2010: The Year of Treasure Hunters

first_imgT he first Indian to welcome US President Barack Obama at Mumbai airport on November 6 was then Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan. He was sacked minutes after Obama left India because of his direct involvement in the Adarsh Housing Society scam in which flats meant for Kargil heroes and,T he first Indian to welcome US President Barack Obama at Mumbai airport on November 6 was then Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan. He was sacked minutes after Obama left India because of his direct involvement in the Adarsh Housing Society scam in which flats meant for Kargil heroes and widows were virtually stolen by powerful politicians, bureaucrats and defence officers who abetted construction on disputed army land. Chavan’s relatives owned three flats in Adarsh. He was confident that his mentors-a guru, Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, and Rahul Gandhi-would save him. Chavan was self-delusional. It was the judiciary that forced the political class to move. On December 22, a division bench of Justice B.H. Marlapalle and Justice U.D. Salvi hearing the case noted, “Everybody who was supposed to clear a file has been gifted (a flat in Adarsh).” Adarsh was not the only scandal in the Year of the Treasure Hunter. The total loot of the public exchequer in 2010 is estimated to exceed Rs 4 lakh crore. An analysisreveals that real estate is corruption’s biggest cash cow. According to realtors, 60 to 70 per cent of the price of property transactions in all major Indian cities is in cash. A finance ministry report of December 2009 states: “Of the Rs 4,500 crore seized in income tax raids, around Rs 2,000 crore involves land. Politicians are earning money per sq ft of the floor space index awarded to construct buildings. This is a result of commercialisation of politics,” says former Mumbai High Court Judge B.G. Kolse-Patil. The cbi discovered that it was Chavan, who as state revenue minister in 2000 cleared the society’s ownership conditions to admit civilians along with defence personnel, thereby opening up a real estate gold-mine. “The Congress is the fountainhead of corruption in the country,” says bjp leader Rajnath Singh.advertisementIn 2010, allegations of corruption-referred to by Wharton academic Jitendra Singh as “a kind of shadowy market”-were made against the spectrum of the national establishment. Politicians like Chavan, B.S. Yeddyurappa, Suresh Kalmadi and Mulayam Singh Yadav; senior army officers like former army chief General Deepak Kapoor and Major General R.K. Hooda stole the headlines of the year with a glittering cast of friends, mentors and hangers-on from the media and bureaucracy.Chavan’s personal assets run into hundreds of crores of rupees. In his hometown Nanded, Chavan Inc owns dealerships, real estate worth crores, sugar mills and educational institutions. He insists that his commercial ventures are legal and he has done nothing wrong. For a politician who declared his net worth as Rs 24.61 crore  in 2009, india today investigations revealed that the estimated worth of assets held by Chavan and his family amount to much more. “The politicians in the entire country are corrupt. Why talk only about Maharashtra?” says Kolse-Patil. Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray says, “We are facing a challenge to cure the disease of corruption.” Chavan, however, is defiant. “The investigations will prove my innocence,” he says.   The country has got used to the idea of corrupt politicians. It was shocked to learn that officers of the rank of general and admiral were involved in Adarsh. “Here is a man whom we trusted, here is a person on whose orders we were ready to go to battle,â€? said Chief of Staff General V.K. Singh about his predecessor General Kapoor. In his application for a Rs 80-lakh apartment, General Kapoor lied that his annual income was Rs 2.8 lakh while when it was actually around Rs 7.2 lakh. When this application was turned down, the then Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh used his arbitrary powers to clear it. Adarsh is not the only example of Kapoor’s real estate adventures. The Haryana Government gave him a Gurgaon plot for Rs 36 lakh with a lock-in payment period of five years-a knockdown price for land valued at Rs 7.5 crore. In Sukna, West Bengal, army land was allegedly given to builders at throwaway prices. The military court indicted two army officers for this deal-one of them was Kapoor’s staff advisor Lt. General Avdesh Prakash. Kapoor reportedly used his clout to save Prakash from a court martial. The armed forces have earned the unsavoury nickname, the “Harmed Forces”.Real estate besmirched the reputation of Karnataka’s Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa as well. In June 2010, Yeddyurappa was preparing for a spotlight moment, ordering a bespoke Italian suit from Bangalore fashion designer Prakash Lamba as a change from his usual white safari suit to preside over the two-day Global Investors Meet in Bangalore from which he expected to raise at least $66.3 billion as investments for Karnataka. In private, Yeddyurappa was taking decisions that would blow up in his face. On November 17, 2010, Karnataka Lok Ayukta Santosh Hegde announced there was enough evidence to establish a prima facie case against Yeddyurappa. The Opposition released documents-around 2,000 of them-alleging that Yeddyurappa flouted rules to get prime land worth Rs 500 crore allotted to family members; his sons bjp MP B.Y. Raghavendra and Vijayendra became beneficiaries of state largesse after their father became the Karnataka deputy chief minister in 2006. Raghavendra was allotted a government plot in Bangalore under the MP’s quota and paid Rs 10 lakh for the land whose market value was over Rs 2 crore. Yeddyurappa also denotified the Bangalore Development Authority (bda) land which his sons and son-in-law Sohan Kumar allegedly grabbed at throwaway prices. Yeddyurappa’s daughter Umadevi was allotted two acres of government land to set up a bpo. Some of his family members were allegedly allotted five acres in Shimoga to build a hospital, and two acres for a factory in Bangalore. In March 2010, 11 more acres in Bangalore worth crores were denotified in Vijayendra and Raghavendra’s favour against the advice of the bda and the Urban Development Department. Later, his kin returned the land following a judicial inquiry. Five previous chief ministers gave similar deals to their relatives including Dharam Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda’s son H.D. Kumaraswamy who is yet to return the land allotted to him.advertisement”The names of my family members are being dragged into imagined corruption cases to cover up their (Opposition’s) own misdeeds,” says Yeddyurappa, responding to the Opposition’s charges of corruption.The Opposition also alleges that the chief minister took a bribe of Rs 20 crore from the Bellary-based South West Mining Ltd; supporting documents claim that the money was allegedly deposited into the bank accounts of Raghavendra, Vijayendra and Sohan Kumar.If land was exploited by the corrupt, the skies were open to political plunder as well. On November 14, the dmk, unable to withstand the heat from a belligerent Opposition, a hostile Congress and an angry media, ordered Andimuthu Raja to resign as telecom minister. Raja was accused of favouring select telecom companies-Swan Telecom, Unitech, S-Tel, Datacom Solutions, Idea, Spice, Systema, Tata and Loop-in acquiring 2G spectrum licences in a valuation game which is estimated to have cost the country a notional Rs 1.76 lakh crore. “As a lawyer, I will abide by the law, not evade it,” Raja said. His slogan during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls was “Oru kilo arisi oru rupa, oru hello 50 paisa” (One kg rice at one rupee, a hello on the phone at 50 paise). The Niira Radia tapes exposed how much his hellos cost the country. Veteran Congress leader of Tamil Nadu EVKS Elangovan says “Karunanidhi must’ve been aware of things.”In power, there is no free lunch. So what did the telecom companies give Raja and Radia in return of the favours? The CBI and the ed are investigating a money trail that leads to the Cayman Islands, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Mauritius. “Raja represents a front for a number of undesirable organisations. He is a front for anti-national agents,” says Subramanian Swamy, Janata Party president. There may be political exaggeration in the accusation.advertisementRaja stuck to his chair for 400 days after the scam surfaced. A CBI official claims that the minister used this time to manipulate or destroy evidence. No incriminating documents were found when the agency raided his house on December 8. According to one source, documents were also destroyed at Radia-owned Vaishnavi Communic- ations’s office in Delhi. Employees had burned thousands of documents to prevent them from falling into the hands of the CBI. “The Government should constitute an Integrity and Ethics Commission urgently to check corruption and initiate stringent action against corrupt practices,” says assocham President Dilip Modi.The climate of venality spawned a variety of hunters who sought to seize what they could. Public anger began to mount. When Suresh Kalmadi, the most visibly tainted face of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, walked into a Delhi restaurant on a late October weekend, he was surrounded and heckled by diners who called him a thief. The CBI and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) estimate that the 66-year-old Congress Rajya Sabha MP caused a loss of Rs 5,000-8,000 crore of public money through financial and administrative malfeasance. In 2003, the Indian Olympic Association estimated the Games would cost the country Rs 1,620 crore. By 2010, the bill had risen to Rs 11,500 crore. With other additional expenditure, the Games expenditure was estimated to be around Rs 30,000 crore, making the 2010 Commonwealth Games the most expensive sporting event ever. CBI sources says that of the Rs 665 crore spent on overlays, around Rs 200 crore was stolen. Following the CVC report on financial misdemeanors, the CBI raided the ioa offices and arrested close Kalmadi aides T.S. Darbari, Sanjay Mahindroo and treasurer Jayachandran.Some of the statistics are stunning. The infrastructure cost for the cwg was Rs 2,904 crore but Rs 5,503 crore was released. Where did the extra money go? The CVC investigated 16 Games-related projects totalling Rs 2,477 crore and found that corrupt officials and contractors tampered with initially discounted tenders. The organising committee inflated bills by at least 30 per cent. The CBI raided Kalmadi’s residences in Delhi and Pune. “I am innocent till proven guilty. I have not taken any decision alone,” Kalmadi says.Many more careers and reputations tumbled as other skeletons of corruption fell out of hidden closets. In Mumbai, private financier Rajesh Sharma, chief of Money Matters (India), and senior bank officials were arrested in a bribes-for-loans affair. The arrests have made corporate India uneasy. Though the licence raj has ostensibly ended, lobbyists are still needed for project clearances. “We need to be clear about what is defined as corruption. In an economy where competition and enterprise are driven by individual endeavours, and there is no strong government hand, these things flourish,” says P. Shankar Raman, executive v-p (finance), L&T. Following these arrests, the market value of lic Housing Finance shares plummeted from Rs 10,159 crore to Rs 2,365 crore. Investors lost Rs 2,300 crore in a day. “There are enough regulatory bodies in the country but they don’t have the teeth to enforce regulations,” says Richard Rekhy, ceo, KPMG, one of the largest of audit, tax and advisory services firms in the world   There was one unusual instance of corruption. While Adarsh, the cwg and other scams largely involved powerful cabals, Ketan Desai, president of the Medical Council of India, was the lone ranger of graft. His modus operandi was to ask for bribes in return of government recognition for private medical colleges. After the CBI arrested him for accepting Rs 2 crore as payola for one such deal, raids conducted in Delhi, Punjab, Mumbai and Ahmedabad revealed that Desai and his family owned 10 houses, two commercial properties in Mumbai and gold worth Rs 39 lakh.During the Adarsh hearing, Justices Marlapalle and Salvi asked, “Why has no fir been registered except the one on the missing files in the case? Don’t tell us committees will be formed to conduct inquiries. Committees are formed and dissolved, nothing happens.” Nothing happens because a corrupt system closes its ranks to protect its own. India remains stuck in the purgatory of corruption.with Nivedita Mukherjee, Kiran Tare and Nirmala Ravindranlast_img

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