The curse of corruption
The Government has invested Rs 4,27,102-crore in the past three years in public sector units, according to official data. The Government spending on PSUs was Rs 1,34,766-crore in 2005-06; Rs 1,44,279-crore in 2004-05; and, Rs 1,48,067-crore in 2003-04.
According to a report of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, out of 866 projects, each costing Rs 20-crore or more, 297 projects spread over 13 Ministries are running deficiently and are much behind the schedule. To complete them, more than Rs 24,000-crore is required. This amount is sufficient to wipe off poverty and alleviate the sufferings of the farmers, or complete water supply projects in a large number of villages. According to the same report, the total estimated cost of 866 projects was over Rs 3,24,473-crore. Now, it has gone up to about Rs 3,75,888-crore.
The delay up to over 16 years has been observed in some acute cases. Some of the Ministries disclosing large number of delayed projects are road transport (93), telecommunication (36), power (27), petroleum and coal (25 each), and shipping (22). Civil aviation has 12 delayed projects, while steel and urban development have 11 such projects each.
The Government of India has spent more than Rs 2,000-crore per year on sick and loss-making PSUs since 1996. If restructuring package of loss-making but non-sick PSUs is included, the amount will reach well over Rs 17,000-crore. The loss-making companies have repeatedly faltered despite all efforts to revive them.
There are a large number of money-guzzling projects, which are continuing at the cost of the taxpayers' money. According to the I&B Ministry, Prasar Bharati receives a grant of Rs 1,000-crore from the Ministry against a revenue of Rs 600-crore every year. Another estimate says the Government TV company has been losing over Rs 1000 annually.
Out of 243 Union Government-owned companies, only 143 are making profit. Of these too, a majority made only marginal profits. In fact, PSUs made a loss of Rs 9,000-crore during 2004-05. Worse, 73 PSUs are chronically loss-making units.
Another report shows that in the past three years, food grain worth Rs 31,500-crore has been siphoned from the public distribution system, making it a state-sponsored munificence for black marketers, corrupt ****s, ration shop owners and others.
As for the North-East, of the eight States there, not a single grain of wheat supplied to Sikkim, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Assam reaches the targeted poor. Arunachal Pradesh can claim to be a little less corrupt as 96.2 per cent of its PDS wheat gets diverted. Manipur takes the cake as 97.7 per cent of its rice allocation is siphoned, with Nagaland following close behind at 88.6 per cent of rice being diverted. Similarly, in 2006-07, Rs 3,289.71-crore worth of rice and wheat was stolen in Uttar Pradesh. The corresponding figure in West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh was Rs 1,913.76-crore and Rs 1,038.69-crore.
The acknowledgment of failure or weakness of any system or project is the first step toward rectifying the same. But the real problem arises when the Government tries to cover up and says all is well.
In the era of coalition Governments, even the Prime Minister is not able to take a stand and say enough is enough. It is not that the delay in these projects is due to inefficiency. A substantial part of delay is due to rampant corruption. The main corruption breeders are red-tapism and lack of transparency and accountability.
Another factor is gross delay in finalising the cases of corruption during trial. As on January 1, 2006, 6,414 CBI cases were pending in several courts in the country. Over 2,300 were over eight-year-old and 198 were more than 20 years old. The nexus between dishonest politicians and corrupt bureaucrats enables the corrupt to retain their jobs. The result of their corrupt activities gets translated to ill-gotten wealth and properties. No wonder Transparency International, which ranked India at 72nd position among 180 corrupt nations in 2007, has said, "Maximum corruption takes place during Government procurements. For example, when the Government buys wheat or arms, or when PSUs procure material. It is also extremely difficult to quantify."
Arguing on a PIL filed in the Supreme Court in 2007, which seeks to alter the Representation of the People Act so as to strip MLAs and MPs of the right to remain members of legislatures during their judicial trials, the Centre told the apex court that the proposal was fraught with the risk of destabilising Governments in an era of coalitions. Discussing possible repercussions, the Centre observed: "The Government in power may be surviving on a razor-thin majority where each member counts significantly and disqualification of even one member may have a deleterious effect on functioning of the Government."
The worst sufferers are the citizens of the country. Commenting on a case of corruption, the Supreme Court observed on March 7, 2007: "The only way to rid the country of corruption is to hang a few of you (that is the corrupt) on the lamp post. The law doesn't permit us to do it, otherwise we would prefer to hang people like you from the lamp post." It added, "Everywhere we have corruption. Nothing is free from corruption. Everyone wants to loot this country. The only solution for this menace is to hang some people in the public so that it acts as a deterrent for others."
Good governance does not come by rhetoric. As things stand today, good governance has become a chimera. There is no dearth of money to develop the country, if the Government shows its will that every single paisa would be used for the purpose for which it is earmarked. It is a paradox that we have hundreds of millionaires, but millions of poor. The situation will not change unless our leaders realise that they can do what they have to do.
The Pioneer > Columnists