Allegations on tender nexus stir political slugfest in Karnataka
In 2012, SR Jindal, one of India’s well-known industrialists, was among the key speakers at Karnataka’s flagship Global Investors Meet (GIM). His speech was critical of the administration, then led by Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) DV Sadananda Gowda, at an event that was meant to showcase the conducive atmosphere in the state to attract investments.
“The single window system in the state had many backdoors and ventilators,” he said at the event, packed with renowned industrialists and business personalities from around the world. Such has been the reputation of Karnataka among investors that nothing moves without “commission”.
The Karnataka State Contractors Association’s letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging contractors being harassed to pay 25-30% of the total tender cost even before the work begins has brought to light a close nexus between elected representatives and their stooges in the state while stirring up a political slugfest between the ruling BJP and opposition Congress.
The letter, dated July this year, was released on Thursday, in which one section of contractors levelled allegations against the government (present and past) and officials in Karnataka who end up getting most of the tenders in public works.
Relatives and kin are known to benefit from some of these tenders, which range from smallest contracts to big-ticket projects that are often referred to as “kickbacks”.
The Congress on Thursday night had met Karnataka governor Thawarchand Gehlot and asked for immediate removal of the BJP government over corruption allegations. “Government departments, that too in irrigation, works approved have been increased by two-fold. I will shortly release documents on this soon. Why was a suo moto case not filed based on the allegations of a government-approved orgnaisation?” state Congress president , DK Shivakumar said in a post after meeting the Governor.
Terming the allegations of corruption by the Congress as “laughable”, chief minister Basvaraj Bommai said that works allotted during the former’s regime too will be investigated.
“Considering Congress party’s special interest about the percentage in tenders of civil works, tenders approved during their regime too would be subjected to probe,” Bommai said on Friday.
His statements come even as raids by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) continue across several parts of the state, unearthing crores in assets from mid-level officials, including those hidden in their drain pipes.
“The letter to (the) Governor reflects the percentage culture that prevailed during the previous Congress regime towards the Contractors. It is the Congress leaders who are the creators of percentage culture. It is Congressmen who have been increasing it(percentage) periodically,” Bommai said.
Allegations of corruption against the BJP government in the past have come from within the own party as well. KS Eshwarappa, a senior BJP leader and minister for rural development and panchayat raj (RDPR), had shot off a letter to the governor in April, alleging that tenders from within his department were being allotted by circumventing due process and the minister himself.
AH Vishwanath, the BJP MLC in June, had alleged that tenders worth nearly ₹21,500 crores in the irrigation department were being allotted without even calling for one. Income Tax department officials conducted raids after this complaint, in which they questioned a personal secretary of former chief minister BS Yediyurappa, forced to step down in July over similar allegations.
A contractor, requesting anonymity, shared that money has to be paid for every single tender to several stakeholders that include elected representatives, senior and junior officials, and many others in proportion to the quantum of work or value.
A 2017 survey by the Centre For Media Studies had concluded that Karnataka was the most corrupt state in the country – a survey that then Siddaramaiah dismissed as “not credible” even though he conveniently stuck to other reports that hailed the state’s progress in several other sectors.
The piling allegations of corruption against Bommai, who replaced Yediyurappa, are not going down well for the BJP in a state which it calls the ‘gateway’ to southern India.
“These are not allegations made by the Congress but by their (BJP) own leaders who have held important positions,” Priyank Kharge, a former minister said on Firday.
He added that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said “na khaoonga, na khaane doonga” and even alleged that Congress was a 10% (commission) government. However, the contractors association allege nearly 40% goes off in payments to elected representatives and officials in the BJP government.
“This government is not working for public welfare but for individual interests,” Kharge said.