I am writing after a long time. As a matter of fact, it is the first occasion since the results of the Bihar assembly election came out in November last year that I am sharing my thoughts with you.
It tickles me to be connecting with you again through this blog. I would begin by thanking the people of the state for their wholehearted support and unflinching faith in our government.
Many people from different parts of the world asked me in the past few months as to why I stopped writing my blogs. To be honest, I had not stopped writing this blog altogether. I was just waiting for a worthwhile moment to connect with you online. Now, the time has come.
Last week, our government finally demonstrated something that I had been rather passionate about all the while. We have opened a primary school in the house of a senior government official facing a disproportionate assets case. Last Thursday, we shifted a primary school for underprivileged children into this house in Patna, seized under the Bihar Special Courts Act which our government had enacted last year.
This building, confiscated recently by the Patna district administration following a directive from a special court trying corruption cases in the state, was handed over to the Human Resources Department which subsequently converted it into a primary school in no time.
This Act empowers the competent authority to confiscate the movable and immovable property of a public servant even during the trial. Our government has set up six special courts for the speedy trials in corruption cases.
Such was a moment I had been patiently waiting for all these months to resume my blog writing. When it finally happened I decided to share my thoughts with you.
The opening of a school in this building is no ordinary event, to say the least In fact, this has happened for the very first time in the country. It embodies our government’s resolve to address corruption, even as it is being touted as a practicable measure to deal with incidences of corruption.
The basic objective of the state`s anti-graft legislation is to instill a sense of fear in the minds of corrupt public servants. I think the provision for the confiscation of the assets of the accused will act as a deterrent among the public servants indulging in unscrupulous practices to earn wealth. When they see that their property earned through corrupt practices is ultimately seized by the government, they will realise the futility of amassing wealth. Our aim is to inflate the component of “loss” to such deterrent levels that it automatically defeats the notion of “gain” that impels people into dubious and corrupt pursuits to amass wealth.
Before this Act came into force, corruption cases against public servants used to drag on for years. In fact, the accused used to hire the best of lawyers to fight their cases while enjoying the fruits of their ill-gotten money. There was no law for the confiscation of their property during trial.
The bid to confiscate the property of the corrupt public servants had started soon after the setting up of the fast-track courts but it got delayed because of the legal processes involved. When the special courts ordered confiscation of property of a few accused, they moved the superior courts to seek stay. But the decks were recently cleared for opening a school in one of the buildings owned by an accused after the Patna High Court upheld the validity of the Act.
This should serve as a warning to all those public servants who have acquired ill-gotten money In the coming months, many more buildings are likely to be seized and turned into schools, night shelters or any centre related to public utility across Bihar.
I find it useful here to dispel doubts about who would constitute a public servant. I think that the nature and scale of public role and responsibility being handled by an individual must be the key to deciding his /her categorization as a public servant. Clearly thus, peoples’ representatives like MLAs, MPs, and ministers, besides the category of officials would fall under the “public servant’ nomenclature.
During my assembly election rallies last year, I had made a promise to the people of Bihar I had told them that I would open schools in the buildings of the corrupt public servants. When it finally happened this week I thought I had fulfilled my promise.
But that does not mean that our government had not been doing anything to tame the scourge of corruption since winning the elections last year. We took many landmark initiatives to minimize red-tapism and check corruption at all levels. Firstly, I decided to put the details of my assets as well as those of the members of the council of ministers on the official website of the state government.
This was followed by the decision of our government to make it mandatory for all government employees, up to Group III staff, to declare their assets on the official websites. From the Chief Secretary to all the Group III employees, everybody subsequently posted the details of their property on the government websites.
I also decided to get the Local Area Development Fund of legislators abolished because it had come under the cloud? There were several complaints about the way this scheme was executed across the state. I thought it was better to abolish this fund altogether and introduce an alternate, more transparent scheme involving the legislators to ensure all-round growth of the state.
During my visits to different parts of Bihar, I am often confronted with people complaining about corruption at the grassroots level? They complain about difficulties in getting work done at government offices. They allege that they have to pay bribes for things like caste and income certificates to driving licenses and police verification for getting passports, etc.
With a view to checking it, our government last month enacted the Right to Public Service Act which ensured completion of work related to public services within fixed timeframes. This law came into force on the Independence Day this year. Under this Act, the government officials have to dispose of the people’s applications related to public utility services within a stipulated period. There is also a provision under this Act for imposition of fine on the defaulters for any delay on their part. We have now ensured that our people do not have to run around the offices and grease the palms of the public servants to get their work done. All they have to do is submit their applications and wait for their work to be done within the time-frame fixed by the government.
Now, I am working towards making the institution of Lokayukta more effective and broad-based in the state. Bihar has had a Lokayukta since 1973 but I feel there is a need for giving it more powers. I am also in favour of bringing the Chief Minister under its ambit. We are already working on the draft to bring about an amendment bill in the winter session of the state legislature.
These are a few steps that I have taken as part of my fight against corruption I can assure you that this fight will go on in the future as well. There has been widespread support from people across the country for the campaigns against corruption in recent times. It proves that the people in general are disgusted by the menace of corruption that appears to have made inroads into all spheres of public life.