The Sheila Shield

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Delhi’s CM seems to be doing her utmost to protect state officials from the CBI probe

There are signs that Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit is going out of her way to impede an ongoing probe of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam. There is reason to suspect that she has used high-level influence to block a CBI investigation against Parimal Rai, former chief of the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and an IAS officer currently posted in Goa as the state’s urban development secretary. The CBI wants to examine Rai’s role in a project related to an NDMC convention centre. It also wants to grill him on a contract worth Rs 16 crore related to civil and electrical works awarded by the NDMC to a private company. The CBI has approached India’s Home Ministry for a sanction to do so under Section 6(a) of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act.

However, on 10 May 2012, Dikshit wrote a letter to Home Minister Chidambaram titled ‘To protect officers for taking bonafide decisions in the larger public interest.’ The title suggests that she has made up her mind on Rai’s innocence and ‘bonafide’ actions even before investigations have started. ‘I would appreciate [it] if the permission sought by the CBI to start an investigation against the officer is not initiated in haste,’ she has written.

What haste? The CWG scam happened one-and-a-half years ago. The CBI is still in the process of getting go-aheads to probe the role of high-ranking officials in all the shady dealings during the Games’ preparations. If anything, it’s the probe’s delay that should be of concern. But Dikshit has made it a point to certify Rai in her letter as ‘a dynamic and sincere officer, who took initiative and showed exemplary performance’ and demand that he ‘should not be made to suffer, especially as he has an unblemished track record of 27 years’. If permission for a probe against ‘an upright officer working assiduously is given,’ she warns, ‘it will lead to complete demoralisation of the entire official machinery and will bring the administration to a standstill.’

Dikshit even invokes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent pronouncement on “the need for providing protection to such officers”, but conveniently ignores the PM’s words of assurance to the public and Parliament that “anybody found guilty will not be spared”, words that hold far more relevance in this case.

It takes an investigation, the CM ought to know, to ascertain anyone’s guilt or innocence. But Dikshit conveys a sense of pique that officials working under her are being examined: ‘A number of inquiries [are] being conducted against various officers who showed leadership and dedication in ensuring timely completion of the Commonwealth Games projects.’ For the project delays that resulted in the dubiously hurried awarding of contracts as the Games neared, the CM blames late approvals by a multiplicity of authorities under the Central government and local bodies and statutory entities like the DUAC or ASI. ‘Often, quick decisions had to be taken by fast-tracking procedures.’

Contrast that with the CAG’s observations on how inexplicable delays in CWG-related decisions resulted in an air of ‘artificial’ or contrived urgency. Since the Games’ schedule could not be altered, the need for speed resulted in the Delhi administration’s wanton waiver of rigorous governmental procedures designed to ensure a judicious use of resources. The process of issuing tenders and contracts thus weakened, procurements were made by awarding deals to single bidders in many cases, and on the basis of direct nomination in others. As a result, there was little or no competition among suppliers to fulfill these orders—conditions under which inflated costs are only to be expected. All this meant a big drain of public funds, to the benefit of sundry contractors. The CAG minces no words, stating that the conclusion ‘is inescapable that this could indeed have even been an intended objective…’

In defence of Dikshit, the state’s Chief Secretary PK Tripathi had this to say on 3 August 2011: “We are not saying everything [in the CAG report] is untrue. The CM has been wrongly blamed. She has done no wrong. It is totally wrong to blame her for anything.” On his part, Rai has defended the CWG preparations as well. In a letter to the CM, he has written that when operations on such a large scale are mounted, ‘some persons do take advantage and misuse the system, but the contribution of [others] cannot be undone and all officers should not be painted with the same brush’.  Unlike CAG, though, he calls them ‘minor process deviations which were the need of the hour’.

Who is to judge how ‘minor’ or serious these ‘deviations’ really were? Certainly, Rai and Dikshit cannot be allowed to make that call. As many as 51 ‘city improvement projects’ worth nearly Rs 24,850 crore were undertaken. Of this, Rs 16,887 crore was spent by the Delhi government. Dikshit has already dismissed a report of the VK Shunglu Committee, constituted by the PM, as a ‘product of paranoia.’ It held her responsible for a series of costly decisions.

Letting the CBI probe the scam without hindrance  will serve India better. A few demoralised officials, dear lady, is a small price to pay for probity in public affairs.