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A systemic rot

The death of IAS officer DK Ravi has revealed the full extent of the corruption that has set into the political and administrative system of the country

KARNATAKA’S crusader-IAS officer DK Ravi’s murder or ‘coerced’ suicide—yet to be established through independent investigation—has thrown the system into a tailspin and has exposed its rot. Within hours of discovery of the body, hanging from a ceiling fan in the officer’s apartment, and even before an FIR was registered, Bengaluru’s Police Commissioner pronounced it as a case of ‘suicide for personal reasons’. This was endorsed by the state’s Home Minister, KJ George, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and the entire ruling establishment.

To back this up, all kinds of innuendos were spread and leaks planted, romantically linking Ravi to one of his lady batchmates. ‘Sex’, ‘sleaze’ and ‘debauchery’ were the storylines advanced to tarnish the image and obfuscate the circumstances around the death of this courageous officer who had dared the might of the marauding mafia, first as Deputy Commissioner, Kolar, and then as additional commissioner of enforcement in the commercial taxes department. An audio clip, containing a message by an MLA threatening a government official for not releasing seized sand trucks and speaking about the transfer of DK Ravi, added to the mystery. The public took to the streets, demanding a CBI probe and expressing no-confidence in the state CID.

Hemmed in from all sides, Siddaramaiah declared: “We are particular that the truth should come out.” Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee President Parameshwara echoed this. The young lady officer, Rohini Sindhuri Dasari, to whom Ravi had reportedly messaged a virtual ‘dying declaration’ while professing ‘eternal love’, did not lag behind. While her husband, Sudhir Reddy, moved the Karnataka High Court and obtained a stay against the interim CID report being made public, she herself went for a Facebook posting: “Truth Shall Prevail.”

DK Ravi

A full week after the death of the officer, under immense public and political pressure, the Government of Karnataka handed over the investigation to the CBI. Everyone—parents, friends, colleagues, public and police—hunting for truth will now pin their hopes on the CBI which itself has messed up many similar cases in the past. It is reported that from Day one there was a virtual stampede in the apartment where Ravi’s body hung, thereby erasing many possible clues. As it looks now, after all this fire and fury, the elusive truth may be buried in a grave in Doddakoppalu (village of the deceased officer), guarded by the villagers who have lost faith in the government authorities!

All this brings into focus the infamous idiom, “Something is rotten in the State of Denmark” in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Not many have tried to analyse this idiom, its true meaning and relevance to modern times. In the play, these words were spoken by Marcellous when Hamlet leaves him and Horatio to follow the ghost of his father, the murdered king of Denmark. When examined, this statement can refer to many of the things about the ruling class that were rotten in the state of Denmark, primary among them being corruption and moral decay. Most of these originated from the royalty, which in Hamlet’s words resembled “an un-weeded garden that grows to seed”. In an un-weeded garden, the weeds would eventually corrupt and kill the once healthy plants and Denmark’s royalty was set on a course that would eventually spoil the whole country and bring it to ruin.

This is precisely what India is, an un-weeded garden heading towards ruin. In the famous black money judgment, the Supreme Court quoted this passage from Robert Rotberg’s Book, When States Fail: Causes and Consequences, hinting that this is applicable to today’s India:

Mysterious circumstances


THE death of 2009-batch IAS officer DK Ravi has stirred a hornets’ nest. Why and how, are the questions being fiercely contested, with the government led by Siddaramaiah and his police commissioner and home minister on one side and the people of the state and the opposition parties on the other. The government made it out to be a suicide by the officer after a failed love affair with the ‘other woman’ in his life, not being enamoured of the claim that the officer had made enemies with mafia variables like land-grabbers, tax evader businessmen, and the political nexus that links them all.

The body of Ravi was discovered on March 16, 2015 around 6.40 pm, hanging from the fan in his bedroom, without any suicide note. There were two opinions about what could be the cause. The first reaction came from MN Reddy, the Commissioner of Police of the City of Bengaluru. He said, “Prima facie it looks a case of suicide by the IAS officer.” The body had just been taken for post-mortem. The same explanation was given by Home Minister KJ George and later by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. People took the statements made by the authorities with a pinch of salt. The eagerness and haste by the Chief Minister & Co was not only premature but also inappropriate as the officer had neither written a suicide note nor was there any tell-tale evidence. The body was hanging from the ceiling fan and his feet were not much above the stool on which he could have stood to reach the fan. Moreover, till noon, before he came home, he was planning raids on tax evaders as he was the Additional Commercial Tax Commissioner. Unlike any normal scene of crime, the house and the room were invaded by the home minister and many other dignitaries, police personnel and other VIPs. Preliminary caution was thrown to the wind as taking of fingerprints, a mandatory requirement, could not be done.

Unlike any normal scene of crime, the house and the room were invaded by dignitaries, police personnel and other VIPs. Fingerprints could no longer be lifted!

The upright, honest officer had, in the last quarter, raided several tax evading companies to garner `129 crore for the state exchequer. He had another long list of such companies and individuals with him and was planning to raid them. He apparently received some threatening calls that fateful morning. When he went home around 11.30 am, three strangers were among the visitors who were recorded on the CCTV of the apartment, which was seized by the police later in the day and returned to the management and strangely, erased! Two mobile phones belonging to Ravi were recovered from the living room by the police, which, according to the police chief, had registered 44 calls addressed to a female colleague of his in less than half an hour! The Crime Investigation Department of the Police, which was asked to conduct an inquiry on the orders of the chief minister, is silent on the missing tax evaders’ list from his house and his office! Without a suicide note and the lack of the detailed post-mortem and corroborative evidence, the CID police prepared an interim report to be submitted to the Chief Minister for tabling before the legislature (an attempt aborted by the High Court through a stay order).

People from all over the state rejected the CID opinion as described by the chief minister and home minister. Since the CID is subordinate to the chief minister and home minister, it would be futile to expect justice for the deceased officer. A chorus for a CBI probe was sought by the agitating people of the state, which was orchestrated by the ever-eager opposition parties, the BJP and JDS. A few leaders of the ruling party, including a minister, too were publicly in favour of a CBI probe. The chief minister resisted and the agitation spread to rural areas too. Caste organisations too joined the movement and the Vishva Vokkaligara Vedike (Ravi was a Vokkaliga and his father-in-law a Congress leader) conducted a padyatra. Another major community, Lingayats, also joined the fray with the most respected Swamiji of Siddaganga Mutt (who is aged about 106 years) inaugurating the march.

Finally, rearguard action was taken by Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi, who advised chief minister Siddaramaiah to approach the Union Minister for Home to insitute a CBI probe!

Harishchandra Bhat is a senior journalist based in Benguluru

“Failed States offer unparalleled economic opportunity—but only for a privileged few. Those around the ruler or ruling oligarchy grow richer while their less fortunate brethren starve. Immense profits are available from an awareness of regulatory advantages and currency speculation and arbitrage. But the privilege of making real money, when everything else is deteriorating, is confined to clients of the ruling elite….The Nation-State’s responsibility to maximise the well-being and prosperity of all its citizens is conspicuously absent, if it ever existed…. Corruption flourishes in many States, but in failed States it often does so on an unusually destructive scale. There is widespread petty or lubricating corruption as a matter of course, but escalating levels of venal corruption mark failed States.”

There is fierce competition among India’s ruling class—political, administrative, judicial and military—to escalate the levels of venal corruption. Mafias in multifarious fields—land, sand, construction, water, forest, mines, mineral, liquor, drugs, arms—control the levers of power and are running amuck. These are the weeds that sprouted in the early years of democracy, overran the healthy crops during the Emergency’s autocracy and consolidated into kleptocracy of the thieves, by the thieves, for the thieves! The fault lies in the Nehru leadership failing to un-weed and the Indira leadership promoting the weeds to retain her hold on power. The latter went to the extreme extent of extinguishing democracy only to counter the massive anti-corruption movement launched by students in the 1970s under JP’s leadership.

Pursuit of ‘development at-any-cost’ has turned out to be very costly. The cost being paid is honesty, probity, integrity and equity, which are the cornerstones of the government and governance

WHILE unbending healthy crops are blown around like straw, the bending and crawling weeds are well rewarded with coveted postings and juicy sinecures. For kleptocracy to thrive, the ‘healthy crops’ should either be put out of harm’s way or made to shrink and fade away. Ravi was the latest victim and before him was his IPS batchmate, Narendra Kumar, who was killed for taking on the illegal mining mafia in the Morena district of Madhya Pradesh. While on patrol duty, Kumar had tried to stop a tractor, which was loaded with illegally-mined stones. When the driver refused to stop, Kumar got out of his jeep and blocked the tractor’s path. The driver deliberately ran over him.

Let us briefly look at the more recent ‘Roll of the Hounded” of IAS:

    • Ashok Khemka (Haryana) exposed what he considered ‘suspicious’ deals between Robert Vadra and real estate firm DLF. He alleged that the transactions had the sanction of the Haryana government. For his diligence, he has faced death threats and several complaints and chargesheets against him. In a 20-year-long career, Khemka has been shunted between 45 postings.
    • U Sagayam (Tamil Nadu) has been in the IAS for 20 years and transferred as many times. He is a relentless anti-graft crusader. As District Collector, Madurai, he ensured fair elections for the first time in 2011, braving the wrath of the then ruling party bigwigs. After regime change, he confronted the powerful granite mafia, exposing a `16,000-crore scam and was shunted out within days.
    • In August 2013, Ashish Kumar (Tamil Nadu), as District Collector of Tuticorin, came upon the massive loot of beach sand containing atomic minerals, including the prohibited monozite, in TN’s southern districts. Besides posing threat to national security, the heist is estimated to be of 7.2 crore MT, valued at `1.76 lakh crore. Within two days of conducting the raid, he was kicked out. Since then, the government authorities are protecting the mining barons from any kind of action.
    • As a young SDM in 2013, Durga Shakti Nagpal (UP), made a concerted bid to curb illegal sand mining along the Yamuna and Hindon, which was damaging the environment and altering the natural course of these rivers. She used smart strategies and surprise tactics to impound vehicles used for ferrying the sand and also ordered the arrest of several miners. For this, she was suspended. Later, bowing to public pressure, the suspension was revoked.
    • Raju Narayana Swamy (Kerala) is known as the ‘clean-up officer’ in the regions where he has served. His crusade against corruption started during his very first job, and he went about taking on the then Public Works Minister, TU Kuruvilla, eventually leading to his resignation, and former minister PJ Joseph’s. For his troubles, the officer has been transferred 20 times in as many years and even been forced to report to officers junior to him.
    • Rashmi V Mahesh (Karnataka) is widely credited with cleaning up the CET process, curbing seat blocking and irregularities in seat distribution, when she was the Executive Director of the Karnataka Education Authority. At the behest of private college lobbies, she was sent on leave and then posted as Director, Administrative Training Institute, Mysore. Here, too, she uncovered several irregularities during the tenure of her predecessor and even had to face mob fury for her actions.
    • There is also Sanjiv Chaturvedi of the Indian Forest Service (Haryana), who has been battling the mafia backed by corrupt elements in the government. He had unearthed massive forestry and mining scams, in the process getting hounded by the state government with repeated transfers, chargesheets and suspension.

There are many outside this circle who lost their lives for daring the corrupt and the venal. Lalit Mehta used RTI to expose NREGA-related scams and was killed on May 15, 2008, in Jharkhand. Satyendra Dubey, an Indian Engineering Service officer, was gunned down on November 27, 2003, in Gaya, Bihar, for exposing corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral NHAI project. Shanmughan Manjunath, a Grade A officer in the Indian Oil Corporation, was murdered for taking on the oil mafia and exposing illegal petrol pumps in Lakhimpur Kheri (UP) selling adulterated fuel. SP Mahantesh, the Karnataka Administrative Service officer, exposed irregularities in allotment of land to cooperative societies. On May 16, 2012, he was beaten mercilessly with an iron rod and after five days succumbed to injuries. A more recent case is that of Tamil Nadu’s agro-engineer, Muthukumarasamy, who unable to bear the tortuous extortion demands of a minister and his collection agents, jumped before a running train.

A full week after the death of the officer, under immense public and political pressure, the Government of Karnataka handed over the investigation to the CBI

Post-Emergency, the system became so distorted that it does not protect, support or guide honest and competent officers. As DC, Chandigarh, capital of Punjab and Haryana, I have been a victim to the combined onslaught of these governments and the CBI because I had taken on powerful encroachers, violators and corrupt officials. Complaints were orchestrated and fake inquiries held. My senior officers, barring one exception, did not stand by me and at the slightest hint from vested interests, threw me to the wolves. I was also frequently transferred. What is worse, a chief minister, who commandeered my services twice to save his chair—cracking down on the illicit liquor mafia after two consecutive hooch tragedies and resolving a major power crisis—discarded me as ‘inconvenient’ after I clashed with two of his ministers over corruption and malpractices indulged in by them!

THE situation is more serious today. At lower levels of the government, bribes are being demanded as a matter of right and these bribe-takers share the booty and enjoy full protection from people ‘higher-up’. In the top echelons, the predatory economic policies and the callousness in managing natural resources has opened up vast opportunities for moneybags and marauders to indulge in loot and crush anyone daring to resist. Many of these worthies are now occupying elected offices from panchayats to Parliament and hold sway over the people and government machinery. This is the rot in India’s administrative system.

Pursuit of ‘development-at-any-cost’ has turned out to be very costly. The cost being paid is honesty, probity, integrity and equity, which are the cornerstones of the government and governance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power with a trumpeting call for good governance. Ten months down the line, it remains a mere call!

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