Half-hearted steps

A close look at the unending series of scams in India which led to large-scale loot of public funds from banks and other governmental entities would take one to the conclusion that none other than the government is the main facilitator for perpetuation of such frauds. It is more evident when one perceives the inner machinations at work to ensure that both Houses of Parliament are virtually put under siege by allies of the ruling BJP so that the Punjab National Bank scam, among others, is not discussed and brought under public scrutiny. Businessmen, who are seen to be the smartest in fooling the establishment and taking the systems for a ride for their undue personal advantage are best at identifying the loopholes in the system and exploiting situations to their advantage. With easy assistance and support from the bureaucracy or top bank functionaries, they manage to get away with their act, often ending up in fancy destinations abroad with loads of money from India for a happy life thereafter. Sadly, no one in government seems excessively bothered about this scenario simply because it is all public money, not theirs, which is siphoned off in crooked ways.

A case in point is the government’s sudden sense of alert after a huge scam involving diamond merchants was exposed at Punjab National Bank, one of the top public sector banking institutions. Hefty amounts were taken away, as had happened in the case of other alleged loan frauds involving the likes of Vijay Mallya in the past. Mallya escaped with plane-loads of personal belongings for a long-duration stay in the UK and possibly elsewhere too, cocking a snook at the Indian establishment and in particular the banks from where he had extracted huge loans. Hundreds of big businessmen who took huge loans purposely without proper guarantee have defaulted on repayments even as they had the capacity to repay, and escaped into thin air. They are known by the term ‘wilful defaulters’, fat-cats who are by now a growing class of their own. They anchor themselves in tax havens with which India has no extradition treaty. So many such instances had come to governmental and public notice in the past and yet the government in its wisdom failed to take effective action to stem the rot.

In the context of the PNB fraud, the Union Government has announced it would tighten the laws in ways as to avoid such situations in future. This is an oft-repeated script. This might not necessarily mean much, but a ploy to ensure the public is satisfied that the government would do its job, and introduce new checks and balances to save public money from open loot. Putting confidence in the government, the common man would forget about the matter altogether, and turn to his daily grind. So do even the generally well-informed sections of the public. But, the farce, the loot, the misappropriation of public funds will continue in one form or the other. These tricks may remind some of the ever so frequent ‘Red Alerts’ that used to get sounded after each terror attack in Delhi or elsewhere. Cars would be searched, police personnel would be noticeable in larger number for a few days and then everything would be back to normal. Wait for another attack for a repeat show.

Lack of government vigil is the main cause of such frauds. But then, in India, who is the government? It certainly is not limited to elected legislator and ministers. They are but a small portion. Even when the Modi government announced last week that it would tighten laws to avoid a repeat of the PNB-like frauds, it is clearly not serious about doing a good job. Take for instance the claim that it has decided to introduce a new provision under which anyone who takes a loan above Rs50 crore should furnish his or her passport details “within 50 days of the loan sanction”. Instead, a natural question is, why not ask for passport details even at the starting stage of a loan application, from each and every loan applicant, or an affidavit stating he or she does not have a passport, and that this shall be produced immediately after they take a passport in future? By giving a 50-day time after the grant of loan, the government is giving enough legroom for crooks to take the money and get out of the country in haste. Attaching a copy of the passport is no hard task; it costs just a rupee or two. Copies can be taken and forwarded with no cost by mobile phones as well. So, the question is who’s fooling whom? Add to this the introduction of the half baked Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018. It is an extremely hurried through piece of legislation that will certainly get hammered if and when challenged in any appropriate court of law because of its inherent anti fundamental rights clauses.

Question also arises as to why the government is not satisfied with passports, and the personal information thereof, in dealings of various other kinds, instead of insisting on Aadhaar and the like as identification. There already is serious worry over Aadhaar being made mandatory for receipt of governmental benefits, subsidies, and for various documentary transactions. Where a passport should help, why go for an additional identity in the form of Aadhaar?

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