In Bihar, corrupt babus face the heat

In less than a year, the promise is being fulfilled. Perhaps for the first time in the country, a palatial two-storied house of a senior IAS officer, SS Verma has been confiscated by the government where a school will be opened for the underprivileged children.

Naturally, Nitish is in an upbeat mood. “This kind of stern step was not initiated against any corrupt officer anywhere in the country. But when I first proposed such action (confiscation of property), the doubting Thomases mocked at me. Some said it was a poll promise, never to be fulfilled. But now the truth is there for everyone to see,” said Nitish.

“Let me remind everyone that this is just a beginning. Many other corrupt officers, who are in the vigilance net, will face the same music. The confiscation of buildings will be an on-going process. And I believe it will usher in a social change where the poor and deprived children will get an opportunity to study in a palatial house instead of dilapidated buildings,” he added.

SVU raid

The suspended officer SS Verma, was commissioner-cum-secretary of the minor irrigation department before the Special Vigilance Unit (SVU) raided his residence and unearthed huge unaccounted assets.

The SVU stumbled upon nine kg of gold, one kg silver and Rs 2.58 lakh in cash from the two bank lockers of the official. This included a one-kg gold bar, besides 800 guineas, stacked in one of the lockers of Allahabad Bank in Patna.

The vigilance sleuths, during the raid conducted on his residence in 2007 had recovered Rs 16.50 lakh and 500 US dollars in cash, jewellery worth Rs 4 lakh and papers related to investments of Rs 20 lakh. Together, the total value of recovery made from Verma was around Rs 1.25 crore, far more than the Rs 68 lakh-disproportionate assets (DA) case lodged against the bureaucrat. Though the DA case was registered against him, Verma got relief from the court.

The new law

It was then that the Nitish government decided to give more teeth to the existing law so as to punish such officials. In less than one year since it was conceived, the Bihar Special Court Bill was enacted thereby clearing the decks to net corrupt babus in the state. What was unique about the new legislation was that it gave the state government much-needed leeway to confiscate the property in the midst of the trial.

Till now, unless convicted by the court, the government was not empowered to confiscate the ill-gotten money of corrupt officials. Earlier, it could only suspend the officials apprehended in the trap cases laid out by the Vigilance Department. But these accused still had the backing of money to get the best of legal brains to defend themselves in the court. All this has now changed.

The Special Court Bill was passed by the Assembly in March 2009, but was referred to the Centre as the proposed Act brought under its ambit the Central government employees and officials too.

The matter was kept pending at the Centre for more than eight months despite numerous reminders from the State. Eventually, the President gave her consent to the bill in January 2010. The very next month, the Act came into force.

Verma’s is the first test case. The decision to confiscate the property was challenged by the suspended IAS officer, but the court turned down Verma’s plea for reprieve.

“The impact of confiscation of house will be much more than a symbolic gesture.
It will send a loud and clear message to public servants that buildings and assets purchased through ill-gotten money will not remain with them,” said Nitish, adding that his “war against corruption” began much ahead of Anna Hazare’s anti-graft movement.

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