Sucheta Dalal :Jyoti Basu corrupt cops and decrepit systems
Sucheta Dalal

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Jyoti Basu, corrupt cops, and decrepit systems  

Nov 8, 2004

For some reason, news reports about veteran CPM leader Jyoti Basu being robbed of his pension money by his own security and intelligence personnel had ordinary people cracking up with laughter. Consider this. Three government employees, including an assistant police sub-inspector stole his ATM card and cleaned out over a lakh of rupees from his pension account in State Bank of India in March this year. These employees had been posted at Basu’s house since 1997.

Although not really applicable in Jyoti Basu’s case, the fact that politicians who demand and get security cover as a status symbol (at tax payers’ expense) can be robbed by those very personnel is indeed amusing. On sober reflection, however, it is a frightening example of how corruption is eating away at the system until those who are entitled to official protection from the state cannot escape its tentacles.

There are several dimensions to this story that go far beyond the fact that an influential, 80-plus pensioner was robbed of his savings. Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has already voiced one of these concerns when she said, ‘‘Jyoti Basu is a senior CPM leader and also in the Z plus category (for state security entitlement). He was chief minister for 24 years. And even now he is super chief minister. If his house is not safe, then you know how others live.’’

The police reaction was to deny that the incident was a security lapse — they made it worse by calling it a ‘‘breach of trust.’’ It is lucky for Basu that he had just a little over Rs 100,000 in his account and that he does not top the hit lists of various terrorists groups. Were there more money at stake, there is no knowing if such corrupt employees would have stopped at mere robbery. After all Indira Gandhi paid with her life for a ‘breach of trust’ by her security staff.

This episode along with the robbery of Ravindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize a few months ago blows a gaping hole into the Communist propaganda that they preside over a cleaner administration. In fact, they can’t even seem to protect the state’s honour and its treasures. Lets now consider some aspects of the robbery that have implications for companies that are enthused by the chief minister’s call to set up base in West Bengal.

Reacting to the episode, the Inspector General of police claimed, ‘‘The PIN code for Basu’s ATM card was cracked for the theft.’’ Another media report, however, says that a mere scrutiny of the security camera installed at the ATM site led to the culprits.

If the Assistant Sub-inspector and his accomplices were smart enough to ‘‘crack the PIN code,’’ rather than merely ‘steal’ it from a drawer at Basu’s residence, it implies a degree of technology savvy that would have been astonishing among relatively junior government employees.

Yet, the same IT-savvy police criminals didn’t know what ordinary ATM do — that most ATM’s have surveillance cameras installed for security reasons. If our police are not even competent enough to commit a simple robbery, what are the chances of them ever catching a really clever criminal?

Combine corruption with incompetence and you know why sandalwood smuggler Veerappan’s nefarious empire survived untouched for decades. It also explains why there is no talk anymore about the enormous wealth that he had reportedly stashed away in the Karnataka jungles. Veerappan’s missing money has all the makings of a big financial scandal.

Is it any wonder that massive securities scams involving a complex web of financial transactions are usually undetected? If police officials don’t know about security cameras, what is the chance of them progressing to knowledge about fraud involving e-commerce or security techniques such as encryption, decryption and biometric passwords?

For many years now, farmer leaders such as Sharad Joshi described the rural-urban divide as Bharat versus India. A new divide is now emerging between those who are part of India’s rapid progress where parts of the population has raced ahead to the point where it threatens the livelihood of the people of America, while the rest of the country remains stuck in a morass of poverty and corruption.

On one hand, we use electronic voting machines to exercise our franchise, trade on the world’s third-largest stock exchange and have state governments paying lip service to e-governance and e-tendering. Our information technology companies manage and monitor water supply and sewage infrastructure for other countries sitting in Bangalore and Hyderabad. Yet, we can’t seem to get away from basic problems of corruption, incompetence and lack of technology savvy in our police force and investigation agencies.

Maintenance of law and order is the basic infrastructure for any development, but as former Chief Vigilance Commissioner N. Vittal once said at a public meeting, ‘‘In these 50 years a number of attempts have been made to set up institutions to check corruption.

But inspite of these efforts, what really happened was that corruption became very significant, first by corrupting of these institutions and then by institutionalisation of corruption.’’ That is how institutions such as the office of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has been deliberately kept toothless and ineffective.

Given this situation, there is good news in the fact that some government officials were stupid enough (or were they bold) to rob the tiny pension account of a powerful leader like Jyoti Basu. While the rest of us may snigger, it will hopefully force politicians to think and worry about the all pervading increase in corruption in recent times; and their central role in the spread of this cancer.

Earlier, it was only the ordinary citizen who was exploited by the state through its public servants; now those public servants who bribe their way into government jobs are threatening to rob the very politicians who helped destroy merit and competence in the system. Hopefully, that makes the situation ripe for some change.

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-- Sucheta Dalal