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Why aren't Chidambaram and Madhavan Nair treated equally?

February 17, 2012 21:00 IST

G Madhavan Nair is punished and barred from all government jobs. P Chidambaram continues to hold one of the most powerful offices in the government. Is that equal treatment? asks T V R Shenoy.

'Industry, Impartiality, Integrity' runs the motto of the Central Bureau of Investigation.

George Orwell hit closer to the truth: 'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.' Consider the manner in which the Government of India treats Pinarayi Vijayan, G Madhavan Nair, and P Chidambaram, and you will see just how some are 'more equal'.

Pinarayi Vijayan is in trouble because of a contract with the Canadian firm SNC Lavalin, to renovate and modernise the hydro-electric stations at Pallivasal, Sengulam, and Panniar.

The deal was initiated when Kerala's Power Minister was G Karthikeyan, a Congressman. Just months later the Congress-led United Democratic Front government lost power in the 1996 assembly elections, and E K Nayanar's Left Democratic Front ministry assumed office. Pinarayi Vijayan, the power minister in the Nayanar cabinet, was in charge when the final follow-up agreement was signed.

The contract was a mess from beginning to end. It included, for instance, a grant for a proposed Malabar Cancer Centre, which may be fine in itself, but is scarcely in the domain of a Kerala power minister. The Comptroller & Auditor General of India felt the deal cost the public exchequer an estimated Rs 374.50 crore (Rs 3.745 billion).

On January 16, 2007, the Kerala high court ordered a CBI investigation. On January 21, 2009 the CBI filed a progress report, which named Pinarayi Vijayan as the ninth accused. At the same time the CBI informed the court that there was no evidence that Pinarayi Vijayan gained any personal financial advantage from the SNC Lavalin deal.

Let us now turn to the charges levelled against G Madhavan Nair.

In 2005, Madhavan Nair was both secretary, department of space, Government of India, and chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation. On January 28, 2005, Antrix, the ISRO's commercial wing, signed a deal with a private operator named Devas, agreeing to provide spectrum, specifically S-Band wavelength, leasing transponders on two satellites, GSAT-6 and GSAT-6A. This was done without any competitive bidding.

In December 2009, the Indian Space Research Organisation asked for a review of the deal. Antrix sent a termination notice to Devas on February 25, 2011.

Let me make two points. First, there was no loss to the public exchequer because no spectrum was actually given out. Second, B K Chaturvedi, the Planning Commission member who was on the high-powered committee set up to probe the deal, has publicly stated that, 'Prima facie, we found no evidence to show the actions and intentions of the scientists were mala fide,' adding, 'Often, scientists may not know procedures, be careless, wonder why there is need to address bureaucracy.'

Nevertheless, the Manmohan Singh ministry decided to place G Madhavan Nair and three other scientists on a black list, barring them from all government jobs.

Let us now look at how the CBI chose to treat the case of P Chidambaram. Specifically, let us see how the Government of India looks at P Chidambaram differently from G Madhavan Nair and Pinarayi Vijayan.

First, nobody is saying that any of the three men made any personal financial gain from the SNC Lavalin case, the Antrix-Devas deal, or the 2G Scam. That is what is common to the three men, let us now look at where each case differs.

The Antrix-Devas deal was about giving away spectrum at a low price, at a potential loss to the exchequer. The 2G Scam is about giving away spectrum at a low price at an actual loss to the exchequer (until the Supreme Court stepped in).

G Madhavan Nair is punished by being barred from all government jobs. P Chidambaram continues to hold one of the most powerful offices in the government.

Is that equal treatment?

The Manmohan Singh ministry concluded that it had the power to annul Antrix's contract with Devas. The Manmohan Singh ministry refused to cancel the 122 licences given out by A Raja's (until the Supreme Court stepped in).

Is that equal treatment?

The CBI decided to prosecute Pinarayi Vijayan because he was in office when there was a loss to the public exchequer. The CBI decided not to prosecute P Chidambaram even though, during his tenure as Union finance minister, there was an actual loss to the public exchequer.

There is, as I understand it, a significant difference between the Criminal Procedure Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act. The latter holds a public servant guilty of misconduct even if he 'obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest'.

Pinarayi Vijayan is being prosecuted because the public interest suffered in the SNC Lavalin deal. P Chidambaram is not being persecuted despite the public interest suffering in the 2G Scam.

Is that equal treatment?

The Congress was quick to accept the CAG's strictures on the SNC Lavalin deal. The Congress was quick to pooh-pooh the CAG's observations on the 2G loss.

Is that equal treatment?

I am neither accusing nor defending G Madhavan Nair, or Pinarayi Vijayan, or P Chidambaram. All I am saying is that the Congress government should use the same yardstick to prosecute or to pardon in each case.

To quote Orwell again: 'Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.'

You can read more columns by T V R Shenoy here.

T V R Shenoy