister will not translate into the desired action. In the end, " Maan Ki Baat'' will remain handles for humour on social media.
(The views are strictly personal.)

Sugato Hazra

Sugato Hazra

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