Sunday, May 14, 2017

Demonetisation, Vyapam: Politicians, media, judiciary must not let up so easily.

Hindustan Times: New Delhi: Sunday, May 14, 2017.
It’s not just the politicians who will have to accept greater accountability to create a shiny white India. Journalists need to raise our game as does the judiciary too. Following up on issues such as demonetisation and scams such as Vyapam could help clean up the system.
Six months on and economists tell us the economy appears to be recovering from the trauma of demonetisation. But has everyone recovered? Have those who depend most on cash recovered, the casual workers, the rickshaw-pullers, the weavers , the vegetable sellers, and so many others whose fragile economies were disrupted? Certainly not all of them have recovered. For instance micro-credit organisations have experienced a sharp rise in defaults on loan repayments, indicating the adverse impact of demonetisation on poorer working women. Nevertheless the UP election indicates that Prime Minister Modi was successful in portraying himself as a man of action attacking black money, the corruption it spawned, and the corrupt who deal in it.
Will the promise of a black-money-free India be fulfilled? The demonetisation and the measures which accompanied it have had a dramatic impact on the property market which was awash in black money. Suddenly cheques are not just acceptable, they are demanded by sellers and buyers. But what about political parties another major source of black money? The reforms of the rules governing contributions to political parties don’t provide for any public disclosure of funding, political parties’ accounts will not be officially audited, and the parties are still not obliged to respond to RTI requests.
But it’s not just the politicians who will have to accept greater accountability to create a shiny white India. We journalists need to raise our game as does the judiciary. We both fail to insure that the guilty are punished so fear of being found out, which should be a powerful disincentive, does not restrain the corrupt or stem the flow of black money. We the media fail in our duty because we suffer from amnesia, we forget about stories. We raise the temperature and the let the story go off the boil. We conduct trials by television but soon get tired of the prosecution. We are always looking for new breaking news for fear readers and viewers will get bored with the old.
Recently I was reminded of a chronic case of our amnesia, the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh, allegedly involving some 2,000 people including the Chief Minister and some of his ministers. There is evidence to suggest that corruption in conducting examinations and tests for educational institutions and for government employment was rampant. Unqualified professionals such as teachers and doctors were let loose on the public. Around 45 mysterious deaths apparently connected with the scam have been reported. But eight years after the whistle was first blown on Vyapam we still don’t know who were primarily responsible and that is not something the media is demanding to know.
As for the judiciary the phrase so often used by those accused of corruption, “let the law take its course ”, says it all. That course rarely ends with timely conviction of the guilty so they do not fear the law.
So to fulfil the promises made to the worst sufferers from demonetisation, politicians of all parties will have to clean up their act, the media need to be watchdogs which bite, and the judges must see that justice is not denied by delay.