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CAG’s Grandstanding on Coal Scam Was Uncalled for, Says Former Coal Secretary Anil Swarup

Contrary to the general perception, Kalyan Singh, who was the chief minister of UP when Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992, was completely against the structure's demolition, says former bureaucrat Anil Swarup.

Eram Agha | News18.comEramAgha

Updated:February 22, 2019, 12:17 PM IST
CAG’s Grandstanding on Coal Scam Was Uncalled for, Says Former Coal Secretary Anil Swarup
File photo of Anil Swarup

Former bureaucrat Anil Swarup, who was the director of information and public relations in Uttar Pradesh when Babari Masjid demolition shook the country in 1992, has come up with a book that captures, among other things, the reaction of then chief minister Kalyan Singh when the mosque fell.

In an interview to News18, Swarup says his book, ‘Not Just a Civil Servant’, circles around the aftermath of demolition when the country witnessed “demoralised bureaucracy” due to frequent transfers, and the time when Singh became “livid and crestfallen”.

In your book you have written that Kalyan Singh was crestfallen and livid when the Babri Masjid structure was brought down by the karsevaks. Can you tell us more about that day?

I am not passing a value judgment, but contrary to the general perception Kalyan Singh was against any kind congregation, leave alone demolition of Babri Masjid. He tried and looked for ways to stop it.

But he was a chief minister at that time.

Well, a chief minister works in a certain environment where he has his own party colleagues. Singh, in fact, got very angry with the congregation and spoke to Bhairon Singh Shekawat, the then chief minister of Rajasthan, saying, “I told you not to allow congregation.” I know this because I was the only person with him then. He was discussing the situation with various groups and looking for a solution. He even gave the example of shifting of mosques when Aswan dam was being constructed in Egypt and asked, ‘why not here?’ There were a lot of masjids that were shifted and replanted elsewhere. Many agreed with the idea, he tried to build consensus but never thought of demolition.

Why do you think so?

Because he understood the consequence of the demolition … he lost his government, which chief minister would like that? It is foolish to think that Kalyan Singh wanted demolition.

You have also written in the book that Uttar Pradesh changed after the mosque’s demolition and never recovered from it.

Yes, thereafter UP went down the hill, the institutions were destroyed. There were quick changes in government and transfer of officers became an industry. There were frequent transfers — within serving 6 months or 8 months as district magistrates. Now, I hear things have improved but in the early 90s, it was demoralised bureaucracy.

There were different views coming in on the lateral entry of the bureaucrats. Some were supporting it and some were criticising it.

I am not against lateral entry, but the process must be looked into. We should know how we get them. We can’t just pick up people, let it be through the due process of UPSC exam. It is not influenced by anybody but merit-based. If there was transparency in positioning people in critical positions, then the CBI controversy would not have taken place at all.

What do you make of the CBI episode? Why do you think it happened?

What happened in the CBI and what happened between the two top officials is shameful for the entire bureaucracy. It is not done. This is not how civil services should behave because it brings down institutions such as the UPSC, Election Commission etc. If you start recruiting people the way it was done in the CBI, you are bound to get this problem where two top officers fight among themselves.

I am convinced that if integrity is the basis on which officers are selected, situations such as these would not occur. How can an officer about whom you have done due diligence suddenly become useless to you? If he is bad, he is bad … an officer does not suddenly become bad. People can’t turn rogue suddenly. It means there’s something amiss in the process.

All hell broke loose when the then Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), Vinod Rai, released audit report on the allocation of coal blocks between 2004 and 2010. Do you disagree with the report?

Based on the so-called facts, Rai came to a conclusion which I disagreed with. I have clearly indicated in my book there were wrongs done in coal block allocation and the methodology with which it was determined was incorrect. I say this, firstly, because the loss was determined on the average cost of mining which was stated as Rs 590 by Rai in the CAG report, whereas the cost of mining varies between Rs 400 and Rs 4,000. A real auditor should have gone into the so-called notional laws in each mine because he would have then seen what the cost of production is. Secondly, he was comparing these mines with the mines of Coal India, which are the finest mines, where the cost of production was in any case low.

It was demonstrated by the subsequent fact that after the third round of auction, there were no takers for the coal mines. If the margin was Rs 295 per ton, there would be people killing to take that. But then the question would be, why did they queue up in the first round of auction? The situation then was such that there was scarcity of coal and people were not sure whether they would get it. They wanted the coal at any cost. Coming to a conclusion — that there was a scam — without determining the realistic cost of mining and other factors of delivery cost of coal, was incorrect.

But there was wrong done in this case?

There was a lot of wrong done. Some people were given out of turn … and it was established also. But having said that, to name everybody lock, stock and barrel was not correct. And secondly, the grandstanding that was done was uncalled for. Everybody knows, and it is still in my memory, that the deputy CAG was flashing that report before the media and saying there was a scam. That is not the job of CAG.

As a CAG, you submit the report and when someone asks you a question, you answer it. That’s it. Even if there was scam, it is not the job of the CAG to go about town flashing it. It is a report, just submit it. In my opinion, regarding the Rai case, the determination of the margins for the companies was incorrect and grandstanding was not becoming of the civil servant.

But weren’t such things done by civil servants earlier?

They said it, but not at the cost of someone else. Let’s look at the case of former chief election commissioner TN Seshan. He also went to the media and talked about the problems, but not at the cost of anyone. What Rai did affected not just individuals, but also the governance. I was the coal secretary, and there was nobody to write on the files. Governance was adversely impacted because everybody thought if I write anything, someone will question me. I was head of a group to fasttrack projects because people were not committing on the files. The decision was not happening. Governance suffered.

What do you have to say about those claiming that the integrity of institutions under the current regime is under threat?

It is not appropriate to say that the institutions are undermined in the current regime. The institutions have been undermined in the past as well … the manner in which the CBI was handled in the past. This is because almost every political party wants the institutions to work for them – whether it is the CBI or the CAG — because it serves their purpose. We have to insulate them by going through the process of appointment where incumbent does not owe allegiance to anybody. Independence is important. If it owes allegiance, you will have the report you want – every government wanted to manipulate the institutions — some failed and some succeeded. It is natural for the government to see the institutions play ball with them.

What important observations did make during your last assignment as the secretary of school education?

I discovered that teacher is the pivot. There were many issues but the critical one was to start with pre-service training. That’s where the mafia exists. We took action against them and came out with the decision to have a four-year degree course that would eliminate fraudulent colleges.

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