The Corrupt Empowered
The inside story of how the chairman of the Damodar Valley Corporation was appointed even while he was under the scanner of the Central Vigilance Commission. Brijesh Pandey reports
|Photo : Naveesh T
When the Union Ministry of Power announced on October 13 that Subrata Biswas had been made chairman of the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) for a five-year term, it was seen by the uninitiated as a routine appointment. Actually it was routine trickery. For nowhere was it stated that Biswas – who as DVC secretary faced several corruption charges – had failed to obtain the mandatory clearance from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). Indeed there are reports that even the West Bengal and Jharkhand governments were kept in the dark.
TEHELKA has documents to prove how the power ministry flouted established norms and procedures to make the appointment that had the Engineers Association promptly filing an appeal under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Yet all that it elicited on October 22 from KC Kedia, under secretary in the power ministry, was brief cryptic confirmation that the vigilance clearance had indeed not been received. Not a word beyond this!
Significantly, just two days before this, CVC Secretary KS Ramasubban had written a scathing letter to Power Secretary H.S. Brahma that deserves to be quoted in full:
“On 25th April, 2009, your ministry sought vigilance clearance in respect of Subrata Biswas as he was considered for the post of Chairman, DVC. The commission requested the ministry to furnish the bio-data of the officer giving information in respect of the officers for the preceding 10 years.” With that Ramasubban proceeds to question the real motives of the Power Ministry. According to the CVC, “It is now understood that Biswas has already been appointed as Chairman of DVC after obtaining the approval of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet. It is not understood how the ministry processed his appointment without vigilance clearance from the commission. It is for your further information that in a case arising out of the CTE examination of some works in DVC, the commission has advised disciplinary action against Biswas. In two more cases, the role of Biswas has been found to attract disciplinary action.” But rather than reviewing its decision, as the commission requested, the Power Ministry chose to maintain the questionable status quo. Consequently, six months after this correspondence, there is still no indication of a CVC clearance coming in.
Thus several uncomfortable questions arise:
- Why didn’t the power secretary state that Subrata Biswas was appointed without vigilance clearance?
- Who cleared the appointment? Was Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde aware of this?
- Was the government not aware of the vigilance cases pending against Biswas, as also the CBI inquiry that was going on when he was DVC secretary?
- What is it about Biswas that the ministry so blithely chose to undermine the CVC’s authority?
But both Shinde and the power secretary declined comment. And shockingly this isn’t for the first time either that the power ministry has come under the scanner over the appointment of the chairman of the DVC – one of the country’s largest power generating plants. Like Biswas, his predecessor, Ashwin Kumar Burman too, remained under the scanner of the CBI and the CVC for the greater part of his tenure. Yet he too continued to enjoy the ministry’s unstinted support. (In Burman’s time nearly all DVC contracts were awarded on a single-tender basis. This means that the chairman is free to pick any contractor he likes, with no checks and balances in place – and of course in complete violation of CVC norms.)
It isn’t of course as though nobody in the top political echelons is bothered about these murky goings on. For instance, on October 3 last year, Gurudas Kamat, Congress MP and then chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on energy, wrote to the prime minister seeking a CBI inquiry into the conduct of Burman, his cronies and Biswas. Kamat was also against extending Burman’s tenure. The fact that Kamat wrote to the PM bypassing Shinde shows how little trust the latter enjoys among his own partymen. The preliminary investigations of both the CBI and the parliamentary committee had found Burman’s role warranting a deeper probe.
But this carried no weight with Shinde, who wrote to the prime minister extolling Burman’s many virtues and contributions to the DVC. On October 1 itself the Power Ministry had written to the CVC asking for Burman’s vigilance clearance. The CVC’s response was to list the corruption cases pending against Burman and suggest that it would not in the least be proper to grant him another extension. The CVC was surprised that despite two complaints, the outcome of one of which was still unknown, the Power Ministry remained enthusiastic about Burman continuing as chairman.
For its part the ministry, smarting under CVC’s refusal, kept the chairman’s post vacant for almost a year, causing a number of projects to suffer. These include the 5,200 MW power supply agreement signed with the Government of India for lighting up the 2010 Commonwealth Games, budgeted at Rs 25,000 crore.
So deep is the rot in the DVC that last June the CVC wrote to the Power Ministry alleging that hardly any contract awarded by it was free of the taint of corruption.
According to the CVC’s dossier some 2,000 contracts were awarded on a single-tender basis. The commission has also alleged that the reports relating to award of contracts on a nomination basis were not being submitted to the DVC board every quarter.
Also, that the nearly 10 percent of suspicious cases were not being checked by the audit committee.
It is thus obvious that a powerful nexus is siphoning off thousands of crores of rupees from government coffers. But just now the government’s biggest concern is whether the DVC can deliver on the Commonwealth Games project, which it bagged in 2006.