The margins of pretence
WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
A truism that people are beginning to ignore because it is so hackneyed is that during the last nine or 10 years, the Assam government has maged to run on sheer pretence. There has been no administration worth talking about. Nor has there been any of the much-touted progress that we read about only in colourful and expensive full-page newspaper advertisements. Of course, these advertisements are issued by the government, and so much of what they have to say is Goebbelsian and constitute acts of blowing one's own trumpet. But what is downright diabolic is the margin of pretence that characterizes the State government as it functions now and has been functioning for the last decade or so. Here is a government that has broken all records of corrupt practices and is fit to be mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records on that account, but it has not evinced the slightest degree of shame or embarrassment on this count. The margins of tolerance and pretence have been colossal. About a year ago, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had admitted that there was not a single department in the government that was free of corruption. Now he takes a very different stand in pretending that there is no corruption in the State. And yet the media has done the necessary homework to find out how totally corruption ridden the State government is. As I said earlier, there has been no real accounting of how the sum of Rs 2 trillion received during the last 14 years for the development of the State was spent. Not to speak of the last 14 years, during the last three years alone Rs 1,067 crore of public money was either looted or wasted. During the last 14 years of Tarun Gogoi’s rule, there have been complaints of 2,014 acts of loot and waste of public money. Of the different departments of the government, Tarun Gogoi’s Fince Department has been one of the most disorganized departments when it should have been the most organized one. Union government development funds uccounted for, amount to over Rs 10,500 crore. Hundreds of utilization certificates submitted by the Assam government to the Centre are no more than worthless scraps of paper. But the loot and waste of public money goes on apace quite heedless of the government’s responsibility to account for whatever development funds had been received from the Centre and as a loan from other sources like the Asian Development Bank of Manila.
What is very significant in all this is the kind and level of pretence that is in operation in order to paper over the total inefficiency of the government at least during the last 10 years. While the government advertisements have been tom-tomming the high level of the State’s development and sections of the media have been speculating on whether Assam ranks within the first 10 developed States of the Union, we now have definite information that it actually ranks lowest among all the States in terms of development. The last 10 years has been a period of collapsed concrete bridges and embankments, a proliferation of one-room and one-teacher rural schools, a high level of school dropouts, remarkably poor nutritiol levels in the villages, health care that is virtually non-existent, the highest level of unemployment in the country and also the highest level of alcoholism among the youths. Where the government sees development in any of this, not even God can fathom, let alone mere mortals. But the hoax goes on and so must the pretence. All the evils of the government are sought to be papered over by the numerous newly created awards that are being given away every other day.
What is the margin of pretence that exists in respect of the refusal to acknowledge specific acts of corruption in the government except to say that it is ubiquitous? That is what Tarun Gogoi did about a year ago. He acknowledged that the there was not a single department in the government free from corruption. And now we are not only aware of how all-pervasive this corruption is, but that there were 2,014 specific cases of loot and waste of public money. It is time for Tarun Gogoi’s government to tell the public how many of the officers connected with the 2,014 specific case of loot and waste of public money have been charged with corruption and how many of them have been punished. All that the public can infer is that the margin of pretence must be very wide indeed for the government to wink at so many serious acts of corruption without punishing a single officer. But right in the middle of all this corruption and this wide margin of tolerance of corruption and of pretence, we suddenly have just one single ACS officer by the me of ndita Konwar who was caught red-handed while accepting a “commission” of 10 per cent for releasing the project cost of Rs 1.20 lakh for a project under the MP’s Local Area Development Scheme. In other words, an ACS officer was held on charges of accepting a bribe of around Rs 12,000 after a proper trap had been set for her with special currency notes sprayed with the appropriate chemicals for such detection. We laud the government in its success at apprehending someone accepting even a small bribe. ndita Konwar, who is the daughter of prominent Congressman and former Governor of Bihar Debanda Konwar, has turally complained of political conspiracy behind her arrest. She has no right to talk about political conspiracy considering that she was trapped and arrested while accepting a bribe. But other people are certainly entitled to express surprise at the Tarun Gogoi government allowing the big fish to escape while gunning for the small fry. What would certainly surprise anyone is the sudden rrowing of the margin of pretence and of tolerance. Tarun Gogoi’s government that has lost no sleep over 2014 acts of loot and waste of public money, suddenly becomes active about a bribe of Rs 12,000. The margin of pretence and tolerance suddenly rrows drastically to be concerned about a bribe of Rs 12,000. Is Tarun Gogoi at all aware of how sharply the rates of bribe have escalated to keep pace with inflatiory trends? Is he aware that his officers ask for and receive bribes like Rs 50,000 merely for granting permission to sell a plot of land? Is he aware that some of the ministers collect several lakhs of rupees every month as what is known as hafta? Is he aware that some of his ministers demand and get astronomical sums for the mere transfer of an officer? Is he aware that all the rates of bribe have shot up to spectacular levels during the last few years? So people can only be amused at his government’s leniency with corruption cases where the amounts are in lakhs and crores but one that evinces sharp reflexes where the amount is as low as just Rs 12,000. And many people will justifiably infer that this swift response to a smaller acceptance of bribery is, in fact, related to the threat to the Congress posed by a senior member of the party toying with the idea of joining the AIUDF before the Assembly elections of 2016. Many people will just dub Tarun Gogoi’s latest action as no more than a switch from the broad band to the rrow band of tolerance with electoral gains as the sole motive.