The anti-corruption plank that Narendra Modi has sought to monopolise has bitten on the eve of Independence Day the hand that milked what was projected as a crusade.
If disclosures by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG) brought under stress the corruption-free claims at the Centre, a blizzard of First Information Reports (FIRs) lodged in Madhya Pradesh against the social media “handlers” of Congress leaders Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Kamal Nath for alleging graft kept the glare firmly on a “50 per cent commission” claim in the BJP-run poll-bound state.
The orchestrated move of filing a reported 41 FIRs across Madhya Pradesh in a midnight operation suggested the government’s involvement.
Indore police confirmed that an FIR had been registered against the “handlers” of the X (formerly Twitter) accounts of those including Priyanka and Kamal Nath. But none of these leaders has said they have handlers.
Hours before the Prime Minister addresses the nation from the Red Fort, the Congress launched protests in Madhya Pradesh against the registration of FIRs for castigating the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government.
Congress leaders also pasted posters on the “50 per cent commission” at district collectors’ offices in a replay of the Karnataka situation in which the Congress played up the “40 per cent corruption” charge made by an association of contractors. The BJP lost the Assembly elections in Karnataka.
Even in Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP government has faced charges of widespread corruption, from the notorious Vyapam to mining and e-tendering scams -– the trigger for the FIRs against Priyanka and Kamal Nath came from a letter written by a contractor to a high court judge, complaining of 50 per cent commission.
On Monday, Kamal Nath took the battle to another plane, obviously for symbolic impact, submitting a memorandum to the Mahakaal temple in Ujjain for getting rid of the corrupt government.
The alleged scams in Madhya Pradesh do not affect Modi directly although it may weaken his anti-corruption tirade. But the CAG reports point to a rot in the system operated by the central government.
‘Highway to hell’
A CAG report on transport points to a cost escalation of 1278 per cent in one project. Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said: “The BJP’s corruption and loot are taking the nation on a highway to hell!”
Kharge asked Modi to look within before harping on corruption to defame his rivals, pointing out innumerable deficiencies, non-compliance with rules, violation of tendering process, funding mismanagement and fraud.
Playing spoilsport on the eve of Independence Day, Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh said in an exhaustive statement on Monday: “Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will unleash his torrent of lies from the ramparts of the Red Fort for one last time, taking off from his tsunami of lies to the nation in Parliament last week. But will he have the courage to question his own Government and his ministers on their corruption and incompetence?”
Ramesh added: “Last week, the CAG tabled a series of reports in Parliament. Even a defanged CAG has been able to expose the sheer corruption and incompetence of the Modi government. The CAG has flagged an overall cost overrun of more than 100 per cent in the much-hyped Bharatmala Pariyojana (economic corridors). This project was approved and monitored by none other than the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) that is chaired by the Prime Minister.”
The statement said: “The sanctioned cost of the 26,316km of highways that have been awarded was Rs 8,46,588 crore, as against the CCEA-approved length of 34,800 km at a cost of Rs 5,35,000 crore. This means that these projects were awarded at a cost of Rs 32.17 crore/km, more than double the cost of Rs 15.37 crore/km approved by the CCEA. Despite multiple cost overruns, only 13,499 km of national highways have been completed till 31 March 2023, less than 39% of the CCEA-approved length.”
Asking whether the Prime Minister will take responsibility for corruption under his watch, Ramesh said: “The CAG raised concerns about the inflated project cost of the Dwarka Expressway, which went up 14 times from the sanctioned Rs 18 crore/km to Rs 250 crore/km.
“The CAG has also highlighted irregularities in the Bharatmala bidding process -– successful bidders not fulfilling tender condition, bidders being selected on the basis of falsified documents, work awarded without approved detailed project reports or faulty DPRs and the diversion of funds to the tune of Rs 3,598.52 crore from escrow accounts.”
The CAG has uncovered violations of toll rules, with the NHAI wrongly collecting Rs 132.05 crore from commuters in just 5 randomly audited toll plazas. At the same time, the NHAI lost revenue of Rs 133.36 crore because of the lack of provision for revenue sharing in concession agreements in two sections of NH projects.
“If this audit were extrapolated to the whole country, the overall loss to the exchequer and the commuters would amount to lakhs of crores. Will the Prime Minister take action against the Union minister of road transport and highways?” Ramesh asked.
Pointing to corruption in Modi’s favourite health scheme, Ramesh said: “CAG has reported payouts to the dead in the Prime Minister’s Ayushman Bharat Scheme. 88,760 patients had died during treatment and yet, 2,14,923 claims were shown as paid in respect of ‘fresh treatments’ given to these dead ‘patients’.
“Other than that, 7.5 lakh recipients were linked to a single mobile number and 4,761 registrations made against seven Aadhaar numbers. In total, there are more than 1.24 crore fake beneficiaries linked to only 1,86,855 mobile numbers. Will the Prime Minister order an investigation on
who were the real beneficiaries of this massive Digital India scam in Ayushman Bharat?”
The Congress leader said the CAG has raised similar questions on irregularities in the Ayodhya Development Project and the diversion of old pension funds under the National Social Assistance Programme to publicising the Modi government’s schemes instead.