By Prayag Akbar
"Corruption is too small a word to describe what goes on in Jharkhand. What we have here is a complete failure of the system. The sad part is, it is the Legislative Assembly that is the fountainhead of this corruption. That is where everything starts from." Sarju Rai, a senior politician and MLA until President's Rule was announced in January this year, is angry at the complete collapse of probity. Government has become synonymous with loot.
Almost any person you meet in Ranchi has tales of corruption of senior bureaucrats, small and big-time politicians, police officers and judges. When specific instances of malfeasance come out into the open, gestures are made: files are opened and then never looked at again, investigations are conducted that don't lead to arrests, cases bounce from court to court faster than a tennis ball but still drag on without conclusion, bureaucrats are transferred from one position to another less visible, less lucrative posting. After all, when everyone is on the take, who is going to do the policing?
Since Jharkhand became its own State in 2000, following the Bihar Reorganisation Act of the same year, the resources and people of the State have repeatedly been victimised by a number of the area's most senior politicians, many of whom have piled up vast reserves of cash, property and other forms of assets. After the elections in 2005, which resulted in another divided house, the corruption became so blatant that, in November 2008, a concerned citizen filed a Public Interest Litigation against six Cabinet Ministers in the State, citing that their accumulation of assets was vastly disproportionate to their income. The PIL has named Hari Narayan Rai, formerly Minister of the Department of Rural Engineering, Anosh Ekka, Minister of the Department of Transport and the Department of Rural Development, Kamlesh Singh, who oversaw the Departments of Irrigation, Excise, Food and Supply, Dulal Bhuiyan, Minister of the Department of Land and Revenue, Bhanu Pratap Shahi, Minister of the Department of Health, Bandhu Tirkey, Minister of Human Resources Development and Chandra Prakash Choudhary, MLA.
Earlier this year, on 12 February, the Vigilance Bureau in Ranchi conducted raids at the residences of two of those accused of accumulating the most wealth, Anosh Ekka and Hari Narayan Rai. The raids were carried out both in their official residences in Doranda and in the former minister's ancestral homes and documents on fixed and movable assets worth over Rs 10 crores were collected. These raids were conducted as a direct result of the PIL, but it is interesting to note that the directives from the Special Vigilance Court came only after the State went under President's Rule, in January 2009.
Niyaz Ahmed, the Director General of Police [Vigilance Bureau] explained to Covert that they have been working on the case since then: "Since the raids took place we have made a lot of progress in building up the case against Ekka and Hari Narayan Rai. But now we have submitted the report to the High Court. They will tell us or the CBI how to take the matter further when they decide what to do. Until they do that we cannot do anything more." When asked whether the Vigilance Bureau was looking into conducting investigations on the other five politicians named in the PIL Ahmed was quite clear that it was a question of protocol. "No, we will not be looking into those matters. We can only investigate when the Special Vigilance Court asks us to look into something."
The case against Hari Narayan Rai is as follows. When this tribal leader was elected to the Jharkhand Assembly in 2005 he declared his assets as follows: Rs 40,000 in cash, Rs 1.25 lakhs in National Saving Certificates, Rs 50,000 worth of jewellery, 5.5 acres of ploughable land and a Khapparpose house. Prior to his nomination he had never submitted an income-tax return, so his official income fell under the minimum taxable level. In the 39 months he was an MLA, Rai was only entitled to Rs 15.39 lakhs in salary. Yet by late 2008, his moveable and immoveable assets had increased to an incredible Rs 30.18 crores, including vast tracts of land in and around Ranchi, a fleet of cars, a dairy farm and large houses in the posh districts of the capital, some in his own name, some in his wife's name, and some in the names of close relatives.
Similar allegations have surfaced about the other ministers named in the PIL. Bhanu Pratap Shahi is accused of having purchased a DLF property in Gurgaon worth crores, where he is constructing a shopping mall. The PIL also alleges that the former Sports Minister Bandhu Tirkey bought a flat in Vasant Vihar for Rs 8 crores, for which the payment came from the Andhra-based infrastructure and construction corporate Nagarjuna Constructions. Over one hundred pages detailing various instances of corruption have been painstakingly compiled by the complainant.
Kamlesh Singh, the Excise Minister under both Madhu Koda and Shibhu Soren, reportedly has links with an entity known in Jharkhand as "The Syndicate". The Syndicate is a collection of businessmen who controlled the supply of domestic and country liquor in the State while Kamlesh was minister, selling about Rs 16-crore worth of alcohol every month from Government shops. During his tenure, every district in Jharkhand was supposed to have tenders to decide who would be allowed to sell alcohol in the different areas. The Syndicate, using their influence with the State Government, managed to acquire the licences for the entire State without a tender of any kind. However, they were unavailable to get the licences for three very lucrative districts: Dhanbad, Ranchi and Jamshedpur. When they were unable to get those licences The Syndicate stopped supplying alcohol to the State altogether, as a method of applying more pressure on the Government. During this period, the estimated revenue lost by the State was Rs 50 lakhs a day.
Anosh Ekka, an independent political heavyweight in the State, has been accused of illegally acquiring tribal land [which he has put in his wife's name], in direct contravention of Section 46 of the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act of 1908. The Act prevents people of tribal origin from purchasing the land of a tribal of another locality, yet Ekka has acquired a number of pieces of protected land around Ranchi, though he is a permanent resident of Simdega. Ekka got around the provision by claiming a different place of residence for his wife in each instance, a blatant instance of committing fraud for personal gain.
This is also where the nexus between politicians and officials in Jharkhand is seen clearly. As the PIL points out, none of this could have been possible without the help of a number of officials, who allow ministers to get away with barely-concealed violations in exchange for cash or favours. The PIL directly calls to account the Deputy Commissioner of Ranchi, the Circle Officers of Ormanjhi and Namkum and the Circle Officer of Ranchi, all of whom would have been privy to the scam Ekka was carrying out so successfully. As Suman Srivastava, a local journalist, points out, "If politicians and bureaucrats work hand in hand, there is no one powerful enough to stop them. They can steal whatever they like."
Jharkhand has been blessed with a sizeable proportion of India's mineral wealth, which means that big corporates involved in steel, iron ore, coal or similar must have a presence in this State. This is the crux of the matter — ministers and officials in charge of the various portfolios run their ministries like personal fiefdoms, extracting tribute from anyone who wants or needs to do business with them. Stories abound in Jharkhand about crores and crores paid in bribes to politicians and officials. One representative of a major steel company told Covert, "It would be impossible to do business in Jharkhand if you didn't pay out bribes. The bureaucrats and politicians are expecting them — and they will stop you every step of the way if you don't play by their rules."
The furore surrounding the Ghatkuri iron ore mines are one instance where allegations and counter-allegations have been so virulent that the matter has reached all the way to the Supreme Court. Covert was told by a senior official in Ranchi, who did not want to be named: "What happened in that case was very interesting. There were a number of companies that wanted access to these Ghatkuri iron ore mines, which were reputed to have huge stores of the mineral. However, these mines were supposed to be given only to public sector companies. Under the UPA Shibu Soren Government, an affidavit was filed that mining leases could be given to private companies, though under the Mining and Minerals Regulation Development Act of India, mining leases should only be given to companies that have already done the prospecting work there. However, six companies — Abhijeet Infrastructure, Monet Ispat, Ispat Industries, Jharkhand Ispat, Prakash Ispat and Adhunik Alloys — were given mining leases there without doing the prospecting work. There was a serious amount of money that exchanged hands to get those leases."
A number of PSUs like SAIL, NMDC, JSMDC [which are the only companies that should be allowed to prospect there], as well as private companies like Arcelor Mittal, Tata Steel and Usha Martin had applied for leases and not been given the opportunity for a hearing. They began to petition the Government to explain how the Ghatkuri block could be partitioned and allocated without all the scientific preparatory work being done. When the six companies that were originally awarded the Mining Leases were told to stop any extraction of iron ore in the area they took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court, where hearings are currently taking place.
Covert has in its possession a letter from 3 February 2009 by Raghav Nandan Prasad, the Deputy Director [Mines] addressed to the Additional Director [Mines], which clarifies that certain companies were favoured unreasonably in the deal. The following are excerpts that have been directly quoted from the letter:
"The views presented by State of Jharkhand in aforesaid meeting dated 03.10.2008 has got following serious suppression of facts…
iii) Reserving an area for public sector under section 17(A) of MMDR Act, 1957 is a policy decision of State which can never be overruled by invoking relaxation clause 59(2) of mineral concession rules, 1969.
v) Not providing opportunity of hearing [to the PSUs and private players] under rule 12.26 to other players can not be explained by 59(2) because 59(2) at the most may relax gazette requirement but can never relax hearing process.
5. Due to aforesaid suppression of fact as mentioned above, the technical facts & materials required for a decision making process at apex level were not provided at all. The situation is the same at Directorate of Mines level where dissenting views expressed in file no.103/08 prior to Delhi meeting by Deputy Director, HQ (R.N Prasad) and Additional Director, HQ (S.I. Minz) endorsed by the same subsequent to meeting appears to have been overlooked completely and does not appear to have been put up before Government.
7. State of Jharkhand has already moved forward to allocate Iron ore resources to SLP Applicants and their Group companies in areas other than Ghatkuri…and as such Ghatkuri is not the only area to be considered in their favour.
8. District Mining Officer, Chaibasa is one of the respondents in pending analogous SLP's before Hon'ble Supreme Court of India, but the comments of subordinate respondent — District Mining Officer, Chaibasa were never obtained on the affidavit dated 6.12.2008 of State Government completely changing the earlier stand of State Government as was filed before Jharkhand High Court under oath.
9. Now the only recourse left to the Government is filing a review petition/supplementary affidavit before Hon'ble Supreme Court of India stating above facts with a prayer to completely recall the earlier affidavit dated 6.12.2008 stating mistake of facts and suppression of technical facts."
On occasion, it has been those who are entrusted with the enforcement of the law who are directly involved in the most blatant violations. Instances of massive corruption are not limited to the politicians of Jharkhand. Because Jharkhand is home to so much heavy industry, a huge number of trucks carrying coal, steel, iron ore and other minerals pass through the State every day. Their movements are tracked by a team of transport officials called enforcement officers, or in the local parlance, mobile darogas.
The mobile darogas of Jharkhand had acquired a notorious reputation with transporters working through the State, until the onset of President's Rule in January, when Governor Syed Sibtey Razi discovered a shortfall of some Rs 355 crores from the target of Rs 500 crores that had to be achieved by the end of the fiscal year. Eleven officials — all of whom had amassed huge amounts of wealth in the past few years, opening auto dealerships in Ranchi and Dhanbad amongst other things — were called back to their home department and removed from their postings. All eleven officers have been implicated in this siphoning of funds, which took place over a number of years. Those who have been named include Pradeep Kumar Singh, Shailendra Singh, Ramswarath Yadav and Ramashish Rawat.
Every truck that ran through Jharkhand would be forced to pay a tribute of Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 to the officers, who had worked out a unique system of payment. Transporters and iron ore dealers claim they would deposit the money at road-side dhabas, where these officers would have agents waiting. If the money was not deposited, gangs of hired local toughs would pay dealers visits to get their money. Though the period for a mobile daroga to remain in office is only supposed to be three years, The Telegraph reported in late January that Rs 10-lakh monthly payments would be made to ministers to ensure officers were kept in this extremely lucrative position.
JHARKHAND ASSEMBLY CASE
Jharkhand-based BJP leader Sarju Rai has on three separate occasions attempted to initiate an investigation into a case where he claims the NDA alliance that controlled the Assembly was indulging in widespread corruption. In this instance, according to Rai, the recruitment of assistants and clerks to work in the Assembly House was severely compromised by the Speaker of the House Alamgir Alam. Rai told Covert, "Alam was the Assembly Speaker — and without any concern for the dignity of the office or the House he was complicit in charging Rs 7-8 lakh from each one of the clerks who were given jobs. There were 150 appointments made and almost each one of them was paid for. I have a CD with recorded statements from people who paid bribes and still didn't get through, which I took to the House."
After Rai brought these allegations up in front of the House, the Speaker [Alam himself] announced an Assembly Committee would be constituted to look into the matter. The committee was formed and Sarju Rai submitted the evidence he had collected in this case. The committee reported that prima facie, there could have been some wrongdoing and the matter could be looked into further. However, as with many such cases in Jharkhand, this is where the matter has stalled. According to Rai, the case has been with the Vigilance Commission for almost two months now, but nothing has been done in the matter.
The corruption in Jharkhand is endemic. President's Rule came as a huge relief to people in the State, as a series of unscrupulous ministers, bureaucrats and law-enforcement agents fleeced the public and the state exchequer for as long as they could. Coalition Governments come and go with alarming regularity, and politicians here try and stuff as much into their pockets as they can, as quickly as possible, because they know their grip on power in this politically volatile State is tenuous. Some locals say democracy has failed here. But it is the converse that is true, for it is the politicians, bureaucrats and their ilk who in Jharkhand have failed democracy [¼]
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