Facing the music

OF 'NETAS' & 'BABUS'

Scientists have answered the age-old question — which came first, chicken or egg — by proving that the chicken came first because OC-17, a protein found in pregnant hen is critical to the formation of eggshells. Extending the same logic to our ‘netas’ and ‘babus’ — as to who came first, the corrupt elected political representative or the bureaucrat who errs while assisting him — the answer would be our humble ‘netas’, who turn into high worth individuals as soon as they get their hooks into the system.

On the day of reckoning, however, these generous souls unfailingly put ahead of them the ‘babus’ who did their bidding — sometimes as principal protagonists, but many times under professional and legal compulsions beyond their control. The laws, after all, are the making of the ‘netas’, who can tinker with them at will.

One Katta Subramanya Naidu in Karnataka, an A Raja in Delhi or an Ashok Chauhan in Maharashtra being made to resign for their corrupt actions are only a few exceptions to the general rule. Consider the legions of officers and other government employees, including some long-serving, diligent ones awaiting hard-earned promotion or on the verge of retirement, whose careers get irreparably blotted by the corrupt actions of their political bosses.

While the tainted politicians continue to live in style even after their exit — taking off on exotic holidays until the heat and dust settles, or on pilgrimages as Katta did to invoke divine deliverance from the land scam charges against him — the lesser officer-mortals are left to fend for themselves, evading possible arrest and fearing suspension from service until their names are cleared. The only other alternative for them is to come clean, again at their own risk.

In good faith

Take the instance of the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) and Karnataka Udyog Mitra. The former is a statutory body constituted under a special law — the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development (KIAD) Act, 1966 — and the latter a promoter and facilitator of industrial investments in the state. The KIADB is responsible for expeditiously acquiring land for industrial and infrastructure purposes, forming layouts with infrastructure for the promotion of industries and acquiring land for implementing schemes of government organisations. Thus, the KIADB appears as the epicentre of the serial land scams spilling out of the cupboards of not only the ruling BJP but also that of the preceding JD(S)-BJP coalition and Congress regimes.

But the KIADB gets into the act only after three independent panels — state high level clearance committee chaired by the chief minister, state level single window clearance committee headed by the industries minister, and district level committee headed by the deputy commissioner — have examined the project proposals of  entrepreneurs and cleared them.

Proposals worth above Rs 50 crore are approved by the high level panel, Rs 3 crore to 50 crore by the state level and less than Rs 3 crore by the district level committees.

The Karnataka Industries (Facilitation) Act, 2002, states that these clearance committees are the final authority for granting approvals for industrial projects and such approvals shall be binding on all departments concerned. Section 22 of the Act even provides protection to the chairman, members and employees of these committees for “actions taken (clearances given) in good faith”.

Once the high-level committee approves a project, a government order will emanate from the commerce and industries department, sanctioning infrastructure assistance and incentives and concessions, if any. All consequential orders and notifications will flow pursuant to the GO, within a stipulated period of time.

Section 17 of the 1966 Act also states that the KIADB shall be bound to “follow and act upon the directions” issued by the state government. That practically leaves little or no room for officers to override the ‘directions’ of the ministers, almost always couched in rhetoric such as “in the interest of the state’s industrial development”.

Minister’s overreach

A specific case of a minister’s overreach is the controversial allotment of 325 acres land near the Devanahalli international airport to Itaska software company in August 2006, which is now under the Lokayukta’s scanner. Despite officials’ negative response to the then industries minister (Katta)’s advice to put up the proposal before the high level committee meeting barely four days away, since vital information about the promoters was not available, the minister presses forth. The minister’s contention: since a Tata company (Shapoorji Pallonji) was seeking the same land and the proposal was coming up before the high level committee, in the interest of taking an ‘impartial decision’ both proposals should be taken up at the same meeting. Thus, the Itaska proposal is squeezed in as an ‘additional note’ on the minister’s advice and the company pips Tatas to pocket the land. But the officers who vetoed the Itaska proposal are also now facing the music along with the minister.

Investigating agencies also exert pressure on the officers to squeal. If they refuse, they become suspect in the eyes of the law.

Politicians display admirable selflessness even while ordering probes to unveil the ‘truth’ behind scams. The Justice Padmaraj commission of inquiry recently appointed by the BJP government will be a ‘sweeping’ probe into irregular land allotments by Bangalore Development Authority, urban local bodies and KIADB right from 1995!

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