13 August 1997 National Cover Story

Scamstory

Though the number of scams has risen in the 1990s, there have been some pretty interesting ones all through India's 50 years of freedom.
Scamstory
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Jeep Scam 1947: With Pakistan attacking Kashmir, V.K. Krishna Menon, India's high commissioner to Britain, placed an order on a dubious company for 4,603 jeeps. The vehicles, of very poor quality, landed long after the ceasefire had been signed. The Ananthasayanam Iyengar Committee submitted its report on the deal in 1951 but the report was not made public.

Gems Graft 1949: Rao Shiv Bahadur Singh, industry minister, Vindhya Pradesh, was caught taking a bribe of Rs 25,000 for renewing a gem trader's lease on the Panna diamond mines. Singh was jailed for three years and is the only Indian politician to have been convicted for corruption.

Cycle Parts Racket 1951: Union industry and commerce secretary S.A. Venkatraman awarded the entire imports quota for cycle parts to a single company. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

The Mundhra Rip-off 1957: Kanpur entrepreneur Haridas Mundhra got LIC to lend him Rs 1 crore, pick up shares in his firms to boost their prices. Mundhra got 22 months in jail. Finance minister T.T. Krishnamachari resigned.

The Teja Caper 1962: Jayanti Dharma Teja set up a shipping company with paid up capital less than Rs 200 and a Rs 22 crore government loan. Advance payments from customers went to his Liechtenstein bank account. He was finally arrested in 1970 in London and sentenced to six years, but escaped. Whereabouts not known.

The Kairon Case 1964: The Dass Commission indicted Punjab chief minister Pra-tap Singh Kairon for allowing family members to amass wealth. Kairon quit office.

The Nagarwala Sting 1971: Former army officer Rustom Sohrab Nagarwala was accused of calling up State Bank of India's chief cashier, faking Indira Gandhi's voice and withdrawing Rs 60 lakh from the bank. The episode remains a mystery. Nagarwala died in custody in 1972.

The Tul Mohan Ram Con 1974: Pondicherry merchants submitted a petition with forged signatures of 21 MPs to the Union commerce ministry seeking import licences. The alleged forger: Tul Mohan Ram, MP, supposedly working at the behest of Indira Gandhi's close aide, Lalit Narayan Mishra. Mis-hra died in the Sam-astipur bomb blast in 1975 and the furore petered out.

The Churhat Lottery Scandal 1982:Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh was accused of collecting Rs 5.4 crore through the Churhat Children's Welfare Society. Singh has since been cleared by the Bhopal High Court.

Since then, the pace of scams has accelerated considerably. Starting with HDW and Bofors in 1987, we have had the Securities Scam 1992, the ABB Loco Deal 1993, the Sugar Scam 1994, the Jain Hawala Racket 1995, the JMM Case 1995, the Urea Scam 1996, the Animal Husbandry Scam 1996, the Telecom Scandal 1996, the Housing Scam 1996, the Indian Bank Crash 1996, and the incomparable Jayalalitha.

And for each of these that come to light, there are surely 100 where the scamsters are living happily ever after.

SHE believes in Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekanand and her rights as a citizen. A conviction which made her fight tooth and nail with MTNL for three years over a piffling Rs 392. In 1983, the 73-year-old Shanta Wagh shifted residence from one suburb to another in Mumbai. She asked for her telephone to be kept in safe custody and be charged 40 per cent of the rental. However, soon after her telephone was shifted to her new residence in February 1984, she discovered that she was expected to shell out the full rental for the entire period that the phone was in safe custody. Undaunted, the septuagenarian took to making her rounds of the Vile-Parle telephone exchange, meeting officials, slowly inching her way to the top. Wagh then dashed off a letter to the chairman of the parliamentary committee on subordinate legislation in March 1986. It worked! In less than three months, three officials in an MTNL vehicle drew up outside her apartment with apologetic faces and a cheque of Rs 392. "People should fight for what is right."

FOR Patna-based J.K. Khanna, an inspector-general of police, directorate of prosecution, getting Rs 300 back from the railways proved to be a shocking ordeal. It started in July 1996 when he purchased a return ticket from Patna to Panipat by Magadh Express. Due to the non-arrival of the train, the journey was cancelled. On surrendering the unutilised ticket at Patna—where it was issued—he was told that the refund would be made by the Calcutta office. It took eight months of chasing to get the money. Was it a case of corruption? "No," says Khanna, "it was sheer insensitivity. But what matters is if they don't react to my letter as an IG, what will be happening to a common citizen at large?"

PREM Ahuja is ready to fight the Delhi Vidyut Board—formerly DESU. A retired advocate, he was slapped a bill of Rs 1,92,288 in December 1994.His defence: the three meters he was charged for had been removed in October 1990; he was being charged industrial rates for residential use. Following a cardiac arrest and staying without electricity for a month, he sold off a part of the house to pay the dues. The understanding was that this bill would be rectified. It was not. He has now been sent another missive: a bill of Rs 85,635. The local DESU tout approached him and demanded 40 per cent of the bill to set it right. Despite paying the bribe, Ahuja's grievance has not been addressed.

FOR Radha, 35, the blow struck by the Oriental Insurance Company (OIC) was harder than the death of her husband, a taxi driver, in a road accident. According to eye-witnesses, the truck which hit the taxi head-on was "being driven rashly". OIC, scoffing at a ruling by the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal (MACT), Bangalore—which, based on the deceased's earning capacity, lowered the compensation from Rs 8 lakh to Rs 148,400—called the compensation too high.

A helper at Asha, a halfway home for the mentally ill in Bangalore, and earning Rs 600 a month in 1994, Radha was told that OIC would now contest the ruling and that her lawyer should contact their counsel in Bangalore.

Radha's current salary of Rs 1,200 a month is hardly enough to pay a rent of Rs 500 besides feeding and schooling her three children. For her, borrowing money at the beginning of an academic year is a regular feature. The lawyer fighting Radha's case is confident she will win, as the problem is not with the court but with the insurance company. "It's just that we have to wait," says Radha, returning to her washing woes.

MYSORE-BASED V.T. Doreswamy, 73, retired as a coordinator with the NCERT some 13 years ago in December 1983, after a 36-year-long career—19 years under the Bangalore City Corporation (BCC). NCERT rejected his claim for pension. The council, he says, is "deliberately evading" the real issue: his transfer from BCC to NCERT. Since NCERT is not under the jurisdiction of any judicial or quasi-judicial body, he cannot go to court. The Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) cannot be approached, either. This, despite the fact that the CAT Act applies to NCERT. For his redressal, Doreswamy has approached the prime minister, the minister for human resources development, the finance ministry and the president. "After this, I gave up."

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