HOW long do we have to put up with a government which does not seem to care two hoots for corruption? Are we to understand that when Ketan Desai president of the Medical Council of India (MCI) was reaping bribes by the hundreds of crores of rupees, the Ministry of Health was not aware of it? Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is reported to have said that “despite my clear directions to the Ministry, MCI, DCI and managements of medical and dental colleges, unscrupulous elements continue to operate at various levels promising permission to medical or dental colleges”.
To say, as a Minister is reported to have said, that the MCI being an independent body, the government has no control over it, is to disown all responsibility for good governance. If any Medical College or a private University running a medical college was not willing to give a minimum of two crore rupees for recognition, Desai and his cahoots were quick to refuse accreditation to it and never mind if hundreds of students suffered thereby and gross injustice was done. One university refused to oblige Desai, who made life very difficult for it. Reports go that denied the mandatory bribe, Desai was willing to go easy if, at least, an honorary doctorate was bestowed on him. Even that, apparently was denied him by the University concerned. The crores that Desai has amassed have now been revealed. Are we again to presume that nobody else benefitted from Desai’s largesse? Meanwhile, another-and possibly even worse-scandal has been unearthed by a TV channel, Headlines Today which reportedly obtained transcripts and audio recording of taped conversations between two concerned parties.
As MJ Akbar, writing in Deccan Herald (May 10) commented, the Channel “has honoured the profession of journalism by doing the story”. The story is that of a “middle woman” on the payroll of some of the most important corporates in contemporary India”, “both those with a tradition of grease and those with historic claims to probity and a Minister “an intimate associate of the Karunanidhi family” who were frequently on the phone. Their talks were taped by Income Tax authorities who suspected the lady of tax fraud. The IT authorities reportedly had “formal permission” of the Home Secretary to tap their phones and the Manmohan Singh government was aware of the nature of the telephone talks. According to MJ Akbar, the government response “was to harass and transfer the officials as it sought to protect politicians.” Par for the course.
The rip-off in which the Minister was concerned is said to be of the order of over Rs 60,000 crore, which is just unbelievable. Akbar adds: “The unambiguous fact is that (Dr Manmohan) Singh and Sonia Gandhi were aware of this, but chose silence because the price of disclosure would have been the collapse of government. DMK has levelled a cash pistol at the head of government and the head has nodded in acquiescence because the alternative was to watch its brains being blown up.” This, of course, raises the question of tapping phones. Given the situation in contemporary India, one would imagine that phone tapping by authorities is not only legitimate in the greater cause of establishing justice, but imperative as well. And, one may argue, if tapping phones is excusable under such situations, what is wrong with opening private mail? It is in this connection that one is reminded of an editorial written in The Free Press Journal (May 26, 2009) exactly a year ago. Welcoming the fact that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has put his foot down against “ostensible corruption and wrong doing” the paper said it was his constitutional prerogative not to hand over the Ministries of Communication and IT and Shipping, Surface Transport and Highways to A Raja and TR Baalu because “the two DMK ministers who had held these portfolios had brought much odium to the first UPA government. Raja alone, the paper said, “had pursued such rotten policies that the collective loss to the national exchequer alone is said to be about Rs 50,000 crore”. The nation has no relief.
As early as September 25, 2008, The Free Press Journal quoted a former Central Vigilance Commissioner, NN Vittal as citing how the Benami Transactions Prohibition Act that had been passed had remained inoperational. With that scenario, said the paper, “it causes little more than a ripple when global watchdog Transparency International rules India to be 85th in the integrity index of the world”. An RTI filed by The Times of India has revealed (May 5) that governments headed by leaders of various parties have withdrawn criminal cases against 51 political leaders in the past ten years. That says it all. The latest information is about an air hostess making a crore of rupees; reportedly some official is involved. What on earth has happened to our Indian Administrative Service? A book published a couple of years ago, entitled “Governmint in India” made the point that “a reference has been made in many places about the steep fall in standards of probity and integrity among the higher civil devices” and “it may not be possible to dispute this with any conviction”. That is a sad comment.
One understands that the Right to Information has, according to The Hindu (May 12) “begun to roll over Indian babudom”. That is a healthy development. Attention is drawn to the fact that The Indian Express “has scooped significant stories using the RTI Act and recently published the entire lot of letters exchanged between Ms Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh over the term of the first UPA government”. This suggests that the media should be spending a lot of time going through government files starting with August 15, 1947 which may unearth fascinating information hitherto not available not just to the media but to historians as well. We learn that meanwhile there are plans to restrict access to information though several amendments to the RTI Act. The Hindu (May 6) has strongly objected to it. It would seem that no less than Sonia Gandhi is against the amendments. If that is so, she deserves to be congratulated. There has to be transparency in government in the interests of good government. According to one amendment, if a request for some particular issue is seen as “frivolous or vexatious”, that right can be negated. Asked The Hindu: “Who is to decide what is vexatious or not?” Good question and no doubt the Lok Sabha will see to it that such amendments are dropped. Wisely.