What Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has done to stamp out corruption in public life has never been attempted before in any state of the Union. By opening a primary school in a confiscated house of a suspended IAS officer SS Verma, he has set a model for others to follow. He tells Ashok Mishra, that a strong precedent has been set for more such actions to follow.
HT: When did the idea of confiscating property of the corrupt officials come to your mind?
CM: I was in course of my Vishwas Yatra when people opened up to me.The number of corruption charges that they levelled with deep conviction shook me to the roots. If loot goes on without check, Bihar would face ruination. I had to do something, and fast. People complained that many officials have amassed huge property and constructed huge houses through ill-gotten money. I resolved to do something about it. The idea of starting special courts to deal with them, encourage people to make the charges stick and lend a hand to open administration was thus born.
HT: What would be your next step to eliminate corruption?
CM: We have just begun. The groundwork is done. The actions to follow would now be faster. I am sure if more and more people confide and agree with the system we have in place, we will be able to set good pace. Corruption is a scourge, which does not allow progress. It makes the life on the lowest end of the ladder a living hell. Why should crores suffer for the reason that a few have taken to greed and been unchallenged? Bihar has mandated, that I must fight corruption. And, fight I will. I will take the corrupt head on and take them down, come what may..
HT: What changes do you expect from such action?
CM: Its a step in the right direction. Corruption is a mental disease. The action we have been able to take will send a strong message to the corrupt government officers and others involved in corrupt practices. This will also set the process for a new social reform and change people’s outlook towards governance. People will be forced to think on how they can change and why the state should change. The change in mindset is necessary.
HT: Do you expect legal hurdles in the way of the government’s campaign against corruption?
CM: The entire process has undertaken through the court’s. The assets are being seized as per the Special Courts Act, which allows confiscation if the charges hold. I am proud, that Bihar has shown the way to all other states in this regard. The corrupt officers will face action under the Indian Penal Code. Some may go in for SLP, as the law of the land permits everyone to do so. But stays from any court in this regard will be difficult to come by. If the case is challenged in superior courts, there will be arguments from both the sides and we will be ready. As of now, the process of confiscation of properties as ordered by the special courts will stay.
HT: Many people doubt the final outcome of the exercise. What do you think?
CM: (Laughs heartily).. When Bhagat Singh, in one of his underground meetings, floated the idea of using bombs and resorting to violent means to force the British out, some of his colleagues raised objections saying that such acts would not work. Peeved at his colleagues’ demeanour, he asked them to leave the meeting. There will be no end of doubting Thomases. Such thoughts don’t worry me. Instead, I concentrate on my job.
HT: How long will it take to nail other officers facing charges of corruption?
CM: Now that the ball has been set rolling, more such houses would be confiscated in future. The designated courts, set up under the Special Courts Act, are taking up cases on a regular basis. I used to get upset over delays in confiscating such property. You have seen the Centre took more than a year to clear the Special Courts Act, 2009. There would have been many more confiscations of such ill-gotten property by now had the Centre cleared it earlier.
HT: People now equate your steps against corruption with Anna Hazare’s war on corruption. How do you take it?
CM: Anna Saheb is doing his job in his own way. We initiated action when no one talked about Jan Lokpal. Bihar is the first state where the properties of corrupt government servants are being confiscated and where the chief minister, ministers and officials have furnished details of their assets. The state government has also scrapped the Rs 1 crore Local Area Development Fund allotted to each MLA and MLC annually. We have also enforced the Right to Public Services Act to curb corruption.
HT: After having kept your promise to open schools in confiscated buildings, when are you going to resume blogging?
CM: Now, the first such school has been opened in Bihar. I was eagerly awaiting it. Let me mentally settle down first and let more such cases be resolved. I will resume blogging soon to express gratitude to the people. (Kumar had written his last blog on October 5, 2010 before embarking on the election campaign for the state assembly polls).