‘Stolen’ toilets need Lokpal in Odisha !

By Sabyasachi Amitav

This is not all about an ugly case of Odisha’s accountability. But it seems the corruption becomes a way of life in present government, an everyday subject and people look for Lokpal, an accountability watchdog.

Stories of corruption bore people, unless it is juicy enough. Our ears perk up if people complain that their toilets have been “stolen”. We are intrigued by reports of women giving birth thrice in a year, at least in official records, to claim maternity benefits. We get aroused when tax sleuths find an IAS or IFS officer sleeping on a pile of notes.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Odisha gazab hai. The wonderful State abounds in stories that merit a chuckle. In Shyam Benegal’s Well Done Abba, wells are stolen and the protagonist files RTI for its recovery. In a real life take, residents of a Nayagarh village complained to the police recently that their toilets were stolen. The authorities had “constructed” these toilets under Open Defecation Free scheme and collected money for it.

In an investigative report on Open Defecation Free scheme, a TV channel recently went to several villages of Ranapur in Nayagarh district, where panchayats had constructed toilets without commode, without roof and without doors. Is such massive corruption possible without the connivance of top officials? The current year’s budget for ODF and related activities in Odisha is more than Rs 1,500 crore.

Another reporter discovered a number of women in health department dossiers who had given birth thrice within one year and collected monetary benefits ‘Mamata’ for institutional delivery. When wheat turned into dirt lying in warehouses of Jajpur few year back, official committees failed to unravel the mystery. No wonder, in Odisha one could bribe his or her way to medical colleges and also get government jobs.

This has brought prosperity, at least to a section of government servants and their masters. It is not uncommon to hear stories of contratual clerks who get a salary of Rs 4000 per month, having property worth of Rs 2 crore. In the last two and half years the vigilance has discovered at least one dozen multi-millionaire peons and chaprasis, the lowest ranking government employee, in the land of milk and honey.

Odisha is supposed to practice a zero tolerance policy in dealing with corruption. The government has brought several schemes to make the system more transparent and responsive to fight corruption. All officials are supposed to meet people in an open court to deal with their complaints once a week, offices are expected to do public work within stipulated time and government is empowered to confiscate property of corrupt employees. But nothing works.

Recently Odisha Chief minister Naveen Patnaik called for “PC” check. He has instructed district Collectors to stop the practice of collection of commission at block level after 17 years at the helm of government; and it was condemned by opposition parties. Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan termed that collection of percentage, popularly known as PC, from contractors on Government work orders is prevalent.

The scamsters are capable of turning even anti-corruption measures into an opportunity to make more money. Digitisation of land records was aimed at helping land owners, particularly farmers, get out of clutches of corrupt officials of land records and revenue departments. But scamsters turned even that to their advantage.

The State Government’s priorities are obvious. The post of Loakayukta has been lying vacant for more than years. It’s close to three years have passed after Odisha passed the Lokayukta Act, but the process to appoint a Lokayukta is yet to begin and the Zero Tolerant Government seems to be in no hurry to fill up the vacancy. That reveals more than all the tall claims the government makes.