In what is seen as a bold move and a sign of the beginning of transparent governance and new Manipur, a First Information Report (FIR) was filed by Planning Department against former chief minister and now opposition leader, O Ibobi Singh, and five others on September 1, 2017 in connection with the alleged Manipur Development Society (MDS) scam of Rs.185.79 crores (approximately 30 million US dollars). As a government agency, MDS is responsible for implementing various projects of different government departments.
When BJP came to power in March this year, critics claimed that it was just old wine in a new bottle. But the new chief minister, N Biren Singh (a four time-MLA from Heingang Assembly constituency, also a former minister in the Ibobi-led Congress government, who switched over to BJP last year), seems to have proven them wrong.
Biren has declared that he would not spare anyone in his Council of Ministers who are also involved in any corruption cases. It is an open secret that many politicians, government employees, contractors and illegal traders have disproportionate wealth and assets, either in their name or somebody else’s.
The FIR was lodged at the Imphal police station against Ibobi, three former chief secretaries (DS Poonia, PS Lawmkunga and O Nabakishore Singh), former MDS project director, Y Ningthem and MDS administration officer, S Ranjit. While Ibobi’s plea for anticipatory bail has been granted, Ranjit’s plea was rejected and others are understood not to have applied for bail.
The police have on multiple occasions raided the house of Ningthem and seized incriminating documents that are vital to the investigation. All the accused have been charged with cheating, criminal conspiracy and breach of trust, with the charge for breach of trust being non-bailable and liable to be punished with three years of imprisonment.
Dismissing all the charges levelled against him as baseless and fabricated, Ibobi claimed this is a political vendetta and that he filed for an anticipatory bail not because he is involved in the scam. Ibobi is worthy of praise for saying that he would cooperate in the investigation. He was quoted as saying, “If I’m found guilty after investigation, I would spend the rest of my life in jail. No one is above the law.”
Former Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad was jailed in 2013 in a fodder scam case, and former Tamil Nadu chief minister the late J Jayalitha in 2014 in a disproportionate assets case. After decades of corruption-infested Congress rule, the BJP came to power in Manipur for the first time. In keeping with its election promise to make Manipur corruption-free, the new government has initiated investigations into several corruption cases, and a number of government employees from peon to first class officers have been suspended on various corruption cases. The MDS scam is probably a tip of the iceberg. As it seems Biren means what he says on corruption, many more corruption cases will unfold. The Rs.400 crore Loktak Lake cleaning scam, which the State government at its cabinet meeting on July 15, 2017 decided to hand over to the CBI, is one among other explosive cases waiting to blow up.
Irregularities have been reported in the award of a Rs 224 crore contract for the Loktak Lake cleaning project to a controversial outside firm, K Pro Infra Works Pvt Ltd, on August 1, 2009 by Loktak Development Authority (a government agency chaired by then chief minister Ibobi Singh). The alleged irregularities in the Rs.300 crore mega project for water pipeline from Maphou Dam to Chingkhei Ching in Imphal East district to supply adequate drinking water to residents of Imphal valley need to be addressed urgently to solve the chronic domestic water problems in the valley.
The never-ending multi-crore rupee Imphal Sewerage project that started way back in 2004 with assistance from French agencies also needs to be investigated as to why it has taken so long to complete and if there are any irregularities and potential negative impacts.
Serious concerns have been raised in some quarters that this project, which is said to be an experimental project on trial basis by French government, will be a disaster, let alone the inconveniences, disturbances and hazards it has already caused. Why has the government not taken up a sewerage system that has successfully worked in other parts of the country and the world?
Public offices in Manipur have become a place of money-making machine for some people. Illegal trading, particularly illicit drug and arms smuggling, often involving government officials and politicians, is thriving. Taxpayer funds earmarked for development projects and welfare schemes often do not reach the intended beneficiaries. The ownership of several mega buildings, shopping malls, showrooms, oil pumps and other commercial and residential buildings and lands are in question.
Collapses of bridges and buildings and the dysfunction or failure of many government projects and facilities are a clear manifestation of deep-rooted corruption. Manipur is a state where you can see many mansions and palatial buildings owned by corrupt politicians, government employees and contractors. But the conditions of roads, health care and other public utilities remain deplorable, and the lives of the common people have not improved.
Roads to Henglep sub divisional headquarters, for instance, are still not driveable thanks to the negligence of the previous governments and former local MLA. Significantly, an RTI report in 2016 revealed possible misappropriation of several-crore rupee DRDA/MLADP funds in recent years intended for various development projects in Henglep Assembly constituency.
As a result of the tireless efforts of the current local MLA and genuine concern of chief minister Biren, who recently announced Rs.58 crores for construction of Henglep road, people of Henglep will soon hopefully realise their dream of driveable roads.
Many government school and college buildings have either disappeared or turned into cattle sheds, yet teachers continue to draw their salaries. It has been common practice in Manipur for government school teachers to use underqualified proxies to substitute for them under a private arrangement. Some teachers attend school once in a year just to sign the attendance sheet for the whole year. Vulnerable children from disadvantaged families are the most affected as they are deprived of quality education and doomed to be caught in a vicious circle of intergenerational poverty, injustice and social isolation.
Manipur is blessed with rivers, Loktak Lake and abundant rainfall with great potentials for marketing water and electricity outside the state. Several dams have been constructed at the cost of thousands of crores of rupees and at the huge expense of environment and human habitation, yet the whole state is still faced with a shortage of electricity and acute scarcity of water for domestic and irrigation purposes. Why would people want more dams at the cost of their land, identity and survival when the existing ones have failed to serve their purpose?
Money and men, instead of merit and ability, are the top criteria for selection in most government job recruitments, hence the low productivity and efficiency in public services. The controversy surrounding the 2013 Manipur Police recruitment for over 2000 constable positions and the massive recruitments in many other government departments just before the election early this year need proper investigations.
The British Empire was said to have ruined the nation for over 200 years until India’s freedom in 1947, but, sadly, the ruination continues in free India through rampant and systemic corruption. While systemic change to end corruption must come, persons and firms possessing wealth and assets disproportionate to known sources of income should come under the Vigilance scanner for corruption and probed under existing laws.
With the new BJP-led coalition government headed by N Biren Singh, who seems ready to investigate all corruption cases and to make Manipur a corruption-free society, there is a ray of hope for positive change and a new Manipur. Much more needs to be done, of course, with barely six months in power, but the new government can fulfil its promises to the people who have so far heaped praise on it for its fight against corruption and its endeavours to bring in transparent governance.
(The writer is an Australia-based Social Worker and can be reached at [email protected])
Source: The Sangai Express