Vinod Rai, the nation’s conscience keeper, failed in safeguarding PSBs 

Arun Jaitely had constituted a Banks Board Bureau (BBB) under the chairmanship of Vinod Rai, who was given the task of addressing the deficiencies in public sector banks

Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images
Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images
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Faraz Ahmad

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley finally broke his silence the other day on the bank scams now assuming epidemic proportions what with every billionaire of India running away with the tax payer’s hard-earned money from the banks while the ordinary citizen is made to suffer doubly first by refinancing the looted banks from his legitimate savings supposedly safely deposited in the banks and then being persecuted if there is any delay in repaying our debts.

Be that as it may, the erudite Finance Minister who has spoken on every subject under the sun, except the bank scams since the news about the Modis and Choksis fleeing the country after cheating Punjab National Bank of several thousand crores, finally made his first public statement on the subject. But, as expected, not in front of the media but the annual meeting of the Association of Development Financial Institutions in Asia and Pacific.

With more skeletons tumbling out of the public sector banks’ cupboards, the scam appears to be touching somewhere around ₹60,000 crore by now.  Jaitely conveniently shifted the blame on to the shoulders of the bank employees (easy targets), chartered accountants and other internal and external auditors for being unable to check
such frauds.

However, he conveniently omitted naming any of the players in the act, be it Nirav Modi or Mehul Choksi or Vikram Kothari et al and last but not the least his close confidant and old trusted friend, the former Comptroller and Auditor General  Vinod Rai. You may wonder where does Vinod Rai figure in here? He does. Because in February 2016, exactly two years ago, Jaitely constituted a Banks Board Bureau (BBB) under the chairmanship of Vinod Rai with the specific task of addressing the deficiencies in public sector banks and suggest ways and means to set these right. He was to suggest reforms to clean up the banks whose non-performing assets had been piling up, becoming a major source of embarrassment for the Modi/Jaitely duo.

It is amazing that a person who proclaimed himself as “not an accountant” but a “conscience keeper  of the nation” did not have the temerity to check the frauds happening right under his nose in the banks and presumably failed to bring it to the notice of the Finance minister to take urgent corrective measures. Nor did he care to raise the stink he did when he surreptitiously leaked the CAG report on 2G spectrum to the BJP  much before the Government tabled it in Parliament, to stun the UPA government.

It is unlikely that in these two years, Vinod Rai’s hawk eyes failed to see the frauds he was tasked to look for. Therefore the issue is why did he fail? Is there a quid pro quo? The only plausible explanation is that he could see that the bank officials were not
distributing these largesses to these billionaires merely on their own but at the instance of or with the full knowledge and consent of the highest in this land and Vinod Rai much obliged to Jaitley and Co. and politically inclined towards a saffron hue, deliberately chose to look the other side.

In 2010 when Vinod Rai’s masterpiece on spectrum sale by the UPA had created a national and international sensation where he had alleged a scam to the tune of ₹1.76 lakh crore and the BJP went to town daily holding press conferences castigating Manmohan Singh’s government, I had reminded the then BJP spokesperson and the current the Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, of yet another CAG chief TN Chaturvedi, who had similarly created a sensation in the Bofors gun purchase in the 1980s bringing disrepute to the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, ruining his credibility, even though nothing came of it eventually. But Chaturvedi was handsomely rewarded first with two terms in the Rajya Sabha and then as Governor of Karnataka.  I asked Prasad to reassure the nation that Vinod Rai would not be similarly rewarded with lucrative offices and perks for doing the needful for the BJP. Prasad got extremely angry and refused to answer my question. But what I apprehended then came true soon after when Rai was appointed by Jaitely as the chairman of BBB where all the top brass of all the PSBs are beholden to him.

Soon after, perhaps it was just a coincidence or maybe not, in January 2017 he was also appointed the chairman of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) with the specific task of cleaning the Augean stables. Then Rai had succeeded BJP MP and a protégé of Jaitely, Anurag Thakur, who was the president of the BCCI and had to be literally pulled out by the scruff of his neck and thrown out of BCCI office by the Supreme Court for sitting over a pile of dirt and yet thumbing his nose at the Supreme Court and the former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha who found gross irregularities and financial bungling in the cricket body.

Not just Thakur but Jaitely himself was under a cloud in the cricket circles for presiding over a thoroughly corrupt Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) for 13 years. His party colleague and one time text cricketer Kirti Azad had leveled serious allegations against Jaitely.

Azad, with one-time cricket star Bishen Singh Bedi by his side, held a press conference to make his allegations and was promptly suspended by his party. But then the instances of corruption in BCCI, where Jaitely was an important player, and his own DDCA, were too evident to be overlooked. In fact these were not even denied, except that it was all laid at the doorstep of a junior official who was made the proverbial sacrificial goat.

Vinod Rai has been heading the BCCI for more than a year and all seems to have gone right just by changing a couple of office bearers. No need, I presume, to look into the past of BCCI or DDCA? No cause to notify the scams and scandals in the Public sector banks. And why bother? After all this is not some “corrupt UPA government, it’s the
holier than thou saffron brotherhood, who can commit no wrong!

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