B S Raghavan

Darkness under the lamp

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on November 15, 2017

The shocking revelation in The Hindu of April 29, headlined “Niece, friend of Adviser to Manmohan got land largesse from BEML co-op” must have left every reader of the paper in a state of stunned disbelief.

The tidal waves of moral degeneration, which had hitherto been leaving most other institutions crumbled in its wake, seem now to have submerged what should have been the fountainhead, and the model and the mainspring, of values to which public servants should adhere.

The way The Hindu has meticulously substantiated each finding that it has made leaves no one in any doubt about the total disregard of propriety and probity shown in allotting and accepting at throwaway prices what the paper has quite aptly described as ‘land largesse'.

And all this at a time when the country was reeling under scam after scam of astronomical scale and magnitude and the PMO and, indeed, the PM himself, were facing the flak in Parliament.

The people had already been treated to many similar obnoxious episodes such as the land-grab scams involving the Adarsh Cooperative Society and several ex-Cabinet Ministers and prominent politicians of Tamil Nadu; a shadow of suspicion had fallen even on the Rashtrapathi Bhavan, the pivot of the Constitutional edifice.

But India, in recent times, has been no stranger to brazen law-breaking and raging corruption at high places.

The most inexplicable part of The Hindu's expose is the one touching on the role of the Principal Secretary, and later the Adviser, Mr T.K.A.Nair, enjoying the rank, status and perks of a Minister of State.

The Hindu report is fair and careful enough not to implicate him directly, except to point out impliedly that of the three beneficiaries of this dubious transaction, one had been confirmed as his niece, another allegedly his relative, which fact could not be independently verified, and the third was “a very close family friend” as conceded by the niece.

The question is: Is it at all possible that Mr Nair, to whom the PM had entrusted the duty of being his eyes and ears, was himself oblivious to the shenanigans going on that were capable of besmirching his own name and letting down the PM in the estimation of the people?

In fact, after a share-holder and former employee of the society brought the suspicious allotments to the notice of PMO in August 2010, and in December the same year, two of the three irregular beneficiaries (the niece and the close family friend) returned the plots to the BEML co-operative society “to avoid a controversy”.

To assume that all the preceding events leading to such a major U-turn could have happened without the knowledge of Mr Nair is against the course run by human affairs.

MALODOROUS DEALS

The irony of the whole thing is not the allottees of the land getting undue benefit whereby Rs 2,500-3,000 per sq.ft. of plot was given to them at Rs 450 per sq.ft. (and the CMD, Mr V.R.S. Natarajan, himself got his at Rs150 per sq.ft. as against the market rate of Rs 8,000 per sq.ft).

The irony is that all these malodorous deals centred round the name of Mr Nair were taking place during a most critical period when corruption had emerged as an all-consuming issue, requiring delicate handling by the Principal Secretary himself as the trouble-shooter and crisis-manager on behalf of the PM.

As such, one would have expected him to have been sufficiently sensitised to the imperative need for himself to be above suspicion.

The apparent failure on his part to keep the PMO above the kind of unsavoury controversy that has erupted reminds me of the famous lines in the Bible (Mathew 5:13): “If the salt itself shall lose its flavour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men?”

I had written at least three columns, “Doubts over PMO's watch-and-ward role”, “Issues the PMO cannot ignore” and “Inertia and insensitivity at PMO” cautioning that “mishaps as had been witnessed in the recent past will be in store for the Prime Minister”, if there is no close, constant and careful monitoring of the happenings like a radar so as to prevent their taking on despicable proportions.

A columnist cannot do more.

Published on April 29, 2012

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