‘Welfare’ of the Well-off
Of the several acts of corruption during the 15-year tenure of the Tarun Gogoi ministry, what happened in the Social Welfare department is indeed significant both because of the quantum of funds involved and the fraud committed largely on innocent children. Of the Rs 12,000 crore of misused and misappropriated development funds traced to the previous government, the Social Welfare department stands out with a Rs 2,250-crore scam that has led to the arrest of six officers (including two women) so far and the discovery of blatant fraud committed on children, pregnt women, widows and unmarried women. One of the most remarkable facets of the Social Welfare department’s course of action was the creation of a list of 11 lakh (1.1 million) ‘ghost children’ in order to secure additiol development funds from the Centre. The officers involved in the scam showed 390 fake anganwadis in the State and 44 lakh children in order to be able to secure substantial increases in the development funds received from the Centre. The ongoing enquiry into the scam has revealed that the actual number of children for whom different items had to be purchased was only 33 lakh. According to State Social Welfare Minister ba Kumar Doley, apart from inflating the number of beneficiary children by 11 lakh, the officers involved purchased items needed for children in the anganwadis at prices much higher than the market prices prevailing at that time. The minister also revealed that the present State government had directed the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau that is probing the scam, to file a charge-sheet in the case soon. Doley refrained from revealing the details of the case because investigations into the scam were still going on.
Quite obviously, the officers already arrested for their role in the scam and others involved in it had only one perverse notion of welfare. It was their own welfare at the cost of the actual beneficiaries targeted by the Department. This should be evident not only in the widespread deprivation of the actual beneficiaries but also in the substandard quality of things bought for the children at exorbitant rates. The pencils, erasers, balls and toys supplied for the children have been of the poorest quality that it is possible to get. One gets a fair idea of what corrupt practices can do to the attitudes of the corrupt. To start with, the corrupt are past masters at ratiolizing the corrupt practices that are their stock-in-trade. Even when they know that people reject their ratiolizations relating to corruption, they carry on merrily on the strength of their conviction that it is the corrupt lot that rules the world. Honest citizens in India have to find some reassurance from their society that they will never have to resort to corrupt practices in order to be permitted to exercise the most fundamental of their rights, mely the right to live.
What one can expect on the basis of recent experience is that the bureaucrats and officers involved in the Social Welfare department scam will probably get brief prison terms, but that they will eventually be able to get bail. This is no way of punishing the corrupt. They should be compelled to serve their full terms in jail according to the provisions of the law. But what is most disheartening in the matter of pel provisions of the land is that politicians will mage to escape the provisions of the law. There is every reason to believe that some politicians too are involved in the Social Welfare department scam. Our experience tells us that they will go scot free. But if the present government of Assam is honest about its claims to combat corruption, we must begin to witness political executives involved in acts of corruption also being punished. What is important is that politicians involved in the scam are not permitted to escape pel action. If the government cannot ensure that politicians too are equal before the law, they cannot defend even the most basic tenets of a democratic set-up. We hope that no politician involved in the Social Welfare scam will be able to escape the due process of the law.