Small babus with deep pockets: The growing menace of corruption in Odisha

When the corrupt subordinate is caught, the superior hardly ever gets the blame whereas he too needs to be hauled up for dereliction of duty. If that was done, there would be better performance, less corruption and better utilization of government resources.

The growing menace of corruption in Odisha

Two recent raids of Odisha Vigilance - one relating to an Assistant Engineer in the irrigation division in Ganjam district and the other, relating to a Gram Rojgar Sevak (GRS) working on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar – which led to detection of huge assets, raise important issues like quality of governance and government’s response to corruption. In case of the former, the engineer concerned was the all important functionary in the division office where he was stationed for 22 years since the day he joined government service as a junior engineer.

Kartikeswar Roul, the Junior Engineer, was never transferred and wielded tremendous power and clout in the office. Searches resulted in the highest seizure of cash during any raid by the State Vigilance. It is to be noted that on April 7, 2022, the second day of the house search, Rs 2.5 crore in cash was unearthed from his house and that of his second wife. Besides, assets worth over Rs 2.76 crore including two flats and one double-storey building in Bhubaneswar, bank and insurance deposits of about Rs 37.23 lakh, seven plots of land including two in the prime area of Bhubaneswar were unearthed. Roul has been arrested.

The case of the Gram Rojgar Sevak, Babuli Charan Padhihari is more revealing. Babuli had joined the job not long ago and earned around Rs 6000 per month and this wage had increased to Rs 8500 when he was arrested by the Vigilance on charges of corruption. He came under Vigilance surveillance recently when he allegedly sold 18 plots of land in the suburbs of Bhubaneswar. His assets included costly buildings in the city suburbs, a car, a bike, and gold ornaments worth Rs 8 lakh. He was allegedly in possession of 59 plots of land in and around Bhubaneswar. He seemed to be liberally taking advantage of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Fund and was on an enrichment overdrive. 

That a humble government employee not even on regular government pay scale could amass wealth of this proportion being posted so close to Bhubaneswar only betrayed a wholesome tolerant attitude to corruption and total delegation of important economic programme execution responsibility to petty officials, with the BDO and supervisory officials remaining occupied perhaps with more important responsibilities.

Case of Roul leads one to believe that the Government could let transferable officials remain in one station for decades if they were good at networking skill or were politically connected. The case of Padhihari revealed the steep slide of supervision responsibility of officials. Both cases raise the issue of the government’s attitude to corruption of officials.

There are about 4 lakh government employees and it is likely that some would be deficient in probity and integrity. The supervising officers have a big role in ensuring efficiency and honesty in governance. The work of officials needs regular monitoring, and accountability needs to be ensured. There cannot be a kindly attitude, a forgiving disposition towards corruption. Corruption, in many cases, is an indicator of lack of supervision and in some cases indicates collusion of superiors.

As against about 4 lakh state government employees, the Vigilance set up in the state has limitations of both size and time. In 2020, Odisha Vigilance registered only 245 cases against 381 persons including 53 Class-I, 38 Class-II, 183 Class-III, five Class-IV officials, 26 public servants and 76 private individuals. Of these, 93 were disproportionate asset (DA) cases involving DA of Rs 124 crore in respect of 24 Class-I and 20 Class-II officers. Since 2019, Odisha government has compulsorily retired 158 government employees as of March 2022. However, investigation of many Vigilance cases takes a long time to complete; the rate of conviction is not high. Given these limitations, Vigilance has not been a strong enough deterrent. Much stronger vigil and administrative action seem called for. It is highly improbable that the corrupt practices of a subordinate official remain unknown to the superior officer. When the corrupt subordinate is caught, the superior hardly ever gets the blame whereas he too needs to be hauled up for dereliction of duty. If that was done, there would be better performance, less corruption and better utilization of government resources.

The issue of corruption in government had even engaged the attention of Kautilya. He had suggested a few measures which are worth considering even now. In cases of corruption, he had said, all concerned officials must be checked and the non-corrupt supporters should also be treated as corrupt. He had suggested regular transfer of public servants. He advocated strict application of law to prevent and control corruption.

It is worth recalling that the Biju Janata Dal had played the honesty card before coming to power in 2000. Liberal use of CBI was made to instill a sense of fear among the corrupt. The situation seems to be different now. Serious lapses and cases of graft of gargantuan proportion keep surfacing at seemingly innocuous quarters and lend support to the widespread belief that corruption has now engulfed the state like forest fire. Corruption impacts delivery of services, it breeds societal anger and discontent. Steadily but surely, it transforms the huge governing apparatus to NPA. The government bears the cost of a corrupt employee by entertaining him in service but does not get his services the way it should have been – a contingency any government should avoid. A much more effective strategy to curb corruption seems to be the need of the hour.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at lonewalker.1942@gmail.com)

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