A primary aim of governance is to find the people means of gainful employment. Politics is the method of reaching that end. The purpose of all politics, however, is to generate gainful employment for politicians. Welfare schemes trotted out by successive governments since Independence have only succeeded in perpetuating the cynically munificent in power, so that they could come up with more schemes in the name of people in the next election. This is the essence of populist statecraft—to use government resources for personal gain. Sonia Gandhi’s pet populist project, the Food Security Bill (FSB), is nothing less than a bribe offered to the people of India. A gigantic vote bank will get food at throwaway prices at taxpayers’ expense.
FSB is the biggest government dole in the Indian history: 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population will get subsidised food from Rs 1 to Rs 3. Estimates of the cost vary; economists assess that the treasury will have to pony up between Rs 1,2000 crore to Rs 3,14,000 crore yearly; of course, to be footed by the insignificant vote bank called the middle class. Along with the Direct Cash Transfer Scheme, which is supposed to offset the food subsidy of $20 billion, Sonia hopes that by bribing the people once again—like the Congress did in 2009 by waiving farmers’ loans worth Rs 52,000 crore as well as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme (MGNREGS) that costs the taxpayer Rs 40,000 crore annually—FSB will bring them back to power in 2014. In an era where developing countries expect self-reliance from its citizens, Sonia wants to spend government money legally on buying votes for the Congress.
The downside of both the FSB and cash transfer scheme is that they stand to generate massive corruption, as has been the case with all schemes that involve the distribution of public resources. MGNREGS is one of the most corrupt social reforms ever envisaged. So is the loan-waiver scheme. In Uttar Pradesh (even in Sonia’s own constituency Rae Bareli), Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam, Gujarat and more, thousands of crores of public money have been looted in the name of generating employment, with officials pocketing MGNREGS funds. In 2011, the Central Employment Guarantee Council had fixed the size of the MGNREGS scam in Uttar Pradesh as over `10,000 crore. Money was paid to fake cardholders; spent on fraudulent construction works, ghost companies and bogus procurement of a variety of goods, from seeds, calendars to computers. Mayawati’s UP had received `20,000 crore of MGNREGS funds in four years of which only 40 per cent went to the needy. In Bihar, officials stole around 73 per cent of funds—`5,977 crore—in 38 districts, between 2006 and 2012.
Responding to a PIL, Supreme Court judges, Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar, observed in August 2011 that “the money of honest taxpayers was being misappropriated”. The bench quoted a CAG report and a National Institute of Rural Development document that revealed that as much as 88 per cent of MGNREGS funds were misappropriated in many districts of Odisha. The farm loan-waiver scheme is equally a playground of corruption. The CAG report tabled in Parliament stated that in 22.23 per cent of the total audited cases, “there were lapses and errors which raised serious concerns about the implementation of the scheme”.
UPA II is undeniably the most corrupt government in history. Scams, from telecom, sports to coal, have looted lakhs of crores of public money in the name of development. The economy is at a standstill. The fiscal deficit is Rs 4.89 lakh crore. Inflation is poised to hit 7 per cent again and food inflation exceeds 6 per cent. The rupee promises to slide to `70 against the dollar. Foreign companies are wary of investment because of corruption. But all that is not Sonia’s concern. It is the Gandhi Family Security Bill alone that matters.
- The Sunday Standard