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Zero Tolerance To Corruption: Odisha Need To Go UP Way!

If at all the Odisha government is serious in dealing corruption at higher offices with an iron hand, as envisaged by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) model may come handy. As things stand at present, the Odisha Vigilance seems to have little wherewithal to make the State graft free

Bhubaneswar: For the Naveen Patnaik-led ruling BJD, in order to fulfil the State government’s avowed slogan of ‘zero-tolerance against corruption’, the Odisha government need to tread the UP way.

The Odisha Vigilance’s anti-corruption crusade for long has only stumbled upon the minnows (Class-III employees) in the government hierarchy for stacking up disproportionate assets worth crores to their known sources of income. The big fish, mostly, stayed immune from the Vigilance net.

The Odisha Vigilance Performance report in 2020 is the latest evidence.

As per the report, over half of the DA cases in State were registered against the class –III employees (from clerks to JEs). And the loot amount amassed by the minnows had even exceeded Rs 4crore in the year 2020 – a first in the vigilance history.

A Few Samples:

December 2020: A senior clerk at the office of Bhubaneswar RB Division-I, was arrested by Vigilance sleuths for amassing disproportionate assets (DA) to the tune of Rs 5.23 crore.

On the same day, the anti-corruption agency had arrested one anganwadi worker for amassing DA worth Rs 2.25crore.

Nov 2020:  Two clerks in the Jajpur Sub-registrar office arrested in a DA case.

The list is simply non-exhaustive….

Changing Corruption Curve

An exhaustive data analysis of a long period– from 2004-2020– reveals that while trap cases had first increased by a whopping 187 per cent during 2004 -2015, it declined by around 117 per cent during the period 2015-2020.

On the other hand, the DA cases had doubled during the period of 2004-2012 but posted a decline of 10 per cent during the span of 2012-2020.

However, the Odisha Vigilance had seemingly hit the jackpot in DA cases, as the assets attached during the period in the State had grown by nearly 400 per cent. From around Rs 29 crore in 2014, the disproportion assets seized stood at Rs 124 crore in 2020.

The above analysis clearly shows that while DA cases didn’t project any appreciable rise, the amount or assets seized did show a mammoth rise, which hints at the rising corruption at the grass root level in the State.

The Prime Trend

The number of Class I officers booked under Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) 1988 had dipped from 75 in 2015 to mere 53 in 2020. And arrest of class-II officers had posted a big drop from a high of 97 in 2015 to 37 in 2020. Proportionately seen, the arrest of Class-II officers now constituted around 9 per cent of the total arrests vis-à-vis 20 per cent in 2015.

The above analysis indicates that over the years the netting of big fishes by the State Vigilance had declined. And Vigilance made a fetish of the minnows trapped.

It is exactly for this reason the corruption and scams keep on raising its ugly head every now and then. The key players, however, have stayed immune from the vigilance jaws.

The Anti-graft Agency’s Take

“Odisha Vigilance initiates strict action against all individuals, irrespective of the position he/she holds. The vigilance takes up a case when it gets information on corruption or amassing up of wealth disproportionate to known sources of income. There is a scheme of award for informers,” said Debasis Panigrahi, DG Odisha Vigilance.

Experts’ Take

“For Odisha Vigilance, trap cases are priority ones because it involves harassment of common man. The anti—graft body will not look into the amount of bribe demanded. It will swing into action as soon as it receives a complaint in this regard. This is the reason behind lower amount seized from higher number of trap cases,” explained former DGP Odisha Police, Gopal Nanda, who had also been the DG Vigilance between 2007-2012 when the anti-graft body had attained dizzy heights.

However, he opined that in DA cases, the State Vigilance follows a pick and choose policy, given the type and amount of concrete info in hand.

Time For Operation Purge?  

In order to ensure zero corruption, the onus lies on the respective department heads. They have to identify and isolate the corrupt officers. Rather, they can send the list of the crooked to State Vigilance for swift action, suggested Gopal Nanda, former DGP.

Readymade Model

Soon after taking charge, UP CM Yogi Adityanath had ordered all departments to institute departmental inquiries to identify crooked officials, including IAS and IPS. After 2-years of continuous tracking, the UP governments cracked the whip on a whopping 700 officials. Many were forced to take VRS. Retired government officials were hauled up for misdemeanours and hundreds were demoted. And many more were given compulsory retirement.

The Bottom line: So far, the Naveen Patnaik government has replicated the step of compulsory retirement. So far, 109 officials have been sent on compulsory retirement. But Odisha has to walk a long way if at all it is serious for ‘zero-tolerance against corruption’.

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