By J. Venkatesan
A file photo showing the name-board of the company engaged in the Taj Heritage Corridor project. — Photo: V.V. Krishnan
The ordering of registration of FIRs will enable the CBI to conduct a regular criminal investigation into the scam.
A Bench, comprising Justice M.B. Shah and Justice B.N. Agrawal, had earlier directed a preliminary inquiry into the scam to ascertain the involvement of those connected with granting approval for the project without the Central Government's clearance and to find out how the first instalment of Rs. 17 crores was spent.
The Taj Heritage corridor encompasses five important monuments — the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Rambagh, Itmad-ud-Daula and Chini ka Roja — and it was assessed that the massive project, including reclamation of the river-bed, would endanger the monuments.
The Bench had earlier observed that the evidence collected so far pointed towards an offence committed under Section 13(1)(d)(ii) of the Prevention of Corruption Act and, prima facie, was sufficient to initiate departmental proceedings against the officials involved in the scam.
Mayawati... in deep trouble
After considering the three reports of the CBI, the Bench was convinced that the registration of proper FIRs under the Criminal Procedure Code with charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code was necessary for carrying out further investigation and to bring the case to its logical conclusion.
As it was alleged that by undertaking the project, several environmental laws were also violated, the Bench empowered the CBI to include the charges against them under these statutes also.
Besides Ms. Mayawati, the others against whom FIRs were ordered to be registered are: the former Union Environment Secretary, K.C. Mishra; the Managing Director of the National Project Construction Corporation (which took up the construction of the project), S.C. Bali; the former Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary, D.S. Bagga; the former State Principal Environment Secretary, R.K. Sharma; the former State Environment Secretary, V.K. Gupta, and the former Principal Secretary to Ms. Mayawati, P.L. Punia.
In its report, the CBI had alleged that commencement of work under the project was approved by Ms. Mayawati. It also explained the role alleged to have been played by Mr. Siddiqi and the officials in the illegalities/irregularities and malpractices committed in the construction of the project.
The report stated that the Taj project, which envisaged linking the Taj Mahal with the four other monuments, was started on the verbal orders of Mr. Sharma and that the NPCC had unauthorisedly sub-contracted the work. The Bench said that it would be open for the Central and State Governments to pass the orders of suspension of the officials, if called for, in accordance with the rules.
Following a request from the Additional Solicitor-General, Altaf Ahmed, that the assistance of the Income-Tax Department was necessary to unearth both the visible and invisible sources of income, the Judges directed the Income Tax Department to extend all assistance to the CBI in this regard.
The Bench ordered a departmental inquiry against the senior officials and directed both the Union and the State Governments to appoint inquiry officers within a week to conduct the probe and submit a report within four months.
The court directed the CBI to provide a "self-contained note" on its investigation so far to the U.P. Chief Secretary, the Cabinet Secretary of the Union Government and the Central Ministry administering the NPCC.
When counsel for the Central Pollution Control Board, Vijay Panjwani, pointed out that construction had impeded the flow of river which was a penal offence, the court directed the CBI to take into consideration all environmental laws and the Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1974 and the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act while carrying out the investigation.
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Mayawati and the law
|The problems Mayawati faces now are attributed by her supporters to her being a Dalit. The reality is that she has failed her community.|
THE wheel has come full circle. Mayawati, who was until a few weeks ago Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has not only had to relinquish that office, but has - on her own volition, be it noted - resigned from the Legislative Assembly and is now to be prosecuted for various criminal acts she is alleged to have committed. She, who began her political career as a fire-breathing leader of the oppressed Dalits, and eventually became Chief Minister of the State for a second time, has ended where she began. In fact, she is much worse off now than she was when she started her public career. She had no cases against her then, she was not smeared with the sleaze of murky deals like the Taj Corridor project; nor did she have to face accusations of having made crores of rupees personally, buying and selling land and houses in parts of the State and even in Delhi.
Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati addressing a gathering in Varanasi.
But what is truly astonishing is that when she became Chief Minister she seemed to forget that she was not by any means chosen by the people; her party did not have the largest number of representatives elected to the Legislative Assembly; she was a Chief Minister because of political manoeuvrings by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), among others, to keep Mulayam Singh Yadav from becoming Chief Minister. In fact, she began behaving as if she, and she alone, had been chosen to lead Uttar Pradesh in the manner in which Jayalalithaa has been chosen by the people of Tamil Nadu to be their Chief Minister.
She had a huge birthday party - a spectacular affair, by all accounts, on which enormous sums of money were spent, which came from the kickbacks she got allegedly from the Taj Corridor business. (The media have reported that her closest and senior most officers, her Principal Secretary and the Chief Secretary of the State, have told this to the Central Bureau of Investigation.) But that was a trifle; her behaviour was much more that of a monarch, imperiously moving officers around, oblivious to the havoc it caused in the administration, arbitrarily deciding what was to be done first - installation of statues was given very high priority, for instance - and so on. And any critical comment on her action was instantly pointed to as an instance of discrimination against Dalits.
Uttar Pradesh is virtually bankrupt. All right, so are other States, but it did not seem that the near-bankruptcy of the State caused her to lose a night's sleep. Her progression through the period of her chief ministership was marked by lavish spending on whatever took her fancy. Which of course included the Taj Corridor, it would seem, going by media reports quoting CBI sources. And there is clearly substance in what they have said; the Supreme Court would not, otherwise, have directed that she be charge-sheeted along with the officers accused in the case.
What of education, what of drinking water, what of campaigns to remove caste prejudices of the kind some NGOs have taken on in Andhra Pradesh? Nothing, really. Only what the poor bureaucrats sitting fearfully in Lucknow or in the districts have been able to do with whatever funds they have had access to. And that could not be very much - the funds or the access to them. And they could not have time either; many were transferred so frequently that they would sit down to a meal in one post and rise from it in another. Nor would too many officers be interested, because they, too, belong to the new breed of which there are, it would seem, more specimens in U.P. than elsewhere - the ones that have been described as politically savvy and, as T.S.R. Subramaniam, former Cabinet Secretary said in a television interview not so long ago, nimble-footed. The officials have seen the writing on the wall, they know the chances of Mayawati coming back as Chief Minister are slim, and, in an effort to get into Mulayam Singh Yadav's good books, have promptly begun to sing like canaries of all that she did. These are the kind of officers the IAS can well do without, but, sadly, there are far too may like them in the service now, the kind who can run swiftly, nimbly and silently from one camp to the other.
Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiyya with his supporters at the Kanpur District jail premises before he left for Lucknow for treatment on August 28.
There will, of course, be the usual defence from Mayawati. She is being maligned, this is just Vajpayee's way of getting back at her, this is the villainy of Mulayam Singh Yadav and so on. It will be interesting to see what she says when she is confronted with written evidence of her land and house deals, from where she says she got the money for all of it. And what she says about the statements said to have been made by officials who had worked under her, that she knew all along about the Taj Corridor scheme, was, in fact, the person who sanctioned it, and pushed that it be started with the frantic haste that came to light when the Supreme Court took cognisance of this contemptible and sordid attempt to make money by virtually renting out the environs of the Taj.
All this apart, there will be the other indignant reaction. All this is being done because Mayawati is a Dalit, it will be said. Had she been a Rajput or a Jat, she would never have been treated in this way. It is because the notion of a Dalit, and a woman at that, is being forceful, tough and uncompromising, because she does not hesitate to punish erring IAS officers, that she is now being hounded by the CBI. That will be the refrain from her apologists, and they will have facile examples ready. Yes, they will say that while she is being accused of all manner of crimes, Raja Bhaiyya, a man who is an accused person in a number of criminal cases, including murder, is being quietly released by Mulayam Singh Yadav because Raja Bhaiyya is his supporter. It bears out, her apologists will say, the real issue, which is that all this is being done only because Mayawati is a Dalit, and a woman.
On the face of it, the argument appears to have some validity. But only to those whose thinking is clouded with emotion and certain set notions about attitudes to Dalits among the other communities. The decision to release Raja Bhaiyya is not surprising. Mulayam Singh Yadav would not be what he is if he did not release him, criminal or not. But even if he released not only Raja Bhaiyya but a hundred people like him it does not in any way lessen the gravity of the charges against Mayawati. And it is not because she is a Dalit, far from it. It is because she was the Chief Minister, the first servant of the State, in whose care the State was entrusted, a trust which she abused. Her caste has no bearing on this at all.
No one has any illusions about Mulayam Singh Yadav. He, too, will do what others have done before him, including Mayawati, that is, assume the imperious manner of a monarch, which Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh find irresistible. It is likely that he may come to the same end as the others, too, but that may at the moment be more wishful thinking than realistic political analysis. He is shrewd, with a deep-seated cunning and a survival instinct. He too, like Mayawati, will move officers around with astonishing rapidity, but while he does that he will wait - wait for the nimble-footed among the bureaucrats to come crawling to him. He will then distribute postings as favours, as gifts in return for loyalty. You see how very cunning he is.
But whatever Mulayam is or is not, and whatever the fate of Uttar Pradesh, the true tragedy is in the fact that Mayawati failed her own community. Made giddy by power and the perquisites of office, and by the wealth she seems to have accumulated, she ceased to be a true leader of the Dalits, who would keep their interests always in the forefront. The community desperately needs an articulate leader who has its confidence trust and respect, and who can not only take centre stage but bring the problems faced by the community centre stage as well. Mayawati could have been such a leader, and chose not to be. And now she cannot even if she wanted to. That is what the real tragedy is.
Thwarting a cover-up
Under the orders of the Supreme Court, which has rejected the attempt of the Central Bureau of Investigation to close the case against the Bahujan Samaj Party leader and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, a special court will examine whether there is a case of corruption as well behind the monumental folly of the Taj Heritage Corridor project conceived by her government. The name was no more than a camouflage for a Rs.175 crore commercial project involving shopping malls, entertainment centres, and parks along a two-kilometre stretch of the Yamuna close to the Taj. Quite apart from the aesthetic assault, it involved reclaiming some part of the riverbed and building an embankment that could have posed a threat to the structure of the Taj and the Agra Fort. Mercifully, the project was halted because of the intervention of the then Union Minister for Culture, Jagmohan, but not before the Centrally owned National Projects Construction Corporation had spent Rs.40 crore on reclamation and building a wall along the river. In its enquiry whether something more was involved than just the mindless pursuit of a construction project so close to the protected monuments, the CBI collected some material which the Attorney General felt did not warrant prosecution but which the Central Vigilance Commission assessed as strong enough to file a charge sheet.
Both the National Democratic Alliance government and the present United Progressive Alliance government have shown an eagerness to save a strong potential ally from the embarrassment of a criminal prosecution. The CBI too despite its court-granted independence went along, by making an unwarranted reference to the Attorney General and resorting to "a charade of performance of duty," as the court put it. The Supreme Court's latest order is an indictment of the CBI for failing in its duty to come to an independent decision on the strength of the evidence and prosecution, but it also reiterates the principle that the politically powerful cannot escape prosecution through the grace of the executive acting on partisan lines. Its order asking the special court to decide if the material warranted the filing of a charge sheet against Ms. Mayawati disregarding the opinion of both the Attorney General and the CVC is a blow for the larger principle of equality before the law. It needs to be noted that the case is at a very preliminary stage and what the CBI has is evidence on the weight of which opinion is divided. The presumption of innocence always holds. Politically, while Ms. Maywati may come under a cloud if the court decides to go ahead with the charge sheet, given the time such cases take to come to a conclusion, the case does not seem at the moment to emerge as a roadblock to her quest for power in the Uttar Pradesh elections next year.
© Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu