WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
In talking about the burgeoning cost of dishonesty, one obviously does not have in mind the dishonesty resorted to by one's domestic help who goes home for Bihu promising to return on the fourth day but actually lands up two days later. One is thinking of dishonesty at a much higher level and the kind of dishonesty that has been turned into a sort of epidemic because it is patronized and propagated by those in the corridors of power. One is, therefore, thinking of collective dishonesty legitimized within the polity on a daily basis by our elected representatives. All dishonesty hinges on pretence of one kind or another. And our politicians have turned pretence and the deception of people into a fine art that goes by the me of politics in our country. It is as though a politician cannot thrive in India without pretence and deception and therefore without dishonesty.
Let us start at the beginning. Here is a State government that constantly bemoans the fact that it is going through a terrible cash crunch. It is uble to pay salaries of government employees at the lower levels and of school teachers regularly, and considers it acceptable for salaries to school teachers and lower level government employees to be in arrears for months together. At the same time, there is no shortage of money in the exchequer for dishonest ministers or bureaucrats. The same government that groans about a shortage of funds at every turn also fails to submit utilization certificates for Central grants-in-aid to the tune of Rs 12,688.11 crore relating to just three years. And different departments of the same government were able to withdraw a total amount of Rs 62,164.54 crore from government treasuries between 2004-05 and 2013-14. During the same period, the State government also failed to utilize Rs 86,000 crore received from the Centre. This is dishonesty at a high level by people who have got used to siphoning public money received from the Centre largely because the State government’s unwillingness to punish wrongdoers and those guilty of corrupt practices has virtually legitimized the loot of public money. The real and honest story is that there is no dearth of money for loot while there is always a “fincial crisis” for officers who want to utilize development funds properly for the benefit of the poor. The amount of money involved in New Delhi-based scams like 2G and the coal block allotments is astronomical. But there has been no dearth of deception and dishonesty on the same grand scale even in our own State. One striking example should suffice for the present. The kind of conspicuous consumerism stoked by the corporate bodies in India is there for all to see. Even in a State like Assam that produces very little for sale except tea, there is no dearth of conspicuous consumers. We have estimated that the quantum of consumer durables and luxury items that were imported from the rest of the country during 1971 increased in value by about 250 times by 1991 and rose to about 10,000 times by 2011. One has to keep in mind the number of cars, motorcycles, scooters, air conditioners, television monitors, refrigerators, washing machines, music systems, computers, cell phones and so on that are on sale now to appreciate that the present value of imports from the rest of India is indeed about 10,000 times what it was in 1971. I have asked three successive chief ministers of Assam to explain why, with the tax structure on such goods having remained the same, the tax revenue in 1991 was not about 200 times what it was in 1971 and why the tax revenue of 2011 should not be about 10,000 times what it was in 1971 unless there has been massive leakages. Unfortutely, there have been no honest answers to this the fundamental question. This is a sad situation considering that without leakages, our tax revenue that should be about 10,000 times what it was in 1971 would almost make Assam’s fincial worries disappear and bring in the kind of prosperity that we have never experienced so far. As such, the dishonesty and the pretence related to our tax revenues have been very costly for the people of the State. And has there been any honesty about the fact that the per capita indebtedness of the people of Assam stands at a little more than Rs 8,000 per head? Multiply this amount by the population of Assam which is a little over three crore. We then have an astronomical sum of borrowings about which the State has not been very honest. Nor has it sought the permission of the people to involve them in a level of indebtedness that is not of their own making. After all, it is the State government that has got us into this level of indebtedness without seeking our consent for making each one of us borrowers.
It is important to appreciate that not every form of dishonesty is linked to money. However, the fact remains that large-scale and collective dishonesty sponsored and encouraged by those in power creates an ambience of dishonesty that spreads to virtually all public activities. We have different forms of intellectual dishonesty starting with plagiarism which involves passing off somebody else’s writing as one’s own. This has begun to happen in a big way. There is also the borrowing of someone else’s ideas and passing them off as one’s own by not acknowledging the fact that a writer is merely quoting someone else. Nepotism is a form of corruption that involves blatant intellectual dishonesty. Colleges are known to advertise jobs of teachers with the advertisements sustaining the pretence that selections would be strictly on the basis of merit and qualifications. But when actual selections are made one finds that the more meritorious and/or qualified candidates are bypassed in favour of the son or daughter or nephew or niece of the president of the governing body or a politician who happens to be a member of the governing body. There have been instances in Assam of highly qualified candidates being bypassed in favour of less qualified claimants on the ground that the rejected candidates were “overqualified”. One fails to understand how a candidate with better qualifications than the minimum requirements advertised is rejected instead of being welcomed for having additiol qualifications. The real reason, of course is that the higher qualifications of the candidate could be a source of embarrassment to the principle of the College who may be less qualified. Such rejections and ratiolizations to support the rejection of better candidates are examples of intellectual dishonesty. The cost of such dishonesty is high for students who are deprived of better qualified teachers. It is hardly surprising that students from Assam should prefer colleges outside the State even for general courses. Our collective dishonesty has had a major role in ensuring that the more qualified teachers with better aptitude for teaching are kept out of our colleges mainly to serve the interests of less deserving candidates who have godfathers within the governing bodies.
There are other forms of intellectual dishonesty evinced by the government merely because it is no longer able to provide acceptable governce. Take the case of the present government of Assam that must work overtime on creating new awards for people of different walks of life mainly because it has not been able to provide good governce or solve the problem of large-scale illegal immigration from neighbouring countries or ensure proper law and order, good health care, good education and flood control. It has not even been able to protect Assamese people living near the Assam-galand border from attacks of ga hooligans who have killed our people and taken over their homesteads. So it must pretend that creating new awards and honouring individuals is acceptable substitute for good governce. IAS officers who attend two or three semirs a day (that will count for nothing in terms of government decisions) are deemed to have done an honest day’s work. Such dishonesty, such collective pretence legitimized by the government, must make room for good governce. After all, one cannot fool all the people all the time.