Far from clarifying matters and bringing the perpetrators of the Adarsh Housing Society scandal in Mumbai to speedy justice, the Central Bureau of Investigation chargesheet against 13 individuals is almost certain to pave the way for a protracted legal contest that may well take more than a decade to resolve. The nominal indictment of the former chief minister, Ashok Chavan, may well be used by a beleaguered Congress at the Centre to argue that no special favours have been shown to politicians. However, the mere fact that the I-didnt-know pleas of the former chief ministers, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Vilasrao Deshmukh (both cabinet ministers in Delhi), were accepted by the premier investigation agency at face value is likely to prompt accusations that Mr Chavan was made the fall guy in a scandal that had the tacit blessings of the entire ruling dispensation in Maharashtra. Although the CBI is likely to rope in a few more politicians, including a Bharatiya Janata Party member of the Rajya Sabha, in its supplementary chargesheet, it is likely that the main case will be dogged by a parallel public interest litigation demanding that the prosecution widen its net. Yet more delay is certain in the light of the disagreement between the Maharashtra government and the Union defence ministry over who owns the land on which the skyscraper has been built.
The clear lack of sincerity that has marked the official investigation into a case that involved using the widows of the Kargil conflict for straightforward cronyism is calculated to increase popular disenchantment with the countrys political culture. The post-1991 economic growth may have brought prosperity to large parts of India, but this has also been accompanied by the further debasement of political culture. In most parts of India, but particularly in states that have witnessed a real estate boom, it has become customary for politicians to use their discretionary powers to promote a particularly venal form of crony capitalism. Indeed, real estate has become the happy hunting ground for political fund collectors. The solution does not lie in more controls which, ironically, facilitate more corruption. Unless transparent, rule-based guidelines subsume discretionary powers of the executive, there will be many more Adarsh-type scams. And, the sheer inefficiency of the judicial process will ensure that punishment of the scamsters remain a distant dream.