The general euphoria in the country over the conviction of Lalu Yadav and 44 others in the fodder scam is understandable in the current ambience of depravity in public life. Not many are taken in by the allegation of a political conspiracy being levelled by Lalu’s supporters. This was a well investigated case by the CBI, and the backing lent by the apex court and the Patna high court to the Ranchi Special Court was substantial. This is once more a confirmation of what the CBI can do under the court’s supervision. There is, therefore, a greater case for an autonomous CBI that is accountable only to the law and judiciary, and not a meddling executive. The latter’s reluctance to relax its control over the premier investigating agency is sinister to say the least.
I do not predict any sea change to the current civil servant perceptions of their role in combating corruption. A sizable number of Bihar bureaucrats, including some IAS officers, have been convicted in the fodder scam. In many other cases in the recent past, including the 2G scam and Coalgate, many top officials are facing the heat. In most of these cases there is no evidence that they themselves derived any personal benefit. There is only the evidence of a failure on their part to stand up to a dishonest minister. This is the most unfortunate aspect of the current scene.
The fodder conviction should again send out the message that whatever be the intimidation from your political bosses, a civil servant would do well to refuse to be a party to payment of illegal gratification. The alternative to such an upright stand is a prospective term in prison. Also true is that if a chief secretary or secretary to GOI cannot defy a blatantly illegal direction of a minister, no lesser government servant can. This applies to senior police officers as well. There is, therefore, the need to publicise the not-well-advertised fact that several civil servants are in the dock because of their fear of the politician. I expect things to change, but only slowly, that too only when both the political and administrative classes fully realize the perils of corruption. This is why a stiff sentence, such as the one, given by the Ranchi court is most welcome. Any lenience here would have been out of tune with public expectations.
The CBI cannot rest on its oars. It has a lot to improve by way of quality and speed. Its reputation cannot be solely on the basis of its performance in court-monitored cases, which are only a handful. In a majority of investigations, the CBI has been accused of either being tardy or superficial.
The fodder scam investigation and its success should impress upon governments, both in the Centre and states, that there is a need to strengthen the autonomy of anti-corruption agencies. The systematic emasculation of anti-corruption bureaus is one evil that has contributed to the malaise and facilitated stupendous corruption in states. No Chief Minister will admit it. This is one lacuna that needs immediate attention of right-thinking people. While the Supreme Court has done a lot to repair the CBI, it is the high courts which should undertake a similar surgical exercise in the states where anti-corruption work is as bad as a joke. There may not have been a fodder scam if only the Bihar Vigilance Bureau had been a real power in tackling corruption. I do not expect any Chief Minister to take the initiative in the matter. Only a drastic judicial intervention will make an impact.
The writer is a former CBI Director