Scams Listed in the NDA White Paper, Their Outcome and Beyond
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s ‘White Paper on the Indian Economy’ has presented a detailed analysis of the ‘policy paralysis’ and governance issues of the 2004-2014 period. The Paper also lists 15 major scams which played a key role in turning public opinion against the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) and sweeping the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government into power. Ironically enough, the selective list, with curious inclusions and omissions, does little to establish ‘pervasive corruption’ under the UPA. If anything, it encourages comparisons with what has happened in the past 10 years under the NDA.
 
For starters, the first three scandals in the list did have a significant impact on public opinion, but action taken is patchy; while some charges failed to stand judicial scrutiny, others are equally shaky. 
 
1. Coal Block Allocation: This pertains to irregularities and corruption in allocation of coal blocks for captive use. The comptroller and auditor general (CAG) had estimated loss of Rs1.86 lakh crore to the exchequer in 2012 that led to the cancellation of 204 allocations. The White Paper (WP) reveals that final reports have been filed in 47 cases; 10 cases are under investigation; and 14 cases have led to convictions by the trial court. This is the only scam in which the first set of trials has been completed in a fair number of cases. 
 
2. Commonwealth Games (CWG) and Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Cricket Association Scam: The CWG scam certainly shook up the nation with allegations of widespread corruption and financial irregularities. A decade later, there is no finality to any of the eight cases under trial after charge-sheets were filed by the central bureau of investigation (CBI). Very little is known about alleged misappropriation of Rs44 crore opening ‘bogus’ bank accounts in the J&K Cricket Association scandal; there is a charge-sheet but no trial as yet. It is unclear how this made it to the list of top-15. On the other hand, India’s sports bodies have not covered themselves in glory under the NDA either. The Wrestling Federation of India operated from the home of controversial Member of Parliament (MP) Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh right until it was suspended by the sports ministry over "blatant disregard for the established legal and procedural norms." I am not even going into the charges and protests by India’s decorated wrestlers which are finally being heard by a court of law. 
 
3. The 2G Telecom: The CAG’s estimate of Rs1.76 lakh crore loss of potential revenue in the sale of telecom licences has been questioned. While it is true that there were shocking irregularities in the processes adopted and brazen lobbying by powerful industry houses, the WP fails to mention that a special court in Delhi acquitted all the accused in December 2017 after concluding that the case was baseless. The appeals filed by the government have made little progress in the past six years. 
 
4. Aircel-Maxis: The WP says the case involved allegations of irregularities in the approval of foreign investment in a telecom company and illegal gratification and the case is under trial. In fact, the politically powerful Maran brothers, implicated in this scam, were discharged by the special CBI court in 2017. The appeal against this order and allegations against other powerful politicians, including P Chidambaram and his son, are part of an ongoing trial. The Aircel-Maxis deal came under scrutiny in 2011, with allegations about undue pressure on defaulter businessman C Sivasankaran to sell his stake to Maxis. Maxis Berhad is a Malaysian communications service-provider which acquired 74% stake in Aircel.
 
5. Chit Funds: Saradha vs Sahara? It is curious why the WP chose to single out Saradha among the dozens of Ponzi and collective investment schemes, run by politically connected persons prior to 2014. The WP notes that Saradha collapsed leaving millions of investors in financial distress. Well, so did scores of other Ponzi schemes including Rose Valley, MPS Greenery, Alchemist and PACL (SFIO probing 67 companies for running Ponzi, MLM schemes) where investigations by the serious frauds investigation office (SFIO) are plodding along.
 
Significantly, the Sahara group does not figure in this list of 15, although it may be the biggest of them all. Despite a landmark Supreme Court (SC) judgement in 2012 ordering the group to return over Rs20,000 crore raised by two realty companies of the group, the Sahara group was allowed to set up four national cooperative societies and raise over Rs86,000 crore in the years leading up to their collapse in 2020. In March 2023, the government obtained a SC order allowing it to refund Rs5,000 crore that was to be transferred by the market regulator. It announced the setting up of a portal and plans to refund money to 100mn (million) investors. The portal is glitchy and not a single investor has been paid. Moneylife has covered the futile battle of investors in Sahara’s cooperative societies in detail (Read: Sahara Refunds: A Silent Regulator and a Mysterious and Confusing Supreme Court Order)
 
6. Defence Scandals: The WP alleges corruption, bribery and kickbacks in the Embraer deal (purchase of aircraft from the Brazilian aerospace company Embraer – pending trial); corruption in procurement of 75 Pilatus basic trainer aircraft for the Indian Air Force in 2009 (no mention of action); bribery charges in procurement of Hawk Aircraft from M/s Rolls Royce Plc, UK during 2003-2012 (still under investigation); kickbacks in procurement of Augusta Westland helicopters (no mention of action after the deal was scrapped). I am clubbing all of these because there is little action in most cases. Notably, the alleged Tatra trucks procurement scandal fizzled out in 2014 after CBI admitted lack of evidence and closed the case. Also, the Opposition parties have levelled equally serious allegations against the NDA government in the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets, a charge that is hotly denied by the government.
 
7. Antrix-Devas Deal: Irregularities and corruption in a satellite deal between Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd, and irregularities in allocation of scarce S-band spectrum and wrongful gains to Devas Multimedia are the key elements of this case. The Supreme Court has confirmed the finding of fraud. Charge-sheet for the criminal offence has been filed. In terms of action taken, this is, indeed, one case where the government has prevailed, despite a powerful global effort to discredit the allegations of irregularities and concerted action by the accused in multiple nations.
 
8. Land Scandals: The WP lists a ‘land for jobs’ scandal in Railway appointments (still under investigation), the release of prime land to builders in Panchkula and Gurugram (charge-sheets filed in trial courts) and the Adarsh Housing Society scam in Mumbai where land was released for residential apartments for civilians on land for defence personnel. Days after the WP, former Congress chief minister of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), calling into question the seriousness with which investigations would be followed up. The irrigation scandal of Maharashtra, which helped the BJP come to power in Maharashtra in alliance with the Shiv Sena, does not find mention in the WP, although it was significantly bigger than the Adarsh scam. It must not be forgotten that Ajit Pawar, who was targeted by the BJP is now part of the coalition in Maharashtra and nine cases pertaining to the scam were immediately closed. The selective listing of land scams is further weakened by the fact that bigger scandals have emerged in various BJP ruled states. The Vyapam scandal is an admissions and recruitment scandal that resulted in the mysterious deaths of many whistle-blowers in Madhya Pradesh; it would figure higher than some of 15 listed by the WP. 
 
9. Media Scandals: It is intriguing that the INX Media case, alleging money laundering and foreign investment approval for a media company, is the only one listed in the WP. Similar allegations about another high-profile television company have been buried after it was acquired by a powerful business house. Another media group close to the ruling dispensation has lurched from one controversy to another during the entire 10-year dispensation of the NDA, and its shenanigans dwarf those of INX.
 
When a government WP chooses to list 15 scandals going back 20 years, one expects it to indicate some definitive action, quantify total losses to the exchequer as well as recovery/potential recovery. On that front, very little has changed in the 10 years since 2014 that are not part of the WP’s ambit. Otherwise the co-location (Colo) scandal at the National Stock Exchange (NSE), failure of multiple crypto exchanges, the collapse of Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) followed by SREI, Housing Development & Infrastructure Ltd (HDIL), Deewan Housing Finance Ltd (DHFL) as well as several large realty companies which inflicted crippling losses on ordinary, middle-class savers would have been a part of this list. Most of these scams germinated in the decade scrutinised by the WP, but may have been left out because they erupted into the public domain under the NDA. 
 
In any case, a selective listing of scams serves no purpose without quantifying losses to the exchequer, or showing recovery of funds. At the very least, the listing would make sense if we put in place systems and processes to prevent the recurrence of such scandals, or faster investigation and trials. In the absence of such reform or use of technology for faster results, all we have is a pointless exercise of selective listing, motivated undoubtedly for political reasons. 
 
 
Comments
homaielavia
2 months ago
Obvious corruption in the UPA brought the NDA to power. But over the past 10 years the same scam-tainted UPA individuals have been welcomed into the NDA with probably either monetary incentives or with whitewash of their scam involvements. They have also been felicitated with garlands and smiles and photo opportunities with NDA 's top leaders. So, if these earlier scamsters are today's bakhts, there is effectively no existing scam. THIS SURVEY WAS A TOTAL WASTE OF TIME AND WASTE OF TAXPAYERS MONEY.
The SURVEY should have covered what NDA has effectively done in the last 10 years apart from erecting massive statues and new fancy facilities for its own VIPs. Except for the top selective echelons, majority of Bharat citizens still sleep hungry.
neeraj.sigh
2 months ago
The article itself has selective argument while author criticising the WP for same. Accusing WP of omitting facts while author himself omitting Rafale Supreme court order…

Heavily biased to find holes in obvious political attack which is okay and expected what is not expected when so called independent journalist compromises in quality of reporting.
Kamal Garg
2 months ago
There is no public system/institution which is completely corruption free in any part of the world. Corruption could be more or less - that's what it is all about. Democracy has it's own pitfalls and since every five years, netas have to go to electorates for votes and further that no election in any part of the world can be fought without huge amount of money involved, and therefore, let's accept democracy with its pitfalls.
adityag
2 months ago
Singapore is as corrupt as India. #JustSaying.

The corruption index run by The Economist is as hilarious and farcical as this WP presented in the parliament.

This utopian ideal of a corrupt-free society is best left to the miserable and the deluded.

Politics is part of the game. If people don't like politics, then too bad. That's how Democracy works. The opposition is welcome to play the same game. It's a dirty game for sure. Otherwise, one can just live in a dictatorship and suffer the same things i.e. Russia, China, Singapore. No such thing as "corrupt-free". The only difference is Singapore puts corruption into better use for its citizens. I think we should emulate the Lee Kuan Yew model :P

To be fair, Congress did nothing about it. Are we alluding the current government is doing nothing about it as well? Something is better than nothing, no?

I agree with your point that good systems and reforms are essential to make the future better, and mention of this in the WP would have made sense.
iaminprabhu
2 months ago
Until the LEGAL SYSTEM & TIME BOUND JUSTICE is not enforced from lowest to highest courts, every Citizen will continue to suffer for Decades!

Besides GOI being the biggest litigant in majority of Civil or Criminal cases, SPEEDING or DELAYING tactics are used at their political fancies to intimidate majority of the corrupt without final closure of cases!

Mockery of Democracy Justice is blatantly done everyday, in our daily life for Common Citizens!
Now, How about a White Paper on Vision 2047 Rather Than on 2004-14?
Debashis Basu, 16 February 2024
Late last week, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) finally came up with a White Paper on the Indian economy. It was not about the current economic situation or a road map for the next five years but a frontal attack on the...
Array
Free Helpline
Legal Credit
Feedback