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In the season of scams, how will govt stem the rot?

December 01, 2010 19:47 IST
A whole raft of politicians have been named in various scams.

How many of them have been adequately punished?

How many of them are being investigated, asks T V R Shenoy.

'Our moral universe seems to be shrinking.' -- Sonia Gandhi.

Whether or not you agree with other statements by the Congress president you cannot argue with her over this one.

The politician. The bureaucrat. The businessman. The judge. The soldier. The journalist (much as I hate to admit it). In this season of scams some representative of each of those professions has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

It would be wrong, however, to paint with too broad a brush. I sincerely believe that the judiciary and the army seem most inclined to take corrective action against their own errant members.

General Vijay Kumar Singh, the current chief of staff of the Indian Army, has been blunt about the scams that have plagued his organisation. If 2010 began with the Sukhna Land Grab making news the Adarsh Scam has caused even greater embarrassment as the curtains descend on the year.

We do have some reason to believe General Singh. He was at the head of Eastern Command before taking over his current post, and in that capacity General Singh had recommended action against senior officers involved in the Sukhna scandal. And when asked about his predecessor, General Deepak Kapoor, writing to the chief minister of Haryana to plead for personal favours, the chief of staff forthrightly said he should not have done so.

I believe the senior members of the judiciary are equally sincere about cleaning up the mess in its own ranks. 'Something is rotten in the Allahabad high court,' Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra declared bluntly on November 26, 2010.

'Some judges have their kith and kin practising in the same court, and within a few years of starting practice, sons or relatives of the judges become multi-millionaires, have huge bank balances, luxurious cars, huge houses and are enjoying a luxurious life. This is a far cry from the days when sons and relatives of judges could derive no benefit from their relationship and had to struggle at the Bar like any other lawyer,' their Lordships said.

I wonder if the Supreme Court had another high court, that of Calcutta, in mind when they penned that searing stricture. Justice Soumitra Sen may be impeached as a committee set up by the chairman of the Rajya Sabha has found him guilty of misappropriating large sums. The head of the three-man committee was Justice B Sudershan Reddy of the Supreme Court.

Let us, however, keep some sense of perspective. The sum involved is Rs 3,322,800. That is more money than the average Indian shall ever see, but it amounts to less than one third of one crore (Rs 10 million).

The market value of a single flat in the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society has been estimated at eight crore rupees (Rs 80 million). And do I really have to remind readers that the Comptroller & Auditor General has estimated the losses in the 2G scandal at over Rs 176,000 crore?

There is also no certainty that Justice Soumitra Sen shall actually be impeached by Parliament.

Justice V Ramaswami of the Supreme Court was accused of corruption in 1993; the motion failed in the Lok Sabha because of the 401 MPs present and voting as many as 205 -- all from the ruling Congress or its allies -- simply abstained. 196 MPs voted in favour of impeachment -- not a single vote was cast against the motion -- but the law says that two-third of those present in the House must be in favour of the motion to impeach.

In the seventeen-and-a-half years since that day there has not been a coherent explanation as to why the Congress abstained. If they thought that Justice Ramaswami was innocent they could have voted against the motion, could they not?

Be that as it may, I raise the issue only to point out that impeachment is by no means a certainty even where Justice Soumitra Sen is concerned. (Assuming, of course, that Parliament ever functions -- as it certainly has not done for the past fortnight!)

The judiciary can expose wrongdoing among its own brethren, but it is up to the politicians in Parliament to pronounce punishment. Just how large is the 'moral universe' of today's political class?

A whole raft of politicians have been named in various scams -- the Commonwealth Games Scandal, the Adarsh Housing Scandal, the 2G Spectrum Scandal, to name but a few. How many of them have been adequately punished? Come to that, how many of them are being investigated?

It is true that A Raja was squeezed out of the Union Cabinet. That was on November 14. On November 23, the DMK organised a function to mark the seventh death anniversary of Murasoli Maran, at which the prime minister was seen patting his former colleague on the back.

Did that open friendliness really send out a message of disapproval?

Nobody denies the culpability of many bureaucrats and businessmen in the shrinking of our moral universe but at the end of the day it is the politicians who set the standard.

That said, I admit that it is human nature to gather around one's own class. The Radia Tapes -- supposedly giving details of journalists acting as go-betweens -- have been available for quite some time, yet we reporters politely ignored the alleged involvement of some of our own. The Editors Guild is now planning to look into the issue, but some of the sheen has come off the media too.

When I came to Delhi 45 years ago -- following a stint in Mumbai -- there was dyarchy of a sort, with Lal Bahadur Shastri as prime minister and K Kamaraj as the Congress president. Today, again, we see responsibility and power split between a Congress boss and the prime minister; having said that there is really no other similarity, least of all in the moral sphere.

'Face the problem,' Kamaraj once told his colleagues, 'Don't evade it. Find a solution, however small. People will be satisfied if you do something.'

What is the 'solution, however small' that Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh offer today to stem the rot?

T V R Shenoy