The daily newspapers and other media in Tamil Nadu recently carried the sensational report that the Managing Director of Chennai’s monopoly bus operator, Metropolitan Transport Corporation was found by police to possess a large amount of cash that he could not account for.
Going around with a large amount in cash is nothing new in “Kazhagam” land. One MLA belonging to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam from Mylapore was killed in a car crash several years ago in a neighbouring town, and a few million rupees were strewn around the accident site (the money had been stuffed into a suitcase for election expenditure). The police, quite unusually, returned the money intact. Perhaps such exemplary behaviour was encouraged by the fact that the cash had come from the top rungs of the party.
But the sluice gates of corruption have always been wide open in Dravidian land (by which I refer to the regimes of the two major Kazhagams).
So why did Mr. Ramasubramaniam, the low-profile MD of a bus company become the quarry for the anti-corruption police? That will remain a moot question.
The media has not found the question worth pursuing, and has stuck to a pale press statement issued by the Government. No one wants to be on the wrong side of politicians.
It is helpful to remember that although the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam swears by nationalised transport (with which I have no quarrel), it has in parallel resorted to backdoor privatisation. The MTC buses now have bodies built in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu by private builders, with crude doors and a plasticky trim.
More recently, the transport monopoly also decided to go in for some strange modernisation – putting in GPS systems in buses which don’t have working speedometers or even brake lights. Further public-private partnership projects were outlined ( a euphemism for private sector entry) in the form of 500 modernised bus shelters with cash vending machines, a public telephone and so on.
Quite obviously, the gravy has been flowing thick and steady in the corridors of the MTC for a long time now. Vigilance action against a particular decision-maker usually follows (especially in a third world country like India) the failure to “share” the kickback as promised.
Typically, contractors pass on bribes in Dravidianland as elsewhere, under the head of “birthday” expenses or “gift” for some wedding coming up. In this case, the money seized only from the official’s car and office totalled Rs. 619,000. The police decided to spare the gentleman of “ignominy” by avoiding a raid on his house, as there was an upcoming wedding (never mind that the same police released a statement to all newspapers about finding unaccounted cash, virtually taking the official’s pants off!). Anyway, that’s perhaps part of Dravidian self-respect protocols!
The point of it all is that there has always been something very rotten at MTC. The Unions have gone along with it, although they knew what was going on. The mandarins in Fort St.George knew it, and tacitly sanctioned it.
The people who were paying usurious fares for deluxe and Volvo services are those who have been cheated. Inferior buses have been put on the road, true modernisation of the MTC has been resisted, and there is no commuter representation in decision-making.
This shameful state of affairs must change. The MTC administration should be removed from its concrete hideouts and put under the spotlight, with an external audit to determine who was behind the rampant corruption in the purchase of spares, the diversion of funds and the kickbacks.
Such a strong audit is vital because tax funds have been forked out by the millions by Manmohan Singh’s UPA government under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) to Tamil Nadu, partly for bus services. This money belongs to us, and we demand to know how it was used.
It is outrageous that when commuters have had their pockets cleaned out by MTC checking inspectors who overload buses all the time, the officials have been siphoning out money for mandarins and political masters.