Published On : Mon, Dec 25th, 2017

So, The UPA Government Was Scam-Free, You See Congress party rejoicing – we told you the scam was a figment of the CAG’s imagination!

All those involved in the 2G spectrum scam are celebrating after being exonerated of any criminality by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special court last week. The Supreme Court must now be wondering whether its order on the cancellation of telecom licenses was wrong!

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is on the defensive and being criticised for letting the CBI botch up the case, that too in a matter where the alleged wrongdoings were written about in great detail by numerous journalists.

The Congress party and their supporters are rejoicing – we told you the scam was a figment of the CAG’s imagination!

This tweet by Shankar Sharma goaded me to compile this piece. He tweeted on 21 December that:

This article is not about how the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government managed India’s economy. Instead, it recaps some of the biggest scams under UPA because of which the alliance was known as the most corrupt government in post-independent India’s history. Let’s go.

1. Air India scam

Have you heard of a company that makes a financial commitment of Rs 55,000 crore for purchase of 111 aircraft on an equity base of Rs 145 crore and carry-forward losses of Rs 776 crore (Indian Airlines loss of Rs 957 crore less Air India profit reserves Rs 181) as on 31 March 2006?

One does not need to be an astute businessperson or a banker to know that a company whose net worth has eroded is bound to run out of cash in due course even if aircraft orders were not placed.

As published at that time, “It is now clear the Air India’s financial problems began in 2004 when Praful Patel chaired a meeting of the board in which the airline suddenly inflated its order for new aircraft from 28 to 68 without a revenue plan or even a route-map for deploying the aircraft.”

One can argue that Praful Patel was not the managing director of Air India, but as then minister for civil aviation, Patel has to accept full responsibility.

2. Coalgate, 2012

According to a Times of India report, “In 2004 UPA govt realised that Coal India wouldn’t produce enough to meet demand so it decided to allot more captive mines to private and state-owned players. During 2006-2009 licenses for 75 blocks went to private firms and 70 to govt cos.”

Since coal blocks were not auctioned and allotted in a non-transparent basis, “CAG felt guidelines allowed “windfall gain” to firms that got captive blocks. CAG said “substantial difference” between high market price of coal, sold by CIL and lower cost of coal produced by captive blocks”.

It is important for the CAG to defend its report on the 2G spectrum scam if the institution has to retain its credibility. This is something that the government and the current CAG, Rajiv Mehrishi, must work on.

3. Commonwealth scam, 2010

According to an NDTV report, “The Games spawned a maze of corrupt deals, most of them involving inflated contracts. Instead of selecting companies who offered the best prices, equipment and services were hired from firms who over-quoted. Often, companies who offered better deals were disqualified for inexplicable reasons.”

For example, reports of the Central Vigilance Commission revealed that Suresh Kalmadi, the chairman of the organising committee of the Games, offered a contract of Rs 141 crore to Swiss Timings for its timing equipment, which was higher by Rs 95 crore.

One cannot forget the organisational mismanagement back then, which could have become a national embarrassment.

4. Cash-for-votes scam, 2011

According to an India Today cover story during the Nuclear Vote Bill of 2008, “The Delhi Police officers said they had statements from the BJP MPs to this effect, that Amar Singh had promised them Rs 3 crore each to go against the BJP whip and vote for the motion triggered by a split in the government over the Indo-US nuclear deal.”

The entire operation “was to be broadcast on CNN-IBN whose editor in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai went on air outside Parliament on July 22, 2008, announcing the impending telecast of his scoop. The sting was not shown that day. In the evening, Sardesai went on air again saying he had withdrawn the broadcast in the ‘national interest’”.

It is convenient to forget the past, but can the Congress come clean on this issue?

5. Payment irregularities in rice milling charges, 2015

According to a Business Standard report, “the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has found procedural irregularities in payment of paddy milling charges by the Centre to rice millers across the country between 2009-10 and 2013-14”.

Further, the report showed that “Rs 17,985 crore was paid as minimum support price to farmers during 2009-10 to 2013-14, without verifying whether the same amount was actually transferred to them by the millers, Food Corporation of India (FCI) or state agencies.”

6. Inordinate increase in bilateral flying rights to the UAE and the Jet-Etihad deal, 2013

According to an April 2013 Mint editorial, “That the Indian government was willing to approve an inordinate increase in bilateral flying rights to United Arab Emirates seems to indicate that not much has been learnt from the trenchant criticism by the national auditor of a previous such decision. At that time, the beneficiary of the award of flying rights was Dubai’s Emirates. This time around, Jet Airways and Etihad are the ones with the most to gain.

“Jet Airways had sought additional rights for the next three years to fly 41,600 seats a week to Abu Dhabi, ahead of the deal to sell a stake to United Arab Emirates’ national airline Etihad Airways PJSC, which operates out of Abu Dhabi airport. Following the announcements on the Jet-Etihad deal, the Indian government said late on Wednesday that seats would increase by 36,670 until 2015.”

It might be correct to assume that grant of additional rights was a precursor to the Jet-Etihad deal, one between two private companies.

7. Bandra plot allotment for National Herald was full of violations, according to a Maharashtra government report, 2015

According to a December 2015 report, “A recent report on the allotment of a prime Bandra property to the Associated Journals Limited (publishers of the now defunct National Herald) in 1983 has said rules that required the property to be sold in open auction were violated. Listing at least eight violations, the contents of the report suggest a consistent abuse of discretionary powers in the allotment of the plot.

“The assessment report has been prepared by the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Office after it came to light that this land, measuring 3,478 sq metres, was part of the assets of AJL that have been transferred to Young Indian, the section 25 company owned largely by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi (38 percent each).”

“The instant plot at the time of allotment was shown in residential reservation in the Development Plan. Ignoring this fact, the plot was allotted for commercial purpose.”

To these scams, feel free to add deals pertaining to Tatra trucks, the Scorpene submarine, and Augusta Westland, resignation of former railway minister Pawan Bansal in 2013 due to railgate, and Adarsh society, among others.

As the Congress president, will Rahul Gandhi explain his party’s stand on each of these scams?

This BJP government can be faulted for not getting the guilty convicted. If they do not move quickly, the Congress might, on the strength of the court order, argue that there were no scams in the first place.

Aggression is the new form of defence, so unable to pin the government on corruption charges, the Congress party is alleging a scam in the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft, as against an earlier figure of 126, and claims that a disproportionately higher price per piece of equipment is being paid.

Air Marshal Anil Chopra has written, “The package cost of 126 or 36 Rafale cannot be directly compared as the deliverables in the two cases are different and the final negotiated price for 36 Rafales package along with initial consignment of weapons, simulators, ground infrastructure and services.”

The Congress party has to work a lot harder if it wants the BJP to be tainted with corruption. So far, the party’s claims lack punch. The Modi government too has not obliged.

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