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NHAI kickbacks: Why Modi must order independent probe against Gadkari's ministry

Neeraj Thakur | Updated on: 12 July 2017, 21:04 IST
(Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's remark of "Na khaunga, na khane dunga” is under question yet again with reports emerging of corruption in the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

A Boston-based construction engineering firm - CDM Smith - allegedly paid a bribe of $1.18 million (Rs 7.59 crore) to officials of the National Highway Authority of India between 2011 and 2015 to obtain contracts, the US Justice Department has said.

According to a Times of India report, “These projects were - Gwalior-Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh, Talegaon-Amaravati, Tritchy-Kannur and Maharashtra-Karnataka border Sangareddy."

While a part of the kickbacks was paid during the UPA government's regime, a shadow of suspicion has fallen over the first year of the Modi government as well.

For a Prime Minister who boasts of no corruption charges against his government, it is important to come clean on the issue. This can be done by ordering an independent probe.

But unfortunately, Transport minister Nitin Gadkari has ordered only an internal enquiry into the issue.

The last time a foreign firm accepted having paid a bribe to Indian officials for securing favours was in 2012 when US-based retailer Walmart disclosed that it had spent $25 million (Rs 125 crore) lobbying for various projects including enhanced market access for investments in India.

At that time, the BJP had demanded a fair inquiry into the issue.

BJP leader and current HRD minister Prakash Javadekar had said: “Have they spent it only in US or have they used it in India also is a matter of inquiry and this is a very serious charge and people have raised it during the debate that the whole entry of Walmart is akin to their Bofors kickback. So, what it is must be probed fully and then only the truth will emerge."

Tainted past

In an otherwise clean brigade of ministers of Modi government, Nitin Gadkari comes as a weakling as he has faced corruption charges in the past. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)'s report tabled in 2015 had alleged irregularities in a loan given by a government-run company to the Purti Group, in which Gadkari owned stakes.

Recently, Gadkari also tried to stop enquiry into a Rs 240 crore land acquisition scam for the NH-74 stretch in Uttarakhand, arguing that a CBI probe will have an adverse impact on the morale of NHAI officials. The CBI, however allowed enquiry into the case.

While law takes its own course and until proven guilty, everyone is innocent. But Modi has a bigger responsibility of keeping his government's image clean. He came to power by maligning his predecessor's government as the most corrupt in the history of Independent India.

So if Modi fails to be fair in probing corruption charges during his government's tenure, the opposition will have a valid reason to say “people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones”.

First published: 12 July 2017, 21:04 IST
Neeraj Thakur @neerajthakur2

As a financial journalist, his interface with the two dominant 'isms'- Marxism and Capitalism- has made him realise that an ideal economic order of the world would lie somewhere between the two. Associate Editor at Catch, Neeraj writes on everything related to business and the economy. He has been associated with Businessworld, DNA and Business Standard in the past. When not thinking about stories, he is busy playing with his pet dog, watching old Hindi movies or searching through the Vividh Bharti station on his Philips radio transistor.