At a public meet recently, Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal called upon the people to resolve ‘not to take or give bribe’. He said that if any corrupt government official demands bribe, the aggrieved person can approach him directly. That seems easier said than done in a State like Assam where, over the years, official graft has been institutiolized and fine-tuned at all levels, with political patroge from the top. It speaks volumes when the Assam Public Services Commission (APSC) itself comes under the Gauhati High Court scanner for omissions and commissions galore in candidate selection. To be fair, the first three months of the BJP-led alliance government in the State has seen at least a dozen officials caught red-handed taking bribe. The Vigilance and Anti-corruption wing of Assam Police has so far this year reportedly received over 200 complaints of alleged corruption; by August this year, it has registered 10 cases, compared to the 18 registered last year. It is gratifying indeed that more people are coming forward to lodge complaints and tip off concerned authorities, many a times about their colleagues or seniors. This is in line with the budget proposal this year to give cash rewards to whistleblowers who help in ‘detecting, stopping and bbing a corrupt government official through information, evidence, mobile or video record’, for which Rs 1 crore as reward money has been allocated for the Home and Political department.
Anti-corruption and vigilance sleuths and their counterparts from the Bureau of Economic Offences have laid traps and conducted raids to seize large cash hoards, gold and documents related to uccounted property. The most notable case was that of Dhemaji divisiol forest officer Mahat Talukdar from whose residences Rs 2.7 crore in cash, Rs 60 lakh worth gold orments and animal parts like elephant tusks and tiger and deer skins were seized. The chargesheet filed against Talukdar recently details how he was in the habit of extorting money by seizing trucks near forests and misusing his powers in other ways. Meanwhile, a primary education official in Darrang district has been caught red-handed accepting bribe, while another primary education official from Morigaon district has been raided at his palatial building and two large plots in Guwahati from where fixed deposit papers worth several lakhs and gold orments have been seized. A drug inspector posted in Bongaigaon, an excise inspector at Golaghat, an agriculture official at Pathsala and some others have been arrested on graft charges. However, it is but a matter of time before corrupt public officials refine their tactics and stash away their ill-gotten money elsewhere. This is where sleuths probing economic offences need to coordite with income tax and other departments to uncover bemi money trails.
Some recent departmental initiatives are also creditable, like forensic training to Anti-corruption and Vigilance personnel as well as training government advocates to plug gaps in the prosecution process. The people of this State have put up with in-the-face, shameless loot and extortion in government offices long enough. If the Sarbanda Sonowal government seriously wants to pursue its good governce and anti-corruption plank, it should strengthen the police vigilance units at all districts, speed up departmental proceedings against those facing corruption charges, desist from revoking suspension of such officers as they fight their cases in court with public money, initiate dismissal process of those found guilty, and confiscate their ill-gotten properties under appropriate sections of the law. The battle against corruption will not be won on catchy slogans and gimmickry; it is a war of attrition over the long haul. But winning or at least gaining the upper hand in this war can yield significant political mileage, as Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has discovered in Bihar with his long battle against graft and alcohol. It is also the plank the Aam Aadmi Party is once again pushing in Punjab going to the polls next year, where the Akali Dal regime is facing anti-incumbency due to its perceived corrupt ways.