Justice Hegde

Hegde

THIS POST IS A LATE ENTRY..BUT BETTER LATE THAN NEVER!

Where is justice? This is the question that comes to an ordinary man’s mind when he reads in the news that one more corrupt babu or a PWD engineer has been reinstated in his job.  A few months back, he would have read that this official’s palatial mansion has been raided with Lokayukta officials seizing documents on clandestine business transactions, murky property deals, gold, and cash bundles from under the pillows and mattresses which could make a bank cashier blink in disbelief (he would not have seen that many bank notes in his life!).  There would be a picture of his fancy house on page 2 or 4 of the newspaper at a Ram Gopal Varmaesqe angle!  Sometimes a drawing room would be shown with papers and files scattered everywhere and bundles of notes in open gunny bags and gold jewelry displayed for the reader’s enlightenment with plain-cloth officials going over files and documents in dead earnestness.  The paper would invariably display the annual income of this official and an assessment of wealth and properties he has accumulated which would usually be 10 to 20 times what he could have made in his entire life!

Abuse of official powers or rather government posts has been a bane for such a long time that it has become the norm.  History points out that British East India Company with the nod from the British monarchy introduced India to bureaucracy (the monarchs and the princely state guys had bureaucracy in some form or the other before with much of the effort going into collect taxes effectively) and red tape or in Hinglish, babudom.  We can be proud of the fact that we have offices and convoluted rules that make life difficult for general public, the general public trying to bend the rules all the time, and most importantly abusing rules by simply being a government servant!  There are people who juggle ‘careers’ playing the double role of a lower division clerk and a tout at the same time, husling people who come to the government offices to get something done.  We could call this corruption at the grass root level (well, almost!), and he is the link to all those higher ups.  Maybe a person who comes from outside of India and approach a government office would jump to this conclusion:  India can be basically be divided into three categories of people – touts, corrupt beaureacrats/government officials, queue cutters.  Chances are that the minority who do not belong to any one of these categories at a particular point in time are watching a dead rubber between India and Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports Club Ground telecast live on DD Sports and attaining their dose of not-so-infrequent cricket nirvana.

Maybe our founding fathers some 60 plus years ago had a lot of other issues to deal with when India took those toddler steps as an independent nation.  That the steps would be giddy must have been a forgone conclusion at that time but idealism prevailed, and we became a ‘sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic.’   Fair enough.  The only problem is that we took the socialist credentials a tad too seriously.  We were a closed economy.  PSUs ruled the roost in the 70s and we created a culture where one could easily fall into the trap of believing that your rights precede your duties or simply put, even if you don’t work you could strike against your employer and arm twist your way getting hikes and other perks without actually working.  You simply had to be part of an employee union protesting against the ‘injustices’ of management all the time and the climax of a strike would more often than not be a salary hike with retrospective effect and jalebis and ladoos distributed and smiles all around.  I could argue that in the 1970s and 80s India was to the world map what Bengal is to India right now – people on a mass exodus for better lives.  Unemployment rate was alarming, and if somebody became desperate enough to decide to eke out a living in India doing his own business, he had to cross that trecherous territory called red tapism and official apathy to get somewhere – after British Raj came the License Raj.  It was only a natural progression that officials and beareaucrats became all powerful during this time, and misuse of power for personal gains was the next step.  To this day, I don’t think there is a single tainted official/beareacrat who simply stops being corrupt fearing that he could lose his job.  The maximum time he would have to stay out of the office would be a suspension for 6 months and an official enquiry follows constituting a panel of harmless geriatric angels.

In retrospect everything looks easy, but we should have anticipated these kind of setbacks and should have incorporated stronger laws into our constitutional framework and ensured good execution.  We simply don’t have a system in place where we dock a corrupt official and hold him accountable for what he has done.  I frankly don’t see the difference between a collector/official/bureaucract during the British Raj and a bureaucrat with the PWD or a PSU who lives like a royal and abuse power.  The society has gotten so conditioned by all this corruption that we look at a government official who has built his dream 2-crore house and almost say “smart man, see how successful he is in life!” without so much as a frown.  These people pass off as respectable members of the society.
In our country, there is a huge gap between what some good-intentioned law makers want to do and how badly it is executed. We see this gap widening day by day.

Ah well, how I stray from my topic…disproportionate assets and raids!  Justice Santosh Hedge had given us hope, hope in particular to the people of the State of Karnataka, that there were somebody who could stand up to the collective clout of people who were in politics because politics could be used for expanding business, i.e., the business of looting the country by way of misuse of official power.  Infusing hope is never easy, but Justice Hegde did it with aplomb with his principled life and a sense of ethics seldom seen in India, at least among government officials.  His resignation underlines the fact that our country is surely going to the dogs and one of the last men standing in the way looks all defeated now.  Justice Hedge didn’t say “all the good work I thought I had done in these 4 years was an exercise in futility,” but he meant as much when he put in his papers.  He took on the palatial Bangalow builders, gold accumulators, cash-under-pillow grafters, “all-the-property-is-in-my-wife’s-name” kind of politicos, and those having benami properties worth crores that spell ‘disproportionate’ if you read it forward or backward!  Seldom do we see officials in higher authority having the kind of empathy towards the poor and needy like Justice Hedge.  His ‘fans’ among the commoners were shell-shocked on hearing the news of his resignation.  After all, he belongs to that small list of Heroes a common man can look up to in India.

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