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Uttarakhand flood scam: How govt officials made merry over dead bodies

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By Harshmeet Singh

“Nero fiddled while Rome burned” isn’t a thing of history anymore. Some Government officials in Uttarakhand have actually demonstrated the true meaning of the phrase.

If you thought scams worth crores only take place inside closed doors of corporate offices with high level conspiracy meetings, the last couple of days would have come as a major surprise to you. The RTI query filed by Bhupendra Kumar of National Action Forum for Social Justice brought back the memories of one of the most devastating natural disasters to have hit the state of Uttarakhand. Unfortunately, these memories only serve as a reminder of government officials’ affinity towards scams and public money.

In 2013, the flash floods in Uttarakhand claimed over 5,000 lives. The heart wrenching scenes of boulders and water running towards people at a speed of several miles are still fresh in the minds. Soon after the weather cleared, the government machineries and insurance companies got into the act and sent their officials for relief work. As per the reply received by Bhupendra Kumar, these officials stayed in 5-star hotels which charged tariffs in excess of Rs 7,000 per day. If that wasn’t enough, the bills submitted by the officials show half litre milk being purchased at Rs 194! The other delicacies in the menu for the officials included Mutton, cottage cheese and gulab jamuns! These scrumptious meals were served to the officials at a time when thousands of people were stranded without food and water at many places for multiple days.

The other bills that were shamelessly submitted by the officials included diesel bills for scooter and motorcycles! Severe irregularities were also reported in the relief funds given to the people. A number of affected persons were given the relief amount twice.

State’s Chief Minister, Harish Rawat accepted the scam and told PTI, “I have ordered an inquiry into the allegations under the Chief Secretary. I can assure you that not a single guilty officer will be spared. These are serious allegations and if found true most strict action will be taken against the erring officials by the Government,”

Not impressed with Rawat’s statement, Ajat Bhatt, state’s opposition leader remarked, “If the state government has even an iota of morality left in it, it should recommend a CBI probe into the scam and resign owning moral responsibility for the ugly loot of money meant for people struck by an unprecedented tragedy.”

This has further added to the long list of scams under the Congress rule in the past decade or so. Interestingly, many media houses and the BJP have been continuously indicating that the Uttarakhand relief operations are turning into an ideal breeding ground for financial irregularities, but much like the other scams under its Governments, Congress decided to turn a blind eye towards these allegations.

Not the first time!

This isn’t the first instance of officials making merry over dead bodies. In 2004, Bihar was hit by one of the worst floods in its history, which caused close to 900 deaths. An investigation by a leading newspaper revealed that relief funds worth Rs 17 crore were untraceable with no authority having any answers. Gautam Goswami, Patna’s erstwhile district magistrate was suspected to have played a major role in siphoning off the funds. Embarrassingly enough, he was given the title of ‘Young Asian Hero’ by Time magazine for his outstanding contribution in the relief work in Bihar! Goswami died in 2009 due to pancreatic cancer. Among the other people involved in this scam was Sadhu Yadav, Lalu Prasad’s brother-in-law.

Our past experience with the scam gives enough indications about the future course of action. After years of enquiry and tens of charge sheets, a list of accused would come out. And it won’t be before a couple of decades at least that all judicial processes are over. By then, most probably, the main accused would be dead, thus bringing an end to another scam. While there are hardly any precedents to make us think otherwise, it would indeed be a pleasant surprise if, for once, our expectations are defeated and perpetrators are brought to book swiftly!

 

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What Would Be The Outcome Of The Judgement On Homosexuality With BJP At The Centre?

If parties like the BJP and "cultural" organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation.

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Ruling on gays: Is the BJP out of sync with modern realities? Flickr

More than the social impact of the Supreme Court’s judgment on homosexuality, what will be of concern to the ruling party at the Centre is its political fallout. Hence, the eloquent silence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the subject.

For the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), any expansion of the concept of civil liberties is fraught with danger to their restrictive worldviews since a widening of human rights carries the prospect of greater individualism.

If the rights of the homosexuals to live without legal constraints are conceded, it can only encourage the people to free themselves of other restrictions as well such as on choosing live-in partners (of whatever sex) and eating, dressing and speaking as they please.

Homosexuality, India
SC decriminalises homosexuality, victory for gay rights. Pixabay

It is noteworthy that the verdict on gays has come close on the heels of the judgment which described the right to dissent as a “safety valve” which the government can only shut off at its peril lest there is an explosion.

Moreover, the court had also upheld not long ago the right to privacy which the government described as an “elitist” concept.

For the Hindu Right, as also for other religious fundamentalists, this dalliance with civil rights — the freedom to criticise the government, the exaltation of privacy and now the decriminalisation of homosexuality — entails a push towards liberalism and modernism which are anathema to any group which wants the society to be bound by shackles of orthodoxy and obscurantism.

It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.

Now that one of them is gone, there is little doubt that these closet followers of Britain’s 19th century politician Lord Macaulay — even as they decry the secular groups as “Macaulay’s children” — will hold on resolutely to the law on sedition as their only safeguard against the “anti-nationals” who, they believe, stalk the land.

Homosexuality
It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.
Wikimedia Commons

It is also possible that the saffronites will keep a hawk’s eye on any social problems that may arise because of the assertion of gay rights. As the BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has said, with eager anticipation, if a five-judge bench can overturn an earlier judgment in favour of criminalising homosexuality, a larger bench can undo the present verdict if gay bars begin to flourish and there is a rise in the cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections.

Interestingly, what these judgments underline is how the judiciary is more attuned to the changing world than the elected representatives of the hoi polloi who often argue in favour of giving greater primacy to the legislature than the judiciary since they claim to represent the people while the judges are unelected denizens of an ivory tower.

However, one possible reason why MPs and MLAs, especially of the BJP, seem to be out of sync with the present-day world is the presence in their midst of a large number of criminal elements who can hardly be regarded as the most progressive sections of society.

For instance, of the 543 elected members of the Lok Sabha, of whom 186 have a criminal record, 63 belong to the BJP, followed by eight of the Shiv Sena, four of the Trinamool Congress and three each of the Congress and the AIADMK.

Homosexuality
Gay Pride Procession. Pixabay

What the Supreme Court judgment appears to have done is to persuade parties like the Congress, which usually hedges its bets lest it should fall on the wrong side of public opinion, to come out in the verdict’s favour, presumably because it senses that this judgment, more than any other, has become a touchstone in the matter of breaking out from the stranglehold of the past.

To distance a party from it, as the BJP is doing, will amount to virtually alienating the entire youth community. Even if a majority among them do not have homosexual instincts — according to official figures, there are 2.5 million gay people in India, but this may be an underestimate since, till now, it was unsafe for them to reveal their sexual orientation — the youths nevertheless see the ruling as an assertion of living life on one’s own terms and not be held hostage by the dictates of a society steeped in conservatism and of political parties which believe that their agenda can only advanced if the country is made forcibly to conform to khap panchayat-style social and cultural norms.

Also Read: Why JDU & BJP Coalition Will Remain Instant

To these youths, being or not being aware of homosexuality is of little consequence. What matters to them is to be able to make up their own minds and not be told by elders to abide by certain rules which are regarded as outdated by the younger generation.

If parties like the BJP and “cultural” organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation. (IANS)