Saturday, October 30, 2010

C for Capitalism, C for Corruption

Can you imagine a capitalist society sans corruption? I can't. A bit same way as there can't be a human society without prostitution. Bribery, a subset of corruption, has to be a part and parcel of a capitalist social structure that we are. Don't worry what our Constitution says or what the founding leaders of the nation had desired or envisaged. We do nothing but make fools of ourselves talking of and criticising corruption all the time, while accepting capitalism as a virtue. Doesn't mean that socialist structure or communism will always be devoid of corruption. Only means that corruption is a necessary evil for capitalism and an unnecessary one for socialism or communism. It will serve us better if we focus more on better and just governance and professional competence rather than bribery and corruption. Let us not deceive ourselves by thinking that absence of corruption will ensure just and competent governance.

My interview as published in The Statesman dt 11/08/2010

Reproduced below my interview as was published.

Bureaucrats are both running and ruining the country’

THE STATESMAN, 11 August 2010

Even as the Cabinet cleared the Whistleblowers’ Bill, Mr. Atul Kumar, a serving Indian Railways Stores Officer (since 1981), spoke in a personal capacity to Shiv Karan Singh, Principal Correspondent, about corruption in the Railway procurement system and the consequences faced by those who blow the whistle. Mr. Kumar has regularly been pointing out problems in the Railway procurement system, resulting in colossal revenue losses. His entreaties have fallen on deaf years, but have led to his frequent transfers. The officer has degrees from the Delhi College of Engineering, IIT (Madras), and IIM (Kolkata), and has worked as Material Managers in South-Eastern, Northern, Central, Western, Eastern, East-Coast and Southern Railways, as well as at Chittaranjan Locomotive Works and Integral Coach Factory (Chennai). Mr. Kumar is presently awaiting transfer from his recently held post of Controller of Stores Metro Railways (Kolkata).

Q: You are amongst the few officers who have a history of speaking the truth about irregularities that dog Railway procurement. How has the Railways’ leadership responded to your efforts?

A: ‘Sachchi baat kahi thi maine, logon ne sooli pe chadhaya’ goes a ghazal by Sabir Dutt, which sums it up. Senior management has treated me as a pariah, transferred me frequently, and denied me my due in the organisation. But, far more importantly, they have not bothered to address the issues that I have brought to their attention, which are in the larger public interest. Rs. 5,000 crore, leaking out just from Railways procurement per annum, is not a small sum that can be ignored for long, especially in a country where 77 per cent of the population lives for less than Rs. 20 per day.

Q: The Statesman published reports detailing Railways corruption that has blown an estimated Rs 50,000 crore hole in the public exchequer in the past decade. While the Board has maintained a resounding silence, the Railway Minister has welcomed the news, stating, ‘we have learned a lot from these reports.’

A: I hope the Minister meant what she said. The media loves to blame politicians. However, it is bureaucrats that are both running and ruining the country. With the present Minister’s credentials of integrity, it is not so easy for the Board to pass the buck to her, as bureaucrats usually do. But the top layer will always try to keep her in the dark. The Minister may say one thing but top bureaucracy does just the opposite. I have further been victimised through unceremonious transfer, a tool readily available with Railway administration, as the Board perceives my detailed letter written to them four months ago to be the basis of your reports. The Railway Board believes it is more powerful than the Minister, and even the Government of India. Look at how the Board has suppressed the posts of Board Members for S&T and Stores for a decade, despite these having been approved by the Government and Ministers.

Q: How do you say you have been victimised?

A. I have been arbitrarily transferred again within just over a year, and the peculiar thing is there is no vacancy where I am going. A large number of suppliers implicated in my letter are based there.

Q: Railways has expressed concern over misuse of Rs. 100 crore that it has pledged for the Commonwealth Games (CWG). Given the immense irregularities in Railways procurement worth thousands of crores, what do you make of this sudden concern amongst Railways leadership for corruption in CWG procurement and commissions?

A: Yes, it is amusing and sad all at once. If Railways are so concerned about their image they should clean their own house first, no? CWG irregularities, even though so blatant, are peanuts compared to the leakage taking place in Railways. CWG is a one-time scam while the leakage reported in The Statesman is perennial. Existing checks and balances in our bureaucratic system have miserably failed.

Q: Why are Stores officers helpless in the face of supplier cartels that over-charge?

A: In one sense they are helpless because of their own volition. If they put their foot down, don't accept overpricing, and speak in one voice, cartels can't dominate so much. However, this can only go so far, because on the other hand, they hardly have any say in development and selection of vendors they have to buy from. The rules of the game are set elsewhere. Stores officers just play the game, like robots acting through pre-programmed software. That too when they are also engineers selected through UPSC at par with officers of consuming departments.

Q: Isn’t the push for a Member (Stores) only a cadre aspiration that will not actually stem corruption?

A: In this context, corruption is not the central issue. The issue is organisational need and professional independence; that the Stores department remains under one user departmental Head is just ridiculous. The need for post of Member Stores was approved by the Government more than 10 years back. It should be beyond debate now. Quite amazing though that the Railway Board has repeatedly succeeded in stalling it. A Member Stores may not solve the problems in procurement overnight but will definitely boost the morale of the cadre responsible for procurement worth Rs 25,000 crore and scrap disposal over Rs 3,500 crores annually, and strengthen them professionally. With good leadership, this will begin stemming corruption also.

Q: Railways still has its share of honest officers. Why do they not speak out?

A: Edmund Burke once said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ Railways are nothing but a subset of society. Something special to Railways, however, is total arbitrariness in transfers and postings and subjective appraisal of officers. It compels people to keep quiet and is the root cause of all ills in the system. More often than not, lobbying and nepotism govern postings in senior positions. Until this issue is addressed, corruption will continue to flow from the top. The system, checks and balances notwithstanding, allows the corrupt or incompetent to rise to the top positions. The basic problem lies there. We are literally begging for scams to surface all the time.

Q: It is for kickbacks that Railways management has maintained a system that allows for exorbitant prices. Are there ready solutions to stem over-pricing corruption? If adopted, will the high-level committee’s recommendations that ‘vendor approval work at RDSO be substantially reduced’, help?

A: I have not seen this report you are referring to. But, apart from straight-out corruption, bureaucratic apathy and incompetence have a role to play too. Kickbacks exist, but so many officers just conform to improper practices. There is a burning need for revisiting the existing approval system and in fact even the necessity for pre-approval of sources. Cost Estimation Cells headed by Material Managers and the encouragement of more sources for competitive bidding will help. Common prudence demands that tenders should be decided on correctly estimated costs rather than cartel-controlled misleading last-purchase-rates, especially for high value purchases. Total transparency via Railways websites in the entire procurement process beginning from specification changes, vendor approvals, to finalization of tenders is needed. Simple solutions exist, but not the will. Already a very potent clause, i.e. 'book examination clause' exists in our supply contracts (not in works contracts). It has hardly ever been used. By using it, not only can suppliers be prevented from fleecing further, but recoveries can also be made.

Q: India still does not have a Whistleblowers Act. On the other hand, with Rajiv Gandhi’s single directive order of 1988 pasted into the CVC Act 2003, corruption by senior bureaucrats has never operated with such impunity.

A: As you say this, a Whistleblowers Bill has been approved by the Cabinet. The need for an act to protect whistleblowers itself speaks about where society has gone. Organizations and public at large should be saluting our whistleblowers. Rather, we keep murdering our RTI activists.

Q: Your poetry, awarded by none other than the Railway Board, documents loneliness, anger, and occasional hope: Choota peeche raila, yahaan main akela, bahut akela… akela nahin hai tu, tere saath chal rahi hai ek lambi dagar.” Do you really see hope in honest officers usually afraid to speak, or in a public that fails to demand accountability from its own government?

A: It is quite easy to write poetry. Fighting the might of the administration from within is a different ball-game. Even those around you start disowning you. Self preservation and vested interests reign supreme in decision making, especially at the top, common prudence and public interest taking a back seat. Still one can’t lose hope. During one of my train journeys, one very experienced MP averred that it needed one mad person to correct a system. It may require more than one madman to correct the present system. Somewhere along the line they will come or nature will take its own course.

Q: Knowing that you will probably be 'disciplined' further, why have you chosen to respond to these questions?

A: As much as I feel bound to do my job according to the laid out protocol, after being contacted by you, I feel even more ethically bound to speak out in the larger Railways and national interest. What is really wrong is the present apathy to systemic problems in Railways. If my pointing this out, in an attempt to try and push for a better system in order to save thousands and thousands of crores of public money, will result in further persecution, so be it.

Adarsh Housing Society Scam

Yet another scam involving the top strata of society comes to the public domain. Further re-confirms what has been said earlier in this blog. The more perturbing is the fact that the rogues and mostly only rogues have been rising to the top public positions whether in bureaucracy or in politics. Now we can add defence forces as well. Like it or not, that is the 'system' we have developed and nurtured. The degradation of society is complete as this scam has been perpetrated in the name of those who laid down their lives for the society and country to which they thought they belonged. I hope by now no doubt should be remaining in minds that scams surfacing every other day are no stray incidents but a clear indication of the fact that we all are living to compete each other for the 'loot' while number of those starving to death is swelling around us. Let us understand that for every scam surfacing, there are thousands not coming to public domain, and for each such scam there are thousands other continuing undetected. I do feel tempted to reproduce my published interview as this new scam is also vindication of what was said there in.

Coming back to the subject, a much needed breather for Mr. Kalmadi and bad luck for Mr. Ashok Chavan, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, since this expose' comes so close on the heels of CWG scam also involving his party-men. That has forced leadership of his party to become virtuous overnight and demand his scalp. Poor Mr. Chavan. So many top central cabinet ministers under same leadership have been surviving for years the bunglings worth hundreds times more both in value and gravity. Even the Supreme Court of the country has had to seek solace only in uttering sarcastic remarks every now and then, remarks a wag could utter. The anarchy looks to be complete by each passing day. Is it "time now" for the much needed revolution?

S for Success, S for Sold

Does success lead people to sell themselves off or selling out leads to success? I think both co-exist in this 'kalyug', the former for enabling successful ones to stay that way. Nehru dynasty must be considered the most successful Indians as they have been ruling the country for ages. The present dispensation in the dynasty is sold out to a super power is very obvious, at least that is my perception. The passage of nuclear liability bill above everything else (people maintain that PM is nothing more than a puppet of the dynasty and I see no reason to disagree), even if MP's were to be bought for the purpose, and now first time another puppet, a CM, openly declaring that Pakistan has a role to play in J&K issue or something to that effect, leave no doubt in my simple mind about most successful Indians being sold out to another country. Then the puppets acting as puppets for their continuance as PM or CM means they are also sold out. Going on extending the logic, we shall find that the most of sccessful Indians are those who have agreed to sell themselves out to ones whose blessings are necessary for their success or continuance of same. There always will be some exceptions, but those will be just that- exceptions.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

M for Media, M for Moron

Our great electronic media must being controlled and run by morons to be so effective in making issues out of non-existing non-issues and non-issues out of real issues. Or I must be a moron not to be able to realize the greatness behind their activities. Whatever may be my complaints, a certain Kalmadi must send blank cheques to media and particularly to one media-house as he must be indebted to them for ensuring him next President-ship of any commonwealth country he chooses. His name has been bombarded so much in the consciousness of the people there that they find it hard to remember names of their spouse, children or parents. Nothing matters in the world more than Kalmadi and his brand of corruption.

Kalmadi has another choice. He can start courses for corruption. He can open colleges, run correspondence courses or start global classes through internet. I am sure the competitive exam for seeking admission to his courses in all formats will be much tougher to crack than CAT or GMAT. Even if he limits the aspiring candidates through tough eligibility criterion like at least six months of non-corrupt working experience. I am sure Kalmadi may not be having any special talent for the purpose but he must now encash the greatness thrust upon him.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Marriage- Arranged Marriage

India is an unique country. For me tolerance is the greatest virtue of we Indians, probably the greatest evil as well. Tolerance of the wrongs and injustices has allowed society to degrade. Howsoever loud we may try to shout at the success of having organized CWG, the magnificence of its opening and closing ceremonies, and bask in the glory of the historical medal tally, the hardships and injustices an ordinary citizen has to face and tolerate for daily survival makes me paint India as a degraded society.

Does our degradation stem to a large extent from our marriage system? What marriage should be? It is supposed to be association of two soul-mates for life-time or till it lasts. With homo-sexuality being permitted in many societies, sex of the soul-mates doesn't matter. But let us talk of man-woman marriage. Does arranged marriage fulfill this requirement? If we don't try to deceive ourselves, answer is simple and clear- 'No', more often than not 'no'. At the time of marriage it is a blind whether the two individuals will be successful in becoming soul-mates. They don't marry because they were soul-mates or they felt they were soul-mates. They try to become soul-mates after marriage. I know from my experience and that of those I know closely that very often they don't become soul-mates and continue to tolerate each other with their best abilities. They become miserable for rest of their lives and in many cases life becomes curse. That won't be so if taking marriage as a fate-accompli, they concentrated more on positive aspects of eachother's personality than the negative aspects.

Through arranged marriages we are not choosing the personalities. We are choosing wealth, status , beauty, 'khandaan' (the lineage of ancestors), job etc. We are not choosing the personality and definitely not 'soul'. Life becomes an ever continuing exercise in adjustments. Is it what we want to get out of life or do we want it to be full of intrinsic joy?

Times have been changing and arranged marriages have been giving way to finding of soul-mates by the concerned adults, generally known as love-marriages. It is often said that such marriages are not lasting as arranged marriages do. What should be more important for an individual- a happy marriage or a lasting marriage? Of course, nothing like it if it were a happy and lasting marriage at the same time. It is also true that broken marriages result in related problems, mainly concerned with the children. For welfare of the children it is necessary for marriages to last. Here the problem becomes a bit complicated.

If love-marriages fail and break, it doesn't mean that arranged marriage is a better arrangement. It only means that the two adults hadn't found their soul-mates and had married for some other considerations. The more the adults find real soul-mates for marriage, the happier they will be and better the society.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Shame On You"

"Shame on you" were the very words confronting me from a news channel when I switched on my TV set this morning. The words were coming from a devastated father whose young son had committed suicide a few months ago in the aftermath of caning by teachers/principal in his school. The words coming from a man who had faced one of the worst tragedies of life was understandable but still I felt bewildered. For this broadcast the channel had to have supported and approved it and this puzzled me. The day before same and other channels were broadcasting how proud a country we were on having successfully executed and showcased the best opening ceremony ever for the XIX th Common Wealth Games, the organisation of which had been a public lesson in blatant corruption and incompetence. I couldn't understand whether I was supposed to feel proud or ashamed as an Indian.

What puzzled me most was while I was being asked to feel ashamed for this single act of injustice to a citizen, why I was never told "Shame on you" by this powerful media house or other media houses when news came of thousands languishing in our jails without a trial for years. When the news came of thousands of children in the country dying of starvation, when these powerful people came across kids begging on city streets and traffic junctions. When blatant leakage of public money is reported in the media and everyone becomes silent spectator to victimization of one who dared to bring that leakage to light, the leakage still continuing. Why do our sensibilities get aroused for the dead but not for the living human beings, millions of whom face injustice and raw-deal day in and day out of their existence? Only if our leaders (in all walks) could ever harbour that feeling called shame!

Friday, October 1, 2010


Ayodhya verdict from High Court has come. Touch wood, no disturbance whatsoever took place anywhere in the country, though there were widespread apprehensions of same. My salutations to the people of India, the media and the politicians on this count. It goes to show while India is failing as a State, its people are far from failing. What does it mean? While the Haves are looting the country or are allowing the loot, the Have-nots are the ones sustaining its progress and survival. The earlier we Haves start feeling ashamed, the better it will be for the country.

I saw the reactions of those who matter on various channels after the verdict. Without having gone through the evidences judges had gone through and without having read the complete judgement, many felt free to criticise it. This is how we misuse freedom. Sh. Sh. Ravishankar talked real sense but he is a Hindu. Therefore to me the poet and writer Sh. Javed Akhtar stood out as a statesman in what he had to say on the issue. But there were many others including leaders who didn't feel happy from prospects of a solution forthcoming and probably didn't know what they were saying in their efforts for one-upmanship. They included constitutional experts and leaders, all party to relegation of Constitution to classroom material only. Where is equality of citizens, more importantly where is the socialist state?

Let us see what the issue is. There is a place in Ayodhya, Hindus believe to be place where Lord Rama was born. They call it Ram-janamabhoomi and want to build an imposing temple there. Prior to demolition in 1992, a mosque known as babri-masjid existed there and therefore Muslims claim place belongs to them. The three judges bench, two Hindus and one Muslim, has unanimously decided that the place is Ram-janamabhoomi and the idols placed there have to remain. This can be the nucleus for conciliation among Hindus and Muslims. Muslims can now appreciate that place is the most sacred one on earth for one religion of the world. For them it is not that sacred by far. They will earn respect round the world by now coming forward and being magnanimous to offer the place to Hindus for building a temple. They co-exist with Hindus and others in the same country singing same national-anthem. Muslim heroes and heroines are idolised by millions of Hindus. Time for Muslim leaders to rise above parochial thinking and show statesmanship.

But what does one do with the pseudo-secular leaders like Sh. Mulayam Singh who just to get Muslim votes was first to openly criticise the judgement paving way for communal disharmony. Till other day he was the most vociferous among those insisting for a judicial settlement of the issue. And such leaders duly supported by our great media are projected as first claimants to secularism. I only hope Muslims should now be wise enough to see through such ******. Euphoria over peace subsequent to judgement is dying down with disruptive forces now becoming active. I hope they will not succeed in their design and better sense will prevail among all. Statesmanship by Muslims and humility of Hindus of India at this juncture will go a long long way to reinforce communal harmony in the country for decades to come.