They're not the mounties and they
rarely get their man. Still, the Central Bureau of Investigation's
inability to make charges stick against politicos isn't on account
of not trying. The real culprit is government interference. Which
is why the July 5 judgement by the Delhi High Court convicting former
Communication Minister Sukh Ram and former Deputy Director in the
Department of Telecommunication, Runu Ghosh to 3 years rigorous
imprisonment for causing a loss of Rs 1.68 crore to the national
exchequer over the purchase of some equipment by dot is significant.
Ram is the founder of Himachal Vikas Congress, a party that supports
the ruling National Democratic Alliance.
The amount involved may seem piffling, especially when compared
to the Rs 3.66 crore in hard cash that the CBI unearthed in a 1996
raid on Sukh Ram's house-the Delhi High Court is currently hearing
a case related to it-or to the Rs 100-crore telecom scam that rocked
India in the mid-1990s, but, just this once, the bureau has scored
a conviction against a politico with ruling-party connections.
If the celebrations have
been muted at its offices in Block 4 of the Central Government Complex
in New Delhi, it's probably because the CBI realises that the Ram-Ghosh
conviction is an anomaly that isn't likely to be repeated. The memory
of the put down it received from the Supreme Court in the Jain hawala
case is still fresh in the bureau's mind.
For those who came in late, the CBI had filed charge-sheets against
30 of the country's top politicians alleging that they had been
paid off by S.K. Jain, a man involved in a Rs 65-crore forex scam.
In December 1997, the Supreme Court quashed the chargesheet, saying
Jain's diaries-in which he'd noted down the payments made to politicos
in rudimentary code-couldn't be construed as ''books of account
within the meaning of Section 34 of the Evidence Act''.
And history does suggest that political offenders often manage
a reprieve. An additional sessions court convicted former Prime
Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao on charges that he'd bribed some members
of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in an effort to buy their support
for the Congress-led government in 1993, only to see the Supreme
Court acquit him three years later.
The bureau doesn't make it any easier for itself. Often enough,
admits N.K. Singh, a former joint director of the CBI, shoddy investigation
and the improper filing of charges weakens its case. And when it
does get everything right, the government could play deus ex machina.
Singh, for instance, was abruptly transferred when he had almost
completed investigations into an effort to discredit former Prime
Minister V.P. Singh by creating a fictitious bank account in tax
haven St. Kitts in his son's name.
Thus, no one expects too much from CBI's portfolio of live cases,
which includes the Rs 950-crore Bihar fodder scam, a Rs 50-lakh
disproportionate income case against former Bihar Chief Minister
Laloo Prasad Yadav and his wife, current Chief Minister Rabri Devi,
and the other Sukh Ram case-unless, of course, the events of July
5 mark not an aberration, but the beginning of a trend.
Tiger Woods and Sachin Tendulkar don't just
stride their respective games like a Colossus; they do the earnings
table as well. But Woods has the edge.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar
BORN: April 24, 1973
RECORD: Tests: 96 matches; 8,004 runs with 29 centuries at
an average of 57.58. ODIs: 11,455 runs with 33 centuries at an average
BRANDS ENDORSED: Pepsi, Visa, Fiat, Britannia, MRF, Adidas,
Boost, TVS Victor, and Sahara. Recently signed a deal with ESPN
Star and will also be hosting a TV show.
ENDORSEMENT EARNINGS (ESTIMATED): Rs 20 crore/year
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Equalled Sir Don Bradman's record of 29
test centuries and has a staggering 33 centuries to his name in
one-dayers. But his two shots at captaincy in 1997 and 1999 have
been unmitigated failures and he has expressed his disinclination
to lead the side at any time in future. Signed a Rs 100-crore, five-year
deal with the late Mark Mascharenas' WorldTel.
BORN: December 30, 1975
TURNED PRO: 1996
PGA TOURNAMENTS WON: 32
PGA RANKING: 1
BRANDS ENDORSED: Nike, Buick, Rolex, Asahi Beverages, EA
Sports, American Express, Golf Digest, Warner Books, CBS Sportsline,
Wheaties, Upper Deck, TLC Laser Eye Centres
OVERALL CAREER EARNINGS: $29 million (Rs 142 crore)
ENDORSEMENT EARNINGS (ESTIMATED): $54 million/year (Rs 259.2
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Won three championships (US Open, British Open,
and PGA Championship) in 2000, making it a grand slam at 24. Won
the Augusta Masters in 2002, and earned his third Green Jacket.
Signed a landmark five-year $100-million deal with Nike.
What Jaswant Can That Yashwant Couldn't
If Jaswant Singh ends up being a better finance
minister than his predecessor he may have providence more than anything
else to thank for it.
|Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha (R):
Singh's proximity to the Prime Minister could help him swing
things that Sinha couldn't
If India Inc. wasn't exactly transported
with joy when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee assigned the finance
portfolio to Jaswant Singh in the latest reshuffle of his cabinet,
blame it on the latter's two most significant actions during his
13-day stint as fm in 1996: he agreed to provide a counter-guarantee
to Dabhol Power Company and launched an investigation against Reliance.
Corporate India's fears of the return of raid-Raj increased when
the government used the reshuffle to realign the Department of Company
Affairs (DCA) to the Finance Ministry (it previously came under
the purview of the Law Ministry).
Yet, Singh may be just what the GP ordered for the economy. And
he can't do the BJP's chances in the October 2004 general elections
any harm. Not when his predecessor Yashwant Sinha is seen as the
villain of the piece by the middle class, the BJP's traditional
Singh if off to a start: apart from initiating an investigation
into Xerox Modicorp (see Xerox Modicorp's X-Factor in this issue)
and calling for the DPC files, he has, more than once, articulated
his brief-food for the poor and money for the housewife's purse.
Shashanka Bhide, the Chief Economist at the National Council of
Applied Economic Research (NCAER) believes there is one more thing
going for Singh-''the backing of the Prime Minister''.
chapter of the C-story concerns Chinese power meters that
are suddenly the rage among most state electricity boards
in India. They're cheap (by at least 15 per cent), tamper
proof, and come with a 10-year guarantee. Will that improve
the state of SEB-finances, we wonder?
Providence is on his side too. The domestic and global economies
are showing signs of recovery, and the road-map for second generation
reforms has already been scripted by the previous occupant of the
Finance Minister's office at North Block. ''(Given) low inflation,
there is some room for the new fm to play around,'' says D.K. Srivastava,
a professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.
Srivastava's reference is to the Keynesian approach of increasing
government spending in an effort to prime the pump some.
Doing that would see a spurt in inflation, but with that statistic
hovering around an anaemic 2.11 per cent, no one is really going
to object if it goes up a bit. The fiscal situation may prevent
Singh from taking that route but he has already hinted at the nature
of his first efforts to improve consumer confidence-some tax relief
targeting the middle class.
And maybe (just maybe) in an effort to indicate that his brand
of financial management will be different, Singh has put a new team
in place at North Block. Former Revenue Secretary S. Narayan has
been made Finance Secretary and Secretary of the Department of Economic
Affairs; Ajay Vikram Singh, Special Secretary in the Defence Ministry
has been brought in as Revenue Secretary, and Secretary, Department
of Personnel and Training D.C. Gupta has been appointed Secretary,
Financial Sector (he'll oversee the banking and insurance sectors).
What is that they say about a new broom?