Friday, April 26, 2013

CBI affidavit embarrassing alright, but does it change the facts????

So the CBI “shared” the contents of its draft report on the coal scam with the political executive after all. This is embarrassing for the Government. But embarrassing for what? Surely not for having altered the report, for nothing seems to indicate that it did that. Not for having pressurized the CBI in any way, except for sharing the report. Its embarrassing for saying (perhaps inadvertently) something wrong to the Supreme Court. And for re-inforcing the perception that it meddled in the investigation. So while this revelation has embarrassed the government, created a media flutter, and given the BJP probably it’s 35th opportunity to demand the PM’s resignation (!), we, the truth seekers, should remain focused on the larger picture. Was the coal scam a scam at all?

But before we go to that, a few interesting things that come out from this episode are worth looking at:

1)    Remember how the BJP had protested against Ranjit Sinha when the UPA had made him the CBI Director? Today, the party must be feeling mighty embarrassed about that! And also of course, thanking it’s stars! Clearly Ranjit Sinha is no push-over.
2)    The mechanism of justice works. No matter who tries to break it. There are checks and balances that make it work. It was an NGO (not the opposition) that figured that the political executive had been shown the report. It was the SC that demanded an affidavit from the CBI. So at least in cases that are monitored by the SC, the CBI does function independently. Why this is important is because many in the media and civil society are making this out to be the “eureka” moment for their demand for the CBI’s independence. They are seeing this as “proof” that the government interferes “in all cases”. Such extrapolation is bizarre, because if the government had indeed been interfering in all cases, it would have been nabbed earlier itself. Besides, in several other cases as well, the CBI has made revelations not exactly glorifying to the Government. Does this not prove that the CBI – at least under the watchful eyes of the courts – is already independent?

Now lets come to the substantive parts of the case itself.

1)    Did the CBI actually change the draft report? Well, we will know very soon. The ball is with the SC and the SC is no one’s handmaiden! From what the Government claims, it did not alter the report. Let’s go with this premise for just a bit. If this is true, and if the CBI is indeed independent – at least as far as this case is concerned – then what does it show? That the big scam is not really such a big scam after all? From what I gather, the CBI has filed several FIRs about specific cases of misallocations, but those are really cases of “local” corruption involving members of all political parties. Hardly the big Rs 1.86 lac crores scam that it has been made out to be.
2)    When will we learn in this country to differentiate between corruption and policy decisions? The coal blocks were not auctioned because it was a policy decision taken keeping legal hurdles and the views of opposition parties. The 2G spectrum was not auctioned because it was a policy decision intended to increase tele-density. Some may feel these were bad policy decisions. Some others like me may feel they were good decisions. No problem with that. Yes, the exchequer may have “lost” substantial sums of monies (though in my mind, it wasn’t a loss at all. It was just another subsidy the government gave as part of its policy, just like it gives diesel or kerosene or fertilizer subsidies). At what point did this loss become a case of corruption? Is it anyone’s point (because that’s the public perception) that the Congress pocketed Rs 1.76 lac crores in 2G and Rs 1.86 lac crores in coal allocations? If that’s true, then who paid these huge sums of money? The telcos who offered cheap tariffs, and are struggling to maintain even bare minimum profitability? The private power plants who had to bid for the cheapest rate at which they would supply to SEBs to get their coal allocations? Where is the money trail? The whole mess is a purely political creation. It was our inability to separate the chaff from the grain that pushed the government into a policy paralysis. Large parts of the bureaucracy are still in paralysis. We need to be a little savvy here. The media needs to be a little savvy as well. We need to separate the two issues out. There was a very large part which was a policy decision (if you don’t like it, don’t vote for this party), and there were local cases of corruption. Mixing the two doesn’t help anyone.
3)    Besides, where is the involvement of the PM in all this? Yes, he was responsible for the policy of continuing with administered allocations. How does that make him guilty? He was the one who thought of auctions. The governments before his (including the NDA government) did not even think of that. If they had been in power, they would have perhaps continued with administered allocations. So why hang the guy who made changes for the better? Besides, we know the reasons why auctions couldn’t be held earlier (read my post of April 24th: Getting the facts on Coalgate right….and asking just how involved is the BJP in it????) – a) because of legal issues and b) because the opposition ruled states were not in favor of auctions. We also know that the opposition parties were part of the decision making process for choosing the “allocatees”. Did the PM even recommend one mine be given to his friend or relative? C’mon guys….politics is fine….but don’t jettison the truth so casually.

The real truth is that nothing changes in the coal case even though the most recent issue does cause embarrassment for the Government. Lets not forget it was Manmohan Singh who thought of, and eventually implemented coal auctions, much against the wishes of the opposition (including BJP). He’s not the villain. He is the hero here….

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