Corruption in the IAS     

In this extract from the book ‘What Ails the IAS and Why It Fails to Deliver’ the author reveals how a nexus between businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats is developed

Corruption in the IAS      

Naresh Chandra Saxena

The percentage of businessmen-turned-MPs in the Lok Sabha jumped from 14 to 26 per cent between 1991 and 2014—when 143 of the 282 BJP MPs belonged to this category, a record. This reflects the win-win equation between parties and businessmen. On the one hand, parties do not have to pay for the election campaigns of these rich candidates, and on the other hand, these businessmen-turned MPs get access to the corridors of power. This also helps in developing nexus between the business houses and senior officials. We quote below from Jaffrelot’s brilliant paper (2018): “Businessmen-turned MPs not only learn about the laws that Parliament is making to regulate their activities (possibly influence them), but they also come to know the bureaucrats who will implement these rules. They may even recruit them after retirement. A former chairman of the LIC, Sebi and the National Stock Exchange and a former finance secretary were part of Kingfisher’s Board of Directors. Similarly, bureaucrats of the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation, an ex-head of the Gujarat Maritime Board and a former Union home secretary have joined the Adani group. The business houses benefit from the expertise and connections of senior bureaucrats. This means those who aspire to start a private sector career after retirement may not deal with private companies with a complete sense of independence when in office—all the more so as the cooling-off period can be waived on request, as evident from the way the last foreign secretary of India joined the Tata group immediately after retirement. Incidentally, the same argument can be extended to public servants (including judges and bank directors) who aspire for a government appointment (as governor for instance) and may, therefore, lose some of their independence. Another example of nexus between a serving bureaucrat and a leading business house was hinted by Jawahar Sircar, who retired as secretary, Ministry of Culture, GOI, in his paper quoted below: “Senior civil servants—even of the regular variety—have been known to alter government policies to suit certain business interests, even if this causes losses to the exchequer.”

A disturbing piece of news that one hopes is not true is of a just-retired Secretary of the Human Resources Development ministry, who drafted the controversial rules to accord the ‘centre of excellence’ tag to even unborn universities. It is reported that he is currently employed by the same business leviathan that stands to benefit from this rather illogical rule. The media says that the government has been unduly kind in granting special permission to this favoured bureaucrat to serve his new employer before the quarantine period was over. Orwell’s dictum comes to mind, that ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’. After all, the business house is so close to the centre of power. Jawahar hastens to add that such ‘breaches’ of conduct are rare amongst regular civil servants, but may multiply if joint secretaries are recruited through lateral entry from the private sector. He sounds a word of caution against such lateral entry, ‘An occasional breath of fresh air is surely desirable, if one is sure of the quality of “professionals”, not just their loyalty.’ There is a reverse trend as well: if businessmen become MPs and MLAs (even ministers), politicians also become businessmen. As a result, the functioning of the state is affected. Why should rulers invest in government hospitals, schools and the police work if they have privately invested in clinics, private schools and security firms? It is common knowledge that most training colleges offering a Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree are owned or supported by the politicians. Teachers in secondary and upper-secondary education must have this degree, which is typically a postgraduate qualification. Common perception is that one can buy this degree by paying a bribe of 5 lakh rupees without attending a single class! According to Anil Swarup (2019), secretary, GOI, in the department of school education and literacy, of the total 18,000 colleges offering BEd and DEd courses, many guaranteed a degree without attendance or internal assessments, of course for a fee.

Some even guaranteed employment as part of a ‘package deal’. How I Helped a Minister in Making Money? A case of blatant corruption is described below. While working as Secretary, Rural Development, in GOI I wrote the following letter in 1998 to the R. S. Mathur, chief secretary, UP, which is self-explanatory: My dear Ravin, Two days back, I had gone to deliver a lecture at the IIPA, New Delhi for vertically integrated programme of Indian Forest Service Officers (all belonging to UP cadre and working in different districts of UP). During discussions, they complained that in many districts in UP, the Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS) funds are ‘auctioned’ by Collectors and DRDA authorities. Since EAS funds are not earmarked for any particular department and the nature of work is such that projects can be prepared by many departments, such as PWD, Agriculture, Horticulture, Soil Conservation, Forests, Minor Irrigation, etc., there is an informal ‘bidding’ among these departments, and whichever department is able to offer the highest amount of bribe to the Collector, is able to get EAS funds for the project. The bribe money is around 30 per cent of the total funds, according to the participants in the Course. It was also alleged that this money is shared with local politicians, intermediaries and officials of DRDAs. This does not include bribes and commissions which have to be shared internally between different officers of the department that gets the contract. The general feeling among the participants was that between 50–60 per cent of EAS funds are thus spent on bribes and corruption and the real benefit to the people is thus reduced at least by 50 per cent. Since these are very serious allegations, levelled by officers working in the field, I thought I would bring it to your notice. You may like to organise technical teams to do cent per cent verification in a few randomly selected blocks. Yours sincerely, (N. C. Saxena)

This letter somehow got leaked to the press and was published as the front page top news in The Pioneer dated 10 February 1998, with the shocking headline, ‘Corrupt officers auction public funds’. Hitting hard on the system, the article said, ‘This is an auction no one has heard of. The auctioned item here is public funds running into several thousand Crores meant for the use of the rural poor. Both the auctioneers and the bidders are same: bureaucrats and politicians.’ The article also quoted from CAG’s report, ‘the practice of fund auctioning was prevalent in other states as well. In an exhaustive investigation carried out last year, the auditors found that district collectors, BDOs and local politicians have been lining their own pockets with the project funds’. The chief secretary set up an enquiry committee, and after that I lost interest in the case. Till one day, I learnt that the UP minister in charge of the EAS funds was praising me in an informal chat with a friend of mine, and wanted more officers in the IAS to be like me. This was somewhat puzzling as the minister did not have a good reputation as regards integrity. When probed, I learnt that the enquiry had led to suspension of eight officers of the agriculture and soil conservation departments, but within a month the suspended officials were reinstated by the minister who collected a bribe of 5 lakh from each one of them. So, my tirade against corruption made the minister richer by Rs 40 lakh!

Those who were prosecuted

Akhand Pratap Singh: Protected by Four CMs

Though the IAS has become more politicized than it was five decades back, it does not follow that the majority have become corrupt. As stated earlier, the percentage of those who have stashed black money under their pillows may not be more than a quarter of the total. Some colleagues put this number even lower at 15 per cent. It is likely that a much larger number indulges in peccadilloes. Many have not only remained clean but are quite concerned about the general reputation of the service going into mud because of the conduct of a few. Tired of its notoriety for political patronage system, in 1996 the UP IAS Association attempted a contentious clean-up and voted to identify the three most corrupt bureaucrats amongst themselves, offering the administration details of their crimes. Interestingly over time, despite their names being made public and communicated to government, two of them, Akhand Pratap Singh and Neera Yadav, rose to the highest position and became chief secretaries in UP! The common perception in the UP cadre was that the CM deliberately chose them to head the civil service as they would be pliable to political pressures. However, the publicity that this episode of naming the most corrupt ones generated in the media was an important factor why both were later booked for corruption. The bureaucracy–politician nexus is best revealed with all its ramifications in the case of Akhand Pratap Singh who was voted as the most corrupt officer in the state. First, a demand into his assets was turned down by the then Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. Then, Rajnath Singh, the succeeding CM, refused a probe by the CBI. Rajnath Singh’s successor Mayawati not only turned down another request for a CBI probe but also closed the vigilance enquiry against him as well. Her successor Mulayam Singh went further and appointed Akhand as the Chief Secretary in 2003 and later granted him an extension with the approval of the Central government. Thus, four CMs belonging to different political parties shielded Singh. CBI officials carried out simultaneous raids on various premises owned by Singh and his immediate family members on 21 March 2005. Singh allegedly owns as many as 42 properties worth a whopping Rs 120 crore. According to a CBI source, ‘Singh had goldplated taps in his bungalows in various cities across the country.’ With the help of his son-in-law, a senior official in the Income Tax Department, Singh allegedly fudged tax returns and even forged documents to cover up his corrupt ways. Thanks to his influence and money power, Singh managed to evade arrest for over two years, even though the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court had turned down his plea for a stay against his arrest. Singh was indicted by the Supreme Court in 2003 and had to resign from his post as chief secretary. He was charged by the CBI in 2007 with fraud, forgery and acquisition of wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income.

Corruption in the IAS      
Akhand Pratap Singh

Neera Yadav’s Largesse Benefited Politicians

As regards Neera Yadav, she was found guilty by a CBI court in a NOIDA land allotment scam of 1993–1995. She was sentenced in 2008 to three years in jail. This is what Sharat Pradhan wrote about her: “…the officer bypassed all norms when it came to obliging those who mattered with allotment of lucrative plots in NOIDA.” The son of then chief secretary Mata Prasad, who sat on the file on which Vora had ordered a vigilance probe, received a residential plot in a prized NOIDA sector. Two of Mayawati’s brothers were awarded residential plotsin the township. According to the CBI, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Kishinchand Advani was a recipient of her alleged largesse. One of Advani’s kin secured a plot in NOIDA as did Samajwadi Party leader Balram Yadav, a former minister in the Mulayam Singh Yadav cabinet and currently accused of involvement in the multi-million rupee Ayurved scam. Many VIPs bought petty kiosks or tiny shops—juice stalls, paanbeedi shops—to fulfil the eligibility criterion for NOIDA plots. Asks a young IAS officer, ‘Can you imagine a top bureaucrat’s wife being certified as running a juice stall or chairman of the state electricity board running a tailor’s shop?’ Neera Yadav obtained four NOIDA plots for two daughters, her husband and herself. On one plot measuring some 500 square metres in NOIDA’s most expensive sector, a palatial bungalow is currently under construction. The CBI, it is learnt, estimates its cost at about Rs 7 million. It is also alleged that the IAS officer owns property in Bulandshahar, Ghaziabad and Lucknow, besides Bangalore and Bombay. Significantly, the CBI director’s letter claims Yadav—whose husband Mahendra Singh Yadav quit the IPS to become a BJP MLA—owns real estate in London and Glasgow as well. Soon after The Pioneer broke the story, Neera Yadav accused some of her colleagues of having received similar allotments from her predecessors at NOIDA. She also addressed a press conference where she declared that, “I am being framed simply because I happen to be a backward”. This declaration took a bizarre turn when one correspondent reminded her that before she married Yadav she belonged to a Brahmin (Tyagi) family. In December 2010, Yadav was sentenced to four years’ rigorous imprisonment after being convicted of misusing her official position to fraudulently allot land in NOIDA to Flex Industries, owned by industrialist Ashok Chaturvedi. She thus became the first IAS officer of Uttar Pradesh to have been convicted of corruption charge. On 2 August 2017 the Supreme Court of India reduced her sentence from three to two years’ imprisonment in the NOIDA land allotment scam.

Corruption in the IAS      
Neera Yadav

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