Code of Conduct

Much Ado about Nothing

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Prithiviraj Chavan’s code of conduct for ministers has little meaning

Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan is on a self-appointed mission to rid the state of corruption. As scams continue to tumble out of the closets of politicians, Chavan has decided to take preventive action. Considering all the probe committees the state has instituted, it will soon run out of retired High Court judges and retired bureaucrats.

The Chief Minister has issued a code of conduct for his cabinet and has made it clear that all ministers have to adhere to it. There have been such measures in the past too. Only, they were not put down officially. Our past is witness to the bitter truth that a code of conduct cannot be implemented by any government, particularly a coalition. Perhaps former Chief Election Commissioner of India TN Seshan was the only man who could make politicians follow a model code of conduct, at least during election periods.

Chavan’s diktat is that no minister should have any dealings with private builders; should not accept gifts worth over Rs 5,000; must stay only in government rest houses and not five star hotels when on tour; and must declare their assets every year. Given the resistance that the order has received from ministers, it is clear that its implementation will not be easy. As a minister put it, “Does he think that he is cleaner than all of us? Amhi chor aahe ka (are we thieves)?”

Almost every minister is involved with builders. In fact, it is known that many builders operate as fronts for ministers. The politician-builder nexus is difficult to crack as many builders are in politics themselves now. Many ministers have their fingers in the redevelopment pie, where the money involved in projects runs into crores. A number of public interest litigations have been filed against former chief ministers and some incumbent ministers for the flouting of development norms.

Realty is a sector where politicians park their cash, particularly in projects in the proximity of infrastructure being developed by the government.

Using government rest houses is also unlikely to go down well with minsters.  These rest houses are simply unliveable. Very often, they are breeding grounds for mites, bed bugs and mice—and the government makes no effort to make them liveable. If Chavan wants his ministers to use these circuit houses, he has to first pull up the PWD ministry to ensure that they do not function as horror houses.

The diktat on gifts too is going to be difficult to implement. Politicians never spend money on gifts. They always find sponsors to send even sweet boxes during Diwali. How will Chavan ever keep tabs on the cost of gifts? Neither the receiver nor the giver would ever tattle.

And ministers declaring their assets is almost a joke. Just check out the declarations they make to the Election Commission. If they are to be believed, over three-fourths of India’s political class do not own a car. Any chartered accountant on a minister’s payroll can manipulate such declarations. And in any case, what action will the Chief Minister take if a minister’s assets increase over the previous year’s?

The code of conduct is an eyewash. It is a feeble attempt to bail out the Congress party, whose image has taken a severe beating after the scams its members have got themselves embroiled in. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan knows that implementing the code of conduct is easier said than done. All that this ‘official diktat’ has achieved is wastage of  official paper, bought by the taxpayer’s money.