If the primary response of a government to someone calling its bluff on its anti-corruption credentials is to counter-accuse that person, we know the moral bankruptcy of its position.
On Sunday, when government spokespersons went ballistic on Anna Hazare, with spokesperson Manish Tiwari accusing Hazare of being steeped in corruption from “head to toe,” it became clear what the government’s real answer to corruption is: paint others are more corrupt, to get itself off the hook.
This was the gameplan earlier this year, too, when the government’s lapdogs tried to tarnish the Bhushans for corrupt practices. And one can be sure that the same stratagem will be used to target the Kiran Bedis and Arun Kejriwals, if need be.
But, even so, it is worth examining what really Anna Hazare has been accused of, and whether these are in the nature of mere technical violations or something that all anti-corruption activists need to be worried about. It makes no sense to hail Anna as a big redeemer, if he is, as Tiwari alleges, drowning in corruption.
Here are the main allegations against Anna, as brought out by the PB Sawant committee which went into the issues in 2005, and the DM Sukhthankar task force’s main recommendations on the action to be taken against him.
One, an amount of Rs 2.2 lakh was used from Hazare’s Hind Swaraj Trust to celebrate his 60th birthday. Admittedly, using trust funds to celebrate birthdays is not a great idea, especially since this kind of expenditure is not permitted under the trust’s deeds.
What Hazare did was to get industrialist Abhay Firodia to return the money after the Sawant and Sukhthankar reports came in. This, too, did him no credit.
But let’s hear Sukhthankar’s own judgment on this misuse of trust funds. “We are not inclined to recommend any action, much less of prosecution, against Hazare for the reason that Hazare’s role is that of a whistle-blower and he has been working in the spirit of a missionary to curb corruption by public servants, including ministers. This incident appears to us to be inadvertent. We feel the observations made by the Sawant Commission against Hazare of illegal and corrupt practices are by themselves sufficient to chasten a person like him and to induce him to learn a lesson for the future to discipline and control his workers and followers from going astray and indulging in such celebrations or other profligacy, which is totally uncalled for,” it said.
Two, the Sawant panel also accused Anna of many technical violations of the law. Among them: the purchase of three bits of land by Sant Yadavbaba Shikshan Prasarak Trust was not reported to the charity commissioner; Rs 1 lakh given to Swami Vivekanand Krutadnyata Trust as interest-free loan was against the objectives of the trust; Rs 46,374 spent on renovating the Yadavababa Temple was against the Trust’s objectives; the trusts run by Anna often did not submit consolidated accounts, which is tantamount to maladministration; and Anna was chairman of the Krishna Pani Purvatha Yojna Sahakari Sanstha from 2001-03 when he did not hold any land within the jurisdiction of the society – as required under the law.
Three, the charge of “maladministration” is, in fact, common to a few other Anna trusts, too, but the violations relate not to corruption, but largely to lack of paperwork and minor transgressions of the letter of the law.
Here’s what Sukhthankar had to say about these violations: “While these breaches constitute offences under sections 66 and 67 of the Bombay Public Trust Act, these are punishable with a fine up to Rs 1,000. With no intention whatsoever of belittling these provisions, it cannot be gainsaid (that) these offences are relatively minor and are of a technical nature. Breaches of various provisions in the functioning of relatively small and locally established public trusts in rural areas are not uncommon," the task force said.
As there was no monetary gain to Hazare, no legal action against him was called for. "However, the violations (should) be brought to the notice of the Maharashtra charity commissioner for further action. The commissioner may also be asked to keep the institutions concerned under periodical surveillance so that similar lapses by the trustees do not recur," Sukhthankar added.
The conclusions one comes to after reading these allegations and transgressions are these:
1) Anna’s trusts violated the letter of the law, but not necessarily the spirit. The transgressions amount to the usual careless way in which even good people run trusts in India. This calls for greater consciousness among them of the need to follow the law.
2) The amounts in questions – even if added up – do not amount to more than Rs 3-4 lakh in all. They appear to be the result of weak book-keeping, rather than any real corruption. It is easy to see why these things could happen. Since everyone views Anna as beyond corruption, his book-keepers may assume that no one is going to notice small mistakes here and there. This clearly needs to be fixed.
3) More importantly, it is clear that small trusts are burdened with unnecessary bureaucratic requirements which raise their operational costs. We need reforms in this area. Most small trusts are unable to cope with the requirements of paperwork needed to keep the charity commissioner happy.
4) Real reforms are needed in areas where Anna is not currently focused: on streamlining the common man’s interface with the state bureaucracy, whether it is the ration shop or the charity commissioner. If the Jan Lokpal were unleashed on NGOs like his own, there would be more corruption, not less.
Anna needs to introspect, but the transgressions of his trusts do not amount to malafide actions that disqualify him from holding the high moral ground.
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Updated Date: Aug 16, 2011 11:32:37 IST