Anatomy of Corruption

Whistleblowers and Facilitators in Bureaucratic Jungle

Recently TV news highlighted an inflammatory communal video prepared by the BJP for its UP poll campaign. After conflicting comments by BJP leaders, the party disowned the material before it was circulated. This was before any complaint had been lodged with the Election Commission (EC). Nevertheless some parties, including the Congress, demanded that the EC should de-recognize the BJP. The BJP demanded that EC member Naveen Chawla be debarred from hearing the case. A BJP petition alleging Chawla's partiality towards the Congress was already pending in the Supreme Court.

The Court asked the EC to decide the matter. It is accepted democratic convention for a judge to exclude himself from hearing a case if he is an allegedly interested party. Since the BJP petition against Chawla in SC was filed before the de-recognition demand, he was allegedly an interested party. The CEC, N Gopalswamy, was expected to exclude Chawla from the case without prejudging him. But Gopalswamy allowed Chawla to hear the case. That raised some eyebrows. Gopalswamy was appointed by the NDA government. He was not perceived as being committed to the UPA government. Evidently, he is not. Is he then, as most successful bureaucrats, committed to himself?     

Broadly, there are three kinds of bureaucrats: The corrupt black sheep who are complicit in corruption; the clean officers who are often marginalized; and those who keep their own records clean but facilitate political corruption. The last are considered most successful and rise to high positions.

Gopalswamy occupies high position. The favorite axiom of successful bureaucrats is: 'Never rock the boat.' A cruder version is: 'Know which side your bread is buttered.'

Details of a case have emerged that may provide a good example of how successful bureaucrats operate. In 1994-95 the Semiconductor Complex Limited (SCL) near Chandigarh floated a global tender, worth approximately Rs 400 crore, for purchasing electronic equipment. SCL comes under the Department of Electronics (DOE). The SCL Executive Director Vigilance (CVO) was JS Tiwana. Earlier Tiwana, along with a colleague, had on request of N Vittal, Secretary, DOE, prepared a foolproof procedure to ensure that SCL's global tenders were impartially evaluated.

While the bids were being evaluated Tiwana was contacted by a bidder based in America. He complained of being approached for a kickback of 10 per cent in return for which he was promised his bid would succeed. Tiwana consulted his seniors in CVC and DOE including CVO of DOE, N Gopalswamy, who is presently the Chief Election Commissioner. Tiwana was advised to contact the complainant and seek further evidence, possibly through taped telephone conversations. Tiwana was asked also to assure the complainant that if he did this, he would be introduced to senior officials of DOE and the tenders would be decided on merit.

Tiwana followed these instructions. He received explosive tape records of the power broker who named the people he would in turn have to bribe in order to get the tender approved. The power broker was BL Raina, a close associate of the acting CMD of SCL, MJ Zarabi. After his appointment Zarabi changed the existing purchase procedure by which tenders were to be awarded to the lowest bidder. Tiwana, who co-authored the earlier procedure with his colleague, Ramaseshan, was asked to sign approval of the revised procedure. He refused.

Subsequently Raina made overtures to the America-based bidders. Following the instructions of Joint Secretary and CVO of DOE, Gopalswamy, Tiwana transcribed the recorded evidence and sent it to the Secretary DOE, N Vittal, through an official letter number ED(V)8500: DO: 94, dated 25 October, 1994. 
After this Tiwana's life was made miserable. He received a curt letter from Gopalswamy seeking details of the circumstances that led to the tape recording. This puzzled Tiwana. He had earlier played the tape recording for Gopalswamy's benefit in the presence of his colleague, Ramaseshan. Tiwana sent the sought details to Gopalswamy. He also apprised the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), Vijay Sekharan, who had been briefed on the case all along. Tiwana conveyed to the CVC the relationship between Raina and Zarabi, and his own interpretation of the contents of the tape recordings.

Tiwana's communications to DOE were duly passed on to Zarabi who turned hostile. Tiwana was excluded from all responsibilities in SCL and was totally marginalized. Apparently there were adverse remarks and allegations of wrong doing against him in his Annual Confidential Report (ACR) for the year 1994-95. Tiwana had received excellent ACRs in the three preceding years. The Reporting Officer had been the same in the earlier years as well as in 1994; and the Reviewing Officer was N Vittal.

Under the Right to Information Act (RTI) Tiwana has sought confirmation that Gopalswamy wrote to the CVC to close the case as there was 'no conclusive proof' of bribe-taking. If this was Gopalswamy's approach, it appeared truly strange. The evidence presented indicated a conspiracy needing a probe in order to abort possible corruption. How could conclusive proof of kickbacks be furnished before the tenders were decided?

Thereafter Tiwana was subjected to disciplinary proceedings for imposition of major penalty for alleged misconduct. The allegations against him were frivolous. He was accused of utilizing four Leave Travel Concessions (LTCs) allotted to him for two successive years not on the basis of two LTCs each year, but of using one in the first year and three in the next year. The LTCs were sanctioned to him by the appropriate authority. Reports of Tiwana's own charges as well as the charges against him of alleged misconduct were leaked to the press. After 1995 Tiwana's promotions were blocked. His representations were ignored.

Tiwana submitted his statement of defence to the Ministry of Personnel. In November 2002 he was exonerated of all the allegations levelled against him. One allegation was frivolous and another was based on wrong records. In exonerating him, the Ministry's Order also requested that 'responsibility be fixed on persons responsible for not providing all the relevant documents while sending proposal of initiation of disciplinary proceedings against Shri Tiwana'.

Can Vittal and Gopalswamy shed some light on this? They were Secretary and Joint Secretary respectively of DOE when the adverse ACR against Tiwana was written. Although eventually vindicated, Tiwana's last 12 years in service were spent under a cloud. His crime? Discharging his official duty, he blew the whistle. Vittal and Gopalswamy never seriously pursued the evidence that might have exposed a corruption conspiracy involving powerful politicians. Their reward? Both rose to occupy constitutional posts. Vittal retired as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Gopalswamy is the current Chief Election Commissioner. Who, then, thrives in our system ' whistleblowers or facilitators?


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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