Friday December 15, 2017
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From Bofor’s to Coalgate: 20 more cities could have had metro trains if India was scam free

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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.

Fodder Scam

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.

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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!

Bofors Scam

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.

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Government to pay Rs 50,000 per month to athletes under TOP scheme

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New Delhi, Sep 15: The sports ministry announced on Friday that it has accepted the Olympic Task Force’s recommendation of providing a stipend of Rs 50,000 per month to the elite athletes preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Asian Games or the Commonwealth Games to meet pocket expenses.

“The Government has selected 152 elites under Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme. All the athletes will get benefit from this decision. The stipend will be paid with effect from September 1, 2017, the ministry said in a statement.

Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore also announced the decision on Twitter. “MYAS @IndiaSports announces Rs 50k/month pocket allowance for 152 elite athletes preparing for Tokyo/CWG/Asian Games. Athletes first, always!”

“The allowance applies wef 1 Sep 2017 & is purely for pocket expenses of elite athletes. Committed to providing all resources to our champions”

The ministry is getting in touch with all the athletes selected under the TOP for their training and competition exposure plan and any further assistance required for preparation for prestigious competitions.

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Has PM Modi’s initiative to stall corruption made the grade in 365 days?

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By K.R. Sudhaman

The Narendra Modi Government has completed one year in office on May 26 this year and during this period, there have been enough moves by the NDA Government to remove corruption from the administration. One of the 2014 Lok Sabha election promises was to root out corruption and bring back black money stashed abroad. Modi Government, in one year, certainly has not ended these two major evils that have been afflicting Indian economy right from independence, but the measures taken so far, have given enough confidence to the people that the new Government is serious in rooting out corruption from the administration.

There are no short-cuts. But even skeptics cannot deny the fact that there are no 2G, Commonwealth games or coal scams during the last one year and it goes to Modi’s credit that his image is not tarnished unlike his predecessor Manmohan Singh, who despite being honest, seems to have done very little to stop mega scams running into lakhs of crores of rupees right under his nose.

No one can dispute the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has begun in right earnest to make the system transparent as we have seen in recent coal auction or the 2G spectrum auction which together fetched a little over Rs 3 lakh crore to the exchequer, which would also be shared with states where the coal mines are located. Modi may not have fulfilled his promise to put Rs 15 lakh in every bank account holder by bringing back trillions of ill-gotten money stashed abroad, but he has certainly made some beginning to ensure Swiss authorities cooperation to get into the bottom of some of the black money stashed abroad.

Corruption is deep-rooted in the country and various studies show that at least $8 billion, inflation indexed, is siphoned off every year and one estimate suggests that over $620 billion has been siphoned off since independence due to ambiguity and loopholes in policies, which is a major breeding ground. Transparency International has estimated that the black money stashed abroad by Indians could be as high as $1.4 trillion including the ill gotten money secured in major scams, which surface periodically like Bofors, Jaguar and other defence deals besides mega scams like coal and 2G.

The money that is siphoned off in scams is no doubt large but the money made in petty corruption is not smaller though they are not stashed abroad. The money made through corruption starting from driving license, MNREGS, PDS system, subsidies, public procurement, bribing lower staff to push files, paying money to taxmen for getting their returns scrutinized and securing genuine refunds, real estate registration, bribing the cops for traffic and other violations and so on, hit hard the common man most and stunts economic development. The parallel economy, which could be as much as 50 per cent of GDP contributes greatly to inflation, delay in decision making and at times stalls development activities because some vested groups are not able to make money.

Business guru C.K. Prahalad had estimated that India lost at least $50 billion worth of investments annually because of corruption. This is because corruption made investors change their mind in investing in the country. It is well established that lower the corruption like in Singapore, higher and faster is the economic development.

India is not the only country which has high rate of corruption, the problem is there in other emerging economies as well, but the type of corruption that exists in India afflicts day to day activities more and perhaps drastically slows down bureaucratic decisions leading to huge time and cost overruns in projects.

Corruption might not be the only factor but certainly a contributory factor for the huge number of projects stalled in the country. At one point of time during UPA-ll, as much as Rs 18 lakh crore worth of projects were stalled. Lately, Modi government has ensured that these stalled projects start moving, as some of them were held up because of corruption.

According to Coal and Power Minister Piyush Goyal, the transparent coal e-auction, which has potential for Rs 3.35 lakh crore revenue going to coal bearing states, especially in eastern India, will help greatly in reducing corruption.

Modi has already decided to crackdown on corruption and his office has directed all central departments on time-bound action within 60 days to enforce rule of law. Ministers have been asked to sanction prosecution or order disciplinary action within 60 days against officials found to have indulged in corruption or misconduct respectively, after vigilance inquiry.

In sectors and services where public interface is high or which impact the daily affairs of the masses, the direction is that there should be zero-overhand of license or other application beyond a prescribed time period. These instructions are fine. But the question is how far these would be implemented by the concerned agencies in right earnest.

The new Government has to be really strict to enforce its instructions. One of the reasons for policy paralysis during the second half of UPA regime was because government officials did not want to take any decision for the fear of being accused or prosecuted at a later date. So they used to keep on pushing files after seeking some clarifications. This ensured that they are not accused of not working but at the same time ensured no decision was taken.

The PMO has also instructed officials to identify and crack down on areas where middlemen were suspected to be operating. In an open letter to the nation to mark the completion of one year in office on May 26, Modi said his government has acted to tackle “unabated corruption”. Uncompromising adherence to the principle of purity, in action as well as intent only ensures corruption-free society.

More time is needed to judge whether these have helped in reducing corruption. One area where government should concentrate is bringing about systemic changes and automation, which would help in minimizing corruption if not eliminate it. For example computerization and automation of railway ticketing has virtually eliminated touts and reduced corruption to a large extent. But there are several other areas in railways where corruption is rampant like contracts, catering, procurement, scrap disposal and so on, which are not yet fully transparent.

Smart cards in metros have virtually eliminated ticket-less travel. Likewise digitalization, a pet subject of Modi, will minimize corruption in movement of files, tenders and so on as it would introduce transparency.

The root cause of corruption in this country is that too many people are chasing too few things, so without progress and honesty among politicians and business cutting across all parties, corruption will remain. Complicated laws too, add to the problem as they lead to discretionary powers with politicians and bureaucracy, a breeding ground for corruption.

Government should also attempt cleaning up of laws including that of taxes, make government procurement transparent and impart moral education to all so that in the long term, India becomes somewhat like Singapore as far as corruption is concerned and day to day life becomes easier. Modi Government has started the process with a great zeal, but it has to be sustained for getting long term benefits.

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Coal Scam: CBI files chargesheet against Naveen Jindal and Madhu Koda

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed a chargesheet against industrialist Naveen Jindal and 14 others in Amarkonda Murgadangal (Jharkhand) coal block allocation case.

The chargesheet also includes the names of former Jharkhand Chief Minister, Madhu Koda, ex-Minister of State for Coal, Dasari Narayan Rao, and ex-Coal Secretary, H.C. Gupta.

CBI said today that the former Congress lawmaker, Jindal, indulged in a conspiracy with top government officials including Dasari Narayana Rao to hook a coal field in Jharkhand in 2008.

As a part of the inquiry, CBI also raided Jindal’s house and offices of Jindal Steel and Power Limited.

Last year, the Supreme Court of India cancelled almost 200 coal fields allocated by successive governments since 1993. The court said that the fields were illegally allocated without indulging in any transparent bidding system.

Comptroller and Auditor General of India said in 2012 that Rs. 1.86 lakh crores had been lost because mining licenses had been circulated to private firms in a process infested with misdeeds.

Since then, the under-priced sales of coal blocks came under the scrutiny of CBI.