Karnataka witnessed the unthinkable and unprecedented a few months ago.
The Karnataka Contractors’ Association, the apex body of all government contractors with over one lakh members, dropped a bombshell alleging the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state was demanding a commission or bribe of up to 40% to award and clear contract bills.
They even wrote letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office and President Ram Nath Kovind, demanding stricter action against some BJP ministers and bureaucrats in the state.
For the contractors, who are always at the mercy of the government, it was an act of courage.
Association president Kempanna held a series of press meets to expose the government. The issue even rocked the Karnataka Legislature, with the opposition branding the BJP government a “40% commission government”.
No action was taken and the ruling BJP maintained there was no corruption in the state.
With the unfortunate death of young contractor Santosh Patil on Tuesday, the focus is once again on the alleged rampant corruption in the state.
Patil, a small-time contractor, allegedly ended his life, leaving behind a note blaming Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister KS Eshwarappa for his death. Eshwarappa has maintained he is not at fault.
Before taking the extreme step, Patil had met almost every top BJP leader with a complaint against Eshwarappa. He had held press meets and even sent a letter to PM Modi.
His death has angered the contractors who have decided to take on the state government once again.
They allege that Patil’s death is just a tip of the iceberg and almost all departments in Karnataka are highly corrupt. The contractors’ association had decided to stop all government work for a month from May 25.
“It is impossible to do contract works in the state. How can we pay up to 40% commission and survive? Corporators, MLAs, ministers and bureaucrats all want their cut. We are pushed to the wall,” said Kempanna.
According to a civic works contractor in Bengaluru, it is not possible to bid, win and execute any work without bribing. “In the much-hyped white topping work for city roads, the bribe is up to 40%. It is day-time robbery,” he said.
In political circles, plum departments such as water resources, health, public works, power, revenue, urban development, social justice, women and child development and Bengaluru Development and Cooperation are known as “gold mines”. Ministers and bureaucrats vie for these lucrative departments.
Most contractors agree that corruption is rampant across political parties in the state. Almost all MLAs demand 10-15% cut from contractors and officials for every work in their constituency.
“Be it the Congress, BJP or JD(S), nobody is a saint. But demanding 40% bribe is unprecedented,” said a contractor from Bhatkal.
The flip side is many so-called whistleblowers abuse the provisions under the Right to Information (RTI) and anti-corruption acts to blackmail corrupt officials and politicians to make money in the name of crusade against corruption.
No one in Karnataka hopes or believes that corruption will end after Patil’s death.
Veteran politician and former minister Kagodu Thimmappa summed it up: “It is deep-rooted like a banyan tree. Nobody can end corruption because it benefits everybody.”