Patna: On 15 August, 2007, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar gave a rousing Independence Day speech at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna, with a focus on fighting corruption.
Nitish stunned officials by announcing the setting up of an independent Special Vigilance Unit (SVU), which he said would be manned by retired CBI officials and will probe corruption of IAS and IPS officers.
The announcement was not in the official speech prepared by the government and caught officials unawares but drew huge applause from the crowd.
Almost 13 years since that day, the SVU has become virtually defunct. Of the four sanctioned posts for former CBI personnel, there is just one retired officer.
The SVU is now headed by an IG-ranked officer Ratan Sanjay but he himself holds additional charge of the unit.
The official website shows that the SVU has just probed four cases since its inception. The most high-profile and the very first case was lodged against former DGP Narayan Mishra in 2007.
The Nitish government ensured political capital in 2012 when it seized Narayan Mishra’s posh house in Patna and transformed it into a school for disabled children. The case is still ongoing against Mishra.
But since then, there has been no action against any IAS or IPS officer.
The latest case registered was in 2018 against IPS officer Vivek Singh as Muzaffarpur SP. The raid was conducted against Singh by the Economic Offence wing of CID but the case has been handed over to the SVU.
The SVU says investigations are still on in the case.
“The demise of SVU is unfortunate. It was conceived with the idea of tapping trained personnel of the Government of India to tackle corruption at high places,” said a former DG-ranked official.
Police appear to be extremely reluctant to talk about the declining number of cases of corruption in the civil service. “The website may not have been updated. I will have to check. I’ll ask the concerned officials,” Bihar DGP Gupteshwar Pandey told The Print.
Fighting corruption fading under Nitish
The SVU isn’t the only anti-corruption body of the Bihar government that has lost its sheen. Others have also followed suit.
In 2013, when Anna Hazare along with Arvind Kejriwal were creating ripples in Delhi against corruption, Nitish created the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the CID, expanding his fight against corruption.
Before its creation, corruption in the government was handled by the Vigilance Department. The EOW initially did register disproportionate asset (DA) cases against some officials but has now withdrawn into tackling only narcotics, non-banking financial companies, cyber crime and the liquor mafia. In the last two years, it has not filed any case against government officials.
Even the vigilance bureau, the original body under the home department earmarked to fight corruption in the government, has slowed down on the number of cases filed.
When Nitish first came to power in 2005, the vigilance bureau went into overdrive. In the first two years of his rule, state government data shows it filed 122 cases after allegedly catching officials accepting bribes red-handed through using decoys.
In contrast, the previous 15 years under the Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi regime, saw the bureau filing just 47 such cases of catching officials using decoys.
Even though the vigilance bureau has filed 906 cases during the tenure of various Nitish governments, the numbers have been drastically reducing in recent years.
The bureau filed 83 such cases in 2017, 45 in 2018 and 36 in 2019. There are no records of 2020 due to the pandemic.
The slowdown has affected the fight against corruption at the grassroots level, said a vigilance bureau official who did not want to be named.
It has led to mukhiyas taking money for allotment of government doles, the district transport office taking money for driving licenses among others, he said.
“But as a whole we have become understaffed and the workload is tremendous,” said the vigilance bureau official. “Nobody wants to remain in the vigilance because of heavy workload and lack of incentives.”
CM himself under scanner
When Nitish came to power in 2005, he declared that he would not tolerate the 3Cs — corruption, crime and communalism.
But the chief minister himself has been under the scanner, mainly due to the Srijan scam, which first broke in 2017. The scam involved the alleged fraudulent transfer of over Rs 2,000 crore of government money to the Srijan Mahila Vikash Sahyog Samiti (SMVSS), an NGO which claimed to be working for the upliftment of women in different districts.
Nitish has been facing flak as the CBI in the last week of June charge-sheeted K.P. Ramaiah, a former Bihar-cadre IAS officer who has joined the chief minister’s JD(U). Ramaiah had even contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on a JD(U) ticket. He was among the district magistrates of Bhagalpur, from where the money was allegedly transferred to the NGO’s accounts.
This has prompted the opposition to term the Nitish regime as a Ghotalo Ki Sarkar (government of scams). Ironically, it was the phrase used by BJP and JD(U) leaders in 2005 to describe the Lalu-Rabri regime.
“It’s true that CM Nitish Kumar dislikes corrupt people. But he relies on the bureaucracy that is rampantly corrupt. Not the politicians,” RJD MLA Samir Kumar Mahaseth told ThePrint.
“As a result, corruption has increased many folds from the Lalu era to the present age. During the Lalu era people used to come to Laluji and complain about bribes asked by officials. Laluji used to call the concerned officials and scold them. Now people cannot approach Nitish Kumar directly. They have to approach the same corrupt bureaucracy.”
“What is the use of having anti-corruption bodies when they cannot check corruption? It’s better he dissolves them,” Mahaseth added.
The JD(U) speaks highly of Nitish’s personal integrity.
“In 2005, during campaigning Nitish Kumar declared that he would not appoint any tainted minister. Jitan Ram Manjhi then faced a vigilance case and he was dropped the same day he took oath as a minister when this fact was revealed,” JD(U) minister Niraj Kumar told ThePrint .
“Action has been taken against the corrupt right up to the rank of DGO. In fact, we walked out of the Grand Alliance on the issue of corruption in 2017 when CBI made Tejashwi Yadav an accused in a corruption case.”
Kumar said that the political commitment of Nitish Kumar to fight corruption was unquestionable but refused to say anything on administrative shortcomings.