Thursday, September 28

Punjab reeks of corruption

Kuldip Nayar

The latest World Bank Report places India almost at the bottom of corruption-free countries. It has the distinction of being 124th. If a similar study were to be undertaken in India, Punjab, I am sure, will rank at the end of the list. The entire state is reeking of corruption and, practically, none in the government is above suspicion.
In fact, as the Assembly election is approaching - scheduled for the next February - the scandals are increasing in number and gravity. No criticism is making any difference. The furor over the report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India rapping the Punjab government for misappropriating rural development cess had not lowered when the Ludhiana City Centre scam hit the headlines.
In the first case, a sum of Rs 935 crore was reportedly misappropriated. Where it was used and how was not known. But the cess was not utilised even for drought relief activities. The expenditure amounted to Rs 340.57 crore for the kharif season. The Centre bore the burden. The Comptroller and Auditor-General used strong words: "Audit found no evidence to indicate that the amount collected as rural development cess was utilised for the specified purpose".
In the second case, the bungling runs into crores of rupees. The Ludhiana City Centre is spread over 20.55 acres in the heart of the city and is meant to provide 200 shops, corporate offices, art galleries and a five-star hotel. The manner in which allotment has been sought to be made has raised suspicion. According to one estimate, the loss to the state will amount to Rs 500 crore.
The rules, it seems, have been blatantly changed to accommodate those who apparently have paid money in black. The space has been sold by taking 70 per cent of the payment in bulk, depriving the government of its legitimate share.
The state government has ordered an inquiry. But when the state itself is in the dock and when one minister is being named, the CBI should look into the case. This demand has been rejected for obvious reasons. The state?s own investigating agencies do not evoke the confidence which the inquiry of this type should do.
Another example of underhand dealings is the land given to Reliance. It is worth crores of rupees. The state has violated all procedures in allotting it. The State-owned Punjab Small Industries and Export Corporation (PSIEC) has been "forced" to sell the land at a very cheap rate. An English daily from Chandigarh has claimed that it has the proceedings of the Punjab Cabinet meeting of June 25 where the proposal of giving 325.57 acres was approved. The land has been given at the industrial reserve price despite the fact that industrial activity is nowhere visible.
The question is not only about the violation of rules on the allotment of land to a particular party but also that of the government's involvement. Cabinet meeting proceedings make it clear. It is strange that the Congress high command, which is aware of it, has kept mum. The state Congress is not happy over the attitude of the High Command but does not dare to open its mouth.
The several instances of the state government?s role make one wonder if New Delhi is really interested in stalling scandals or pursuing them to make sure that such things do not recur. A former Congress chief minister made me wiser the other day when he said that the state Chief Ministers had to send money to the Congress organisation at the Centre for running the party in the country. If this is correct, the state is only doing what it is supposed to do.
Probably, Punjab is overdoing it. Without transparency - it holds good for all political parties - corruption cannot be stopped. And there is no hope that any political party, including the Congress, will ever agree to such money transactions which are open.
The widespread corruption is, however, affecting Punjab considerably. Very little money is available for the state's development, particularly in the field of agriculture. Yields are falling because of various factors and the biggest one is that the money allocated for the purpose is generally not reaching the field. Farmers are the victims. There is hardly any farmer who is without debt.
The CPM organised a protest early this week and stopped some trains. The party's demand is to have a law to waive farmers' loans which total Rs 25,000 crore, the highest in the country. I do not know why the party is not pressing the Manmohan Singh government which is in power because of the CPM support.
Farmers in Punjab are really in a bad shape. The survey made on the "suicide of farmers" has shown that 2000 cases were in Punjab alone. The slogan to have agriculture as the priority at the recent Congress Chief Ministers? conclave is alright as far as it goes. But words do not produce foodgrains. What is required is concerted hard work which the feuding state government cannot organise.
Whenever I return from travel through Punjab, I feel pessimist because people are losing hope in the government. They wonder if it can retrieve them from the miserable situation in which they are caught. Mere rhetoric is not enough; they want results.
I wonder that if the Punjabis outside Punjab can do well in every field, why they are lagging behind within the state. The Punjabis outside Punjab should also think seriously about how to help the people in Punjab. They cannot let their own state, Punjab, wallow in poverty and debt.
Checking with some well-to-do Punjabis in Delhi, I find that their worry is the ever-increasing corruption in the state. Maybe, the inhabitants of Punjab should set up vigilance groups at the district level to ensure that public funds do not find their way to personal pockets which are deep.
Punjab has spent a long night in the midst of militancy. Wounds are far from healed. Corruption at high places may again put people in the throes of desperation. Seventy per cent of youth, particularly in the countryside, are drug addicts.
And their eyes are fixed on some place outside India because they feel there is no other way out of the difficulties they face. Corruption at the ministerial level has made them feel still forlorn and lonely. They need the governance to be clean and transparent. This is not much to ask for.

1 comment:

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