Thursday, April 19, 2012

Adarsh scam – what Adarsh scam??!

Very quietly yesterday, the Adarsh scam just blew into thin air. The 2-member judicial panel that had been looking into the ownership of land issues for the past one year came to the rather remarkable conclusion that the land on which Adarsh stands did not even belong to the Army. It belonged to the state. Further, since the land did not belong to the army, the building itself was never intended to be reserved for Kargil war veterans. Additionally, all three ex CMs have been exonerated of any wrong doing in the so called scam. With this report, much of the political sting has gone out of the whole matter.

The CBI is continuing its investigations. If anyone thought that the CBI took instructions from the ruling government, this should be proof otherwise. I am sure the CBI – if that is its mandate – or any other body will surely find that norms were flouted at Adarsh. But then what’s new about that? Almost all buildings in Mumbai have flouted some or the other rules. But was the Adarsh scam really about flouting some measly building rules? Or was it about political abuse – an emotional saga waged by a relentlessly aggressive media?

The core accusation was that the land belonged to the Army and that Adarsh was supposed to house the Kargil war veterans. The judicial panel has found that the Army was in possession of the land from 1996 to 2004, but there is no evidence that it possessed the land before 1996. What this means is that the Army was an “occupier” of state government land. If that were true, then there was no question of a building dedicated to the Kargil veterans coming up on that plot of land in the first place. And even if the building gave preference to these veterans, there was nothing that said that only war veterans could be given houses in the building. This must be a matter of great relief to the many civilian occupants (some of them supposed benami holders for politicians) who have been caught in a vortex of political maneuvers for no fault of theirs. The court should now give the building the full clearances and its members the right to enjoy its facilities.

The most important finding of the panel of course is that there is no evidence that either of the three accused former CMs of Maharashtra – all of the Congress – Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and of course Ashok Chavan who resigned specifically on the Adarsh issue – had any personal knowledge of land ownership. And yet, the media made it appear that they had abused their positions of power. Think about it – for no reason at all (in hindsight), Ashok Chavan – a capable CM otherwise – was forced to resign. Public accountability is alright – but removing a performing CM on mere media reports and unproven accusations is damaging to the working of a state government. Everyone knows that changing captains midstream leads to confusion and poor performance. But then again, in politics, that is a valid opposition strategy.

There have been many similar stories in the recent past which show that media outlets rush in to publish reports without having enough information on hand. Hyper competition in the media industry is destroying the credibility of the fourth estate. No longer can the printed word be taken at face value. One is compelled to read different newspapers to get an idea of what the truth is. In many cases, the truth that comes out post a detailed investigation is totally different from the canards that get splashed on the front pages earlier. In the meanwhile, much damage is inflicted on the players involved.

So what happens now? Will the Adarsh scam be buried as it should be? Or will the issue continue to be whipped politically? Since truth hardly matters in politics (and increasingly in media), I feel the Adarsh scam will continue to dog the Congress for a few more years – at least till 2014.

In a similar vein, the 2G scam and the CWG scams have been blown out of proportions. As also the several CAG revelations in various states like Gujarat. I am willing to wager a bet on the outcome of the 2G scam probe that the various courts and CBI are looking into. The SC by canceling the 2G licenses has taken a view that FCFS was wrong. In prescribing auctions as the only way to allocate natural resources, the SC has gotten into the area of policy making. The government is rightfully seeking a review of this on grounds of judicial overreach. The entire estimate of the CAG on the “presumptive loss” of Rs 1.76 lac crores is based on the government’s policy being flawed. It is not an allegation of corruption. There is nothing so far in the entire 2G scam that has brought out any case of corruption – save of course for the DB Realty- Kalaignar TV accusation. There is no money trail that leads up to Unitech; none to the other companies named. In media of course, the accused have been pronounced guilty (in a way).

The real truth is that we need to hold our horses while reporting on unproven cases of corruption. Many of them are merely political accusations. The media must be a lot more responsible. It must wait for the investigations to happen and for the courts to rule….

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