Soot behind the glitter

Joginder Singh Ji
Former Director – CBI

The UPA Government is not in the least interested to unmask and punish those who have looted the nation in the guise of the CWG 

Our country is very good at conducting post-mortem and locking the proverbial stable door after the horse has bolted. Instead of looking into the Commonwealth Games scams, the PMO has set up a committee headed by a former Accounts and Audit officer who was never an investigator himself. He has been asked to look into the following aspects of the Commonwealth Games:

i) The role and responsibilities of the signatories to the ‘Host City’. Also, to look into the contract and the overall implications of the obligations entered into through the ‘Host City Contract’;

ii) The planning and execution of development projects related to the Games and contracts for service delivery with reference to time, cost and quality;

iii) The issues relating to the effectiveness of the organisational structure and governance for organisation, preparation and conduct of the Games at all levels, including the Organising Committee and its key functional areas;

iv) Weaknesses in management, alleged misappropriation, irregularities, wasteful expenditure and wrongdoing in the conduct of the Games, and, recommending action on the same;

v) The issues relating to financing the Games, including estimates of revenue and expenditure;

vi) The issues concerning coordination among various agencies involved in the development of infrastructure and conduct of the Games;

vii) The role of international/national advisers/consultants/officials of the Organising Committee in the conduct of the Games;

viii) The overall impact of the Games, including legacy for city infrastructure, sports infrastructure and sports development; and,

ix) The lessons learnt for the future, on each of the above, including establishment of a mechanism for laying down timeframes and effective monitoring, creation of a legally sustainable framework for hosting similar international sporting events, appropriate financial management and internal audit, media interaction and communication.

The so called ‘High Level Committee’ has been asked to give its report in three months time. Given the fact that no committee can override the legal mandate of other agencies, the Government has added that the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, the Central Vigilance Commission and other agencies will independently carry out their audit and investigations in accordance with their respective mandates.

The head of the committee, which is not a body created by any law, has been given the status of a Supreme Court judge. At best, it will be a roving inquiry, whose main, but unstated, duty would be to white-wash the misdeeds, as the responsibility, in the final analysis, lies with the Government.

The Government had set up a Group of Ministers, headed by the Union Minister for Urban Development, five years ago. The Minister for Urban Development was made chairman of this GoM because the CPWD, responsible for executing most of the infrastructure projects, reports to this Ministry. This GoM was also supposed to monitor the
preparations for the Games. What did this GOM do during its five years of existence? This question gains relevance in the light of allegations of corruption, gross delays, shoddy execution, etc. The GoM’s work remains a mystery and no Committee or CVC is likely to look into this aspect of the Games.

An even bigger mess has been created by the Government saying that each agency will continue with the duties assigned to it. Corruption, secreting money abroad, paying higher rates, evading taxes, use of sub-standard material and delay in completing projects are all interlinked issues. What is required is a coordinated and a cohesive approach and investigation. A multi-disciplinary team comprising officials of the CBI, Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax Department, Reserve Bank of India, Ministry of Sports, Ministry of Urban Development and the CAG is required. This team should preferably be led by a CBI official as it is the Government’s main investigating agency.

One of the biggest problems facing India is that everybody is out to loot the country with the Government choosing to remain a mute spectator and later wringing its hands pitifully after the money has been stolen. The Supreme Court observed last month that the Commonwealth Games has ‘bred corruption — “Till October 14, Commonwealth is a public purpose; thereafter, everything will become private purpose”.

Declaring that it would not shut its eyes on the “rampant corruption”, the court criticised the Government on its preparations for the international sporting event. “In this country, payments are made without work being done. The newly constructed bridge collapsed like a pack of cards,” the Supreme Court said. “Rs 70,000 crore is involved.
There is rampant corruption. We cannot shut our eyes.”

On October 11, the court observed, “It is very unfortunate that there is no control over corruption in the country. There is rampant corruption, particularly in the departments of Income Tax, Sales Tax and Excise. Nothing moves without money.” In a sarcastic vein, the court asked: “Why not let Government legalise corruption so that a
specific amount is fixed for every case? Let us say if a man wants his case to be settled, he can be asked to pay Rs 2,500. That way every individual will know how much bribe he has to pay. There is no need for any bargaining by the officials and the people will also know beforehand how much they have to pay.”

The result of all this is that our country has slipped to the 87th spot in Transparency International’s latest ranking of nations, based on the level of corruption, with the global watchdog asserting that perceptions about corruption in the country have increased in the wake of the scam-tainted Commonwealth Games. With an integrity score of
3.3, India is now ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world.

Unfortunately, the CWG-linked scams are not the only scams in the country. The problem is that one scam is overtaken by another bigger one, and media’s attention shifts to the new story. For instance, the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam in Mumbai involving thousands of crores of rupees, senior politicians and former Generals of the Army.

Let’s face the stark reality: Our laws are inadequate to deal with the magnitude of corruption and our criminal justice system is too derelict to mete out punishment to the corrupt. For both these grim facts, the Union Government alone is responsible. If the Union Government is determined, it can wipe out corruption from the country. Since there is no such effort, we can only conclude that the Government, notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s promise of adopting a policy of ‘zero tolerance’, is perfectly at ease with the present situation. Corruption doesn’t bother it at all.