Corruption in high places: Recalling an IAS Officer’s experience
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns, Top Stories

Corruption in high places: Recalling an IAS Officer’s experience

April 8, 2023

The Supreme Court last Wednesday told the united Opposition of 14 National Parties that political leaders stand absolutely on the same footing as any ordinary citizen of India and therefore they are not entitled to ‘higher immunity’ from investigation, arrest or prosecution.

The Opposition parties had filed a joint petition in the Supreme Court claiming that the Centre was arbitrarily using agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to arrest and file criminal cases against Opposition leaders who exercise their rights to dissent or disagree with Narendra Modi-led Government.

Fortunately, the wise counselling by the Supreme Court prevailed and the petitioners withdrew their joint petitions. Reading this report, I was wondering what could have prompted this petition from the Opposition parties. Then it dawned on me that it could well be the arrest of Aam Aadmi Party’s Delhi Deputy Chief Minister, who is also in-charge of the Excise Department, Manish Sisodia, by the CBI in connection with the alleged corruption in the formulation and implementation of the now-scrapped Delhi Liquor Policy or known as Delhi Excise Policy for 2021-22.

As I write this, he is still in the judicial custody. One of the charges was that undue financial favours were awarded thus causing huge financial losses to the exchequer. The CBI took over the case following Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor V.K. Saxena’s recommendation for the CBI probe in the case as contemplated under the law. The Lieutenant Governor’s recommendation was in turn based on a report submitted by Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar.

Naresh Kumar’s report had alleged that Sisodia provided undue benefits to liquor licensees in lieu of ‘kickbacks’ and ‘commissions.’ There were allegations that the money generated thus were used by Aam Aadmi Party in the Punjab elections in February.

Reading this, I remembered the constitutional and legal powers of the Departmental Secretaries in our State and Central Governments. I thought and I believe strongly, if we want to end corruption at political level, including at the level of Ministers and MLAs, it is possible only if the Secretaries are honest and refuse to co-operate with the corrupt politicians and contractors.

I was reminded of this power of the Government Departmental Secretaries in another case, where one C.G. Somiah, IAS, now no more, who was the Comptroller and Auditor General of India from 1990 to 1996. He had held many posts in the Government of India including Home Secretary and Central Vigilance Commissioner. I remembered C.G. Somiah when I read about Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar. C.G. Somiah, when he was the Secretary, Forest and Co-operatives of the Orissa Government, took similar decision to save huge amount of money to the Government Treasury.

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It appears in Orissa, the Forest Minister was one Mohapatra, who made detailed enquiries from C.G. Somiah about the most valuable forest wealth kendu leaf (which is used in the manufacture of beedi etc.) and about leasing of kendu leaf. Then the Minister casually mentioned that there may be a case for giving some remission and relief in the lease rent in the final year of the three-year lease term because the kendu leaf contractors had complained to him of a poor crop that year. The Secretary C.G. Somiah told the Minister that the kendu leaf contractors on the other hand had made good money in the last two years with very good crop and had also enjoyed good prices.

Now let me quote what C.G. Somiah has written about this in his autobiographical book titled ‘The Honest Always Stand Alone’:

“A month later I got a call from the Chief Minister’s Office to put up the file examining the plea of the kendu leaf contractors for remission of lease rent in the last year of their three-year lease, citing bad crop as the reason for this remission. In the beginning of the kendu leaf collection season, I had introduced a system of obtaining a report from the District Forest Officers about the crop and the likely out-turn from each unit. When almost all the kendu leaf dealers petitioned for remission of lease rent, it became clear to me that it was a political move initiated by the Chief Minister to make money, sacrificing the revenue of the State in the shape of remission to contractors.

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I sat over the file as long as I could and when pressure mounted on me from the Minister and the Chief Minister’s Office, I recorded a long and well-reasoned note why there was no case for remission. When the file reached the Minister, he sent for me and in an oblique way suggested that it could be in my interest if I took back the file and changed my advice recommending remission. I told him that it was the Minister’s prerogative to overlook the advice tendered by the Departmental Secretary and since he was a lawyer by profession he could easily make out a case for remission, overruling my advice. He had an incredulous look on his face when I told him that. I withdrew, never to meet him again. Within fifteen days, I received orders transferring me to Cuttack as Excise Commissioner. I had no trouble in complying with the order but little did I realise then that it was just the beginning of my troubles.”

Now by a fine coincidence, a case of tweaked history repeating itself in the matter of excise (liquor) auctions came before C.G. Somiah at Cuttack.

“The annual excise auctions were held within a month of my taking charge and when I sensed that a cartel was working to get some lucrative units at a low price I put them to re-tender (not auction). The re-tendering of the units inviting the bids in sealed covers broke the cartel and we got record prices. I had taken care to note on the file the reason for re-tendering as I suspected cartel formation and that saved the Government when some of the disgruntled contractors challenged my decisions in the High Court. The overall excise revenue increased by twenty percent. One of the unsuccessful contractors told me that he was a fund-raiser for the Chief Minister and he wanted me to cancel the re-tendering of units and revert to the auction mode. He lost the case in the High Court but he had the last laugh. Soon after the High Court decision I was abruptly transferred to Delhi.”

No one went to his support. He went to Delhi. The Honest Always Stand Alone.

ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “Corruption in high places: Recalling an IAS Officer’s experience”

  1. Marigowda Ramanna says:

    The usual confused rant by the demented M<r Ganapathy. He should retired.

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