By Harshmeet Singh
If there is one thing that our politicians have been consistent with over the years, it is scams! The astronomical figures attached to each scam ensure that the last scam is forgotten as soon as the latest one hits the headlines. With the former PM Manmohan Singh being summoned by the court as an accused in the infamous ‘Coalgate’, let’s take a step back and revive some of the most disgraceful scams in the history of India.
Commonwealth Games scam
Expected to highlight India’s might and top class arrangements, the 2010 Commonwealth Games were marred with controversies right from the word go. Last second arrangements, shady infrastructure, irregularities in billing and over-priced purchasing of equipments were the stand out features of the games. Among other exorbitantly priced logistics were $2 toiler paper rolls that were billed at $80 and altitude training simulators which were billed at $250,190 against their original value of $11,830.
The Chairman of the CWG Organizing Committee, Suresh Kalmadi came under fire from all quarters. He was arrested in April 2011 for awarding the TSR (Timing Scoring Result) system contract to a Swiss company at a highly inflated cost. A CAG report pegged the exchequer’s loss at over Rs 2,300 crore. It comes to a loss of over Rs 191 crore per day of the games!
Just to put this loss figure into perspective, the entire cost of the Bandra Worli Sea Link project was Rs 1,600 crore!
2G spectrum scam
Never before was a scam of such exorbitant proportions heard in India. The erstwhile telecom minister, A. Raja decided to allot 2G spectrum licenses on ‘first come first serve’ basis to favour a select few companies. The entire allocation process was marred by a blatant abuse of rules at every stage. The licenses in 2008 were awarded at 2001 prices to further please the companies involved.
The sensational Radia tapes where Nira Radia, a well known lobbyist, was heard talking to a number of well known business leaders and politicians regarding the 2G spectrum sale further dragged major telecom companies including Reliance and Tata into the controversy. The CAG’s loss figures for the 2G scam stood at a whopping Rs 1,76,000 crore!
Fun Fact- This amount is good enough to develop more than 13 Terminal 3s at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi! The T3 remains the 8th largest terminal in the world.
Just when we thought our politicians only fool the people, we were greeted with the fodder scam, where the politicians made money at the expense of livestock. Spanning over several years, the scam involved a number of high profile politicians and bureaucrats. A group of suppliers in the animal husbandry department, consisting of highly placed Government officials started submitted highly inflated bills for livestock’s fodder and medicines. The actual supply of fodder was either much less than billed or zero.
The scam came out in the open after the then CAG, T.N. Chaturvedi, noticed a delay in monthly account submissions on the part of Bihar state treasury and brought this to the notice of Bihar CM, Chandrashekher Singh. The entire scam was valued at Rs 950 crore!
The fodder scam bit Lalu Prasad Yadav twice. The original scam ended Lalu’s stint as the Chief Minister of Bihar. And now, after the judgement of the CBI court in 2013, Yadav lost his Lok Sabha seat as he was sentenced for 5 years imprisonment. Based on the order of the Supreme Court, it also prohibited Lalu from fighting any elections for 6 years after the sentence.
As opposed to some other scams where the CAG estimated the ‘loss to the exchequer’, in this scam, Rs 950 crore went straight into the pockets of the people involved!
Stamp Paper Scam or Telgi Scam
Since the Government authorities were quick to identify fake notes in the market, Abdul Karim Telgi came up with a unique idea to make money – printing counterfeit stamp papers! So immaculate was the quality of his stamp papers that his clients included banks, share broking firms and insurance companies. As expected, a number of government officials were found to be involved in the scam. Telgi was sentenced for 30 years and 13 years rigorous imprisonment for two separate aspects of the case.
The case took a sensational turn when Telgi was subjected to a narco-analysis test where he named NCP Chief Sharad Pawar and former Deputy CM of Maharashtra, Chhagun Bhujbal as his accomplices. The entire scam was valued at Rs 60,000 crore!
Rs 60,000 crore is more than 14 times the funds allocated to the Delhi Metro in the Union Finance Budget 2015!
One of the most high profile scams in the Indian history, the Bofors scam unsettled the entire political settlement at that time. India was seeking to acquire 410 ‘155 mm field howitzer guns’ from its Swedish manufacturer, Bofors. The news of the scam broke out in 1987 when Swedish Radio alleged that kickbacks (commission) were paid to a number of officials in order to procure the order from the Indian Government. The men in question were Italian businessmen Ottavio Quattrocchi and Rajiv Gandhi. Quattrochi’s proximity with Rajiv Gandhi made him a powerful figure in New Delhi.
Due to the high profile nature of this case, the CBI had to face severe pressure during the investigation process. Despite several high profile names coming up during the investigations, none was held accountable for the scandal. Quattrochi, the main accused, died in 2013. It was reported that Rs 64 crore were paid in kickbacks by the company to procure the order from the Indian Government.
Harshad Mehta Scam
Harshad Mehta was once considered a ‘Rockstar with a golden touch’ in the Indian stock market. Mehta’s activities in the stock market gave him the name ‘Big Bull’. His list of scams brought forth the inefficiency of the Indian banking system and the Bombay Stock Exchange. Mehta arranged fake bank receipts and convinced the banks to trust him with ‘ready forward’ deals and invested huge sums in the stock market.
One of the most sensational moments came when he told the media that he had paid Rs 1 crore to the then Prime Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao, a charge vehemently denied by Rao. The entire scam was valued at Rs 5,000 crore!
The Hawala scandal
Hawala scandal was one of the most high profile scams in the country at that time involving politicians across various political parties. A number of highly placed leaders were accused of receiving bribery worth US $18 million from 4 hawala brokers. Some of the politicians whose name came up included L.K. Advani, V.C. Shukla and Madan Lal Khurana. Allegations of money being routed to militants in Kashmir further sensationalized the case.
Despite much furore, no one was convicted in the case. The CBI was bashed by the Supreme Court for its inefficient investigation into the different aspects of case.
Had there been no scams
Imagine an India with 13 more T3s, 20 more cities with metro train facilities, Government schools with proper infrastructure and much improved railway facilities. The gargantuan amount of money that has been lost due to these scams over the years could have provided for all of that. While each scam leaves behind it a new learning, we would be well served if these learning come at a lower cost to the nation.