The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Personal tragedy, professional malady

New Delhi, May 28: Thirty-something Anurag Vardhan could pass off as an academic with his thick glasses and casual clothes. He may also be labelled a rebel, of sorts. And compassion he deserves in full measure for a personal tragedy.

This is not the tragedy of his being caught paying a bribe to the personal assistant of a Union minister of state for finance to fix a transfer for him to Mumbai. When two people were caught last week emerging from his South Delhi home with Rs 4 lakh in a polythene packet, Vardhan invited disaster upon his family — his wife and a twin boy and girl, both autistic.

The Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer of the 1994 batch wanted to move out of Delhi, to which he had sought and got a transfer under a year ago, and back to Mumbai and was ready to pay for it.

According to the CBI, he had paid Rs 6 lakh to R. Perumalswamy, the personal assistant of minister of state for finance Gingee Ramachandran, who has since resigned. Perumalswamy was arrested when he came out of Vardhan’s house after collecting the rest once the job was done.

Until that Friday last week, when he was picked up, Vardhan had been doing the lawkeeping — spotting economic offenders and dragging them to court.

Civil service runs in the family. His father and father-in-law are promotee IAS officers. But Vardhan also did something that did not run in the family: marry outside his caste, obviously against his parents’ wishes. Such an act in a mofussil town of Samastipur in caste-ridden Bihar qualifies as a rebellion.

He was also not your regular babu, happy with the current state of his affairs. First he qualified for the Group B of the civil service and was posted at Calcutta — where the going rate of bribe for a tax official’s transfer is among the lowest — as a customs appraiser. Vardhan gave it another shot and found himself an IRS position in 1994.

After 18 months of training in Mussoorie, his first assignment took him to Chennai, a move that appears to have had a lasting impact on his life.

CBI officials said that in Chennai he met the chartered accountant Krishnamurthy, who was to become his fixer in what has now come to be known as the transfer-for-cash scandal. The two were in touch through Vardhan’s Mumbai stint and later in Delhi where he arrived last July.

Investigators say Vardhan was also acting as a conduit between Krishnamurthy, also under arrest, and some of his tax colleagues.

With the arrest of the players in the scandal, it has suddenly been discovered that transfer-for-cash is common enough. So why be surprised'

The CBI has not made a catch like a minister’s personal assistant thus far, but it books around two dozen corrupt revenue officials every year. Last year, it filed cases against 17 officers and 10 already this year.

The president of the All-India IRS Officers’ Association, K. Rangabhasan, however, said: “Ninety per cent of the officers are good, but when something happens, the media paints red the entire service.”

Customs officials agree that influence-peddling in transfers has been around for as long as they can remember, but money changing hands has become fashionable only in the last five years.

“The whole mahaul (environment) in the country is like that, so why blame only IRS,” Rangabhasan said.

Officers want postings in Delhi and Mumbai not merely because these are the honey pots, but their families get better opportunities — education, employment.

According to the CBI, Vardhan sought a transfer to Delhi, pleading that the best treatment for his children was available in the capital’s Centre for Action for Autism.

Why did he then want to return to Mumbai' The CBI is asking.

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