Pockets definitely run deep here as I am left gobsmacked at the way money trickles out of the honey pot, into the hands of authorities, never making it to the community. According to the World Wealth Organization, India has one of the highest rates of malnutrition, poverty, disease and one of the lowest standards of education so how will all this get better unless the honey pot changes direction and pours into the economy. We should have moved on in the last 70 years but the divide and rule concept seems to work wonders for the few at the top, regardless of ruling party.

STATE OF PLAY

A study carried out by Transparency International in 2005 showed that at least 62% of Indians at some point had given a bribe to a public officer to get a job done. The worrying thing here seems to actually not be the giver but the fact that there is a receiver and 62% , in more simplistic terms, amounts to around 706 million people. It seems that the biggest region of corruption emanates from entitlement programs and social spending schemes. An opaque bureaucracy of government departments, its discretionary powers and its monopoly in certain areas of government controlled institutions of goods and services, means crores and crores of rupees get syphoned off on route to its destination.

REALITY CHECK

Well I went on my merry way to Allahabad, the home of our constitution, to find out where some of our money has gone. Believe me when I sat down with retired Tax lawyer, Ajit Dhawan, I was speechless at the level of corruption and dishonesty that has existed for years, halting the progress of our very own country.

While I listened to all the innovative ways that our top few have tried to get their sticky paws on community money, I couldn’t help but think of how greedy the human specie was. Are we blind to the poverty stricken and their needs, are we blind to the couple that slave to put their children through school, and were we blind to the immigrants that fell to the ground, exhausted, trying to get to their home town with not a penny in their pocket…?

INNOVATION OF MAN

Plan 1:
The great attraction of the exemption of all taxes on agricultural and horticultural income, like bees to a honey pot. Government officers or ‘netas’ because of their position, lease/ buy agricultural land from state government by giving ‘Rishwat.’ If they cultivate that land and grow fruit, grain, plants, or vegetables for example and distribute, their full income is exempt. What makes this worse is that there is no ceiling amount of land that can be held.

Many officers form a company that then buys the land so there is no direct link. You can become a shareholder or even a trustee to the land and you will then wallow in the fruits of your labour in effect.
So I guess Patanjali had a great game plan when it was granted 200 acres of irrigation land in Haridwar with crores of gross income, tax free just streaming in. It seems like one big party where Sharad pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule is allegedly on the guest list with the Akali leader in Punjab to name just a few, enjoying such agricultural and horticultural exemptions.

Plan 2:
So if you don’t like plan A, there’s always plan B where the government likes to give grants, those grants that get everyone salivating. Yes, those spanking new notes that come form the Department of Education to educational institutions upon the receipt of an invoice. And let me tell you, you don’t need a degree for that! So, in the past many officers have got to know the system and have made sure that they have made the most of it.

You may ask how it happens. Well, officers/contacts build a building, and get a certificate from a building inspector which says it’s come up to required institutional standards. Of course it doesn’t but a bit of money under the table always gets someone to say what you want them to. These shell companies and empty buildings never actually get to see one student sadly, but those invoices have definitely gone off to the appropriate government department so a grant can be dispersed. And low and behold this free money comes in but into the pocket of the proud owner of such bogus institutions.

Guess what, these empty shells of buildings serve another purpose. It’s not just those grants that come in but in goes those bogus donations from government officials into the institution to launder their black money. Do I get a feeling that our officials spend more time trying to put together these financial strategies for themselves rather than serving the nation? Think this could be the real reason why everyone wants a government job, it really is like ‘a get rich quick scheme.’ Imagine the crores that have got through all these empty buildings free of any obstacles and unchecked.

Jai Ho for the Adhaar card even though a bit late on the scene. Now this is the card that is required by all staff and students to show that they actually exist. Now before any money can be claimed from the government by the owner of an educational institution, Adhaar cards from students and teachers are required to be produced, recorded and sent with any application for a scholarship. And it’s probably because of this, that the politicians are in uproar and you wonder why …..but of course remain comparatively quiet on real issues like rape.

Plan 3:
The lovely Khumb/Marg Mela. One of the most awaited events of the year because of its 700 crore budget. As I listened to my lawyer, I was finding it so hard to process the amount of funds available and mentally compared it to the stimulus, or rather non stimulating financial package, in pandemic times. I realised very quickly not to bother. Well the mela is organised by the government who then appoints a district magistrate to manage the everyday operations…. Big mistake!

This whole operation spans a year at least, enough time to organise some phoney invoices right? Oh yessiree. We have bills for x amount sent to the government body responsible, the amount gets reimbursed but guess what, audits show that barely 50% of resources are used in the actual making of the mela. So listen to this, people are coming on the trains and over the 3 months of this happening an audit has shown that out of the 22 crores of train tickets that that were shown, that only 50% of the revenue was in the till. So overbilling, which has been sanctioned by the district magistrate, is the key to this scam and imagine how many years this has been going on. Even post mela when things are being cleared up, literally not a stone is left unturned as half of all resources which went towards making the roads and tents, just seem to vanish into thin air. This by far is not the only project scam, remember the Common wealth games scam & the Adarsh housing society scam which involved ministers and politicians? Definitely a neat trick.

Plan 4:
Now what is it about education that makes people want to use and exploit it. It is still quite disorganised as an industry but to be honest, it’s because of this that people can milk it dry again and again. It’s amazing what the pandemic has let loose and it’s not just the virus I’m talking about, it’s the introspection the depression and probably about 600 crores, yep you heard it right.

Now because every student and teacher requires an Adhaar card well it may not be to everyone’s benefit as all classes go online. Ok so the way it used to work until recently, was that fake students were created with a request for a scholarship which used to come quite neatly to the ‘officer’ before it could go any further. Even if there was a student at the end of it, at the odd chance, you can imagine a great percentage was hijacked even before it was funnelled down to a real student.

But of course Adhaar card, wearing its coat of honour, comes to the rescue again as it means that these will require real people and receipts to be linked to a sponsorship. Can you believe, that this simple process has saved the government approximately 600 crores which only makes you think how much money has been lost in the system.

MY PERPLEXED MIND

The numbers are mindboggling and I think of the lockdown and the stimulus package that was far from stimulating, wondering at how many livelihoods were lost. The greed of those government employees who skimmed for years, filling those already overflowing corrupt pockets, left their brethren to suffer in this time of need. If we had more money in the pot maybe, just maybe we could have had a bit more stability in the time of the pandemic. But then it makes me think again, that just because we could have saved it, didn’t mean it was going to go to the right people. How long do we blame the British for looting us when we just seem to be repeating the pattern and what’s worse is that we are doing it to our own. Is this the only thing we took away from colonialism?

INTROSPECTION

In the journey of life that we lead, we have lost our conscience along the way. My dad once said to me Annie, it doesn’t matter how much you make, you can only eat 2-3 chapattis, anything else is just surplus, and you don’t take a damn thing with you so don’t take any more than you need. In fact, some one very close to me suddenly passed away. It was unexpected, she was only 62 years old and had her whole retirement to look forward to. It was on the last day of work, she suddenly collapsed because of a brain haemorrhage leaving her worldly goods right here on earth. When I saw everything in her house just laying there just as she had left it that morning, I saw the futility of amassing unnecessary wealth and realised what my father was talking about. What she had consumed is what she needed and everything else that lay around the room, in the locker, in the bank, in the kitchen….the surplus that was no good to her at all.

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