The Indian Express exposé of the NEEPCO scam has thrown up two central characters with contrasting characteristics: one, Kiren Rijiju, a typical run-of- the-mill politician with no clearly apparent principles and ideology, and two, Satish Verma, an outstanding example of India's steel frame, who is ready to stick his neck out to stand up for a principle that a police officer is expected to uphold.
Rijiju, the Minister of State for Home in the current BJP-led Union government, is a classic party-hopper. He was brought up in the Congress culture in its heyday. He impressed the Congress's first family with his loyalty and dedication and rose to become the national president of the National Student Union of India, the student wing of the Congress. Soon after, he became the state president of the Youth Congress in his home state, Arunachal Pradesh.
All the "nationalist" Indians supporting anti-corruption crusades should salute Satish Verma, an upright and courageous police officer.
As the NSUI national president and the state YC president, Rijiju became a leading player in the politics of Arunachal Pradesh. But, in 2004, when the ambitious politician failed to get the Lok Sabha ticket from the Congress, he had no qualms in defecting from the party which had given his political career a jump-start. He went ahead joined the BJP, the party he was railing against and calling a communal outfit not so long ago.
Rijiju won the Lok Sabha seat in 2004 on a BJP ticket. But in 2009 he lost the seat as a BJP candidate. Rijiju then had no qualms again to come back to the Congress fold, and became chief minister Dorjee Khandu's personal confidant. But this dalliance came to a sudden halt with the helicopter crash in 2011 in which Khandu died. In the post-Khandu days, Rijiju became a persona non grata in the Congress. He then returned to the BJP fold to strike out his political future.
This background of Rijiju—which shows how easily he can switch sides for power—must be kept in mind while analysing the NEEPCO scam.
Now, take the case of the other central actor of the NEEPCO drama—Satish Verma. A Gujarat cadre IPS officer, Verma was a part of the three-member SIT appointed by the Gujarat High Court to probe the Ishrat Jahan case. He had taken a different stand from the other two members. He had filed an affidavit in the high court that the encounter could have been staged; he had also cast a doubt about the allegation that Ishrat was a Lashkar terrorist.
Verma, true to his conviction, took a stand that pitted him against the all-powerful state government. At a time when most of his colleagues in the bureaucracy followed the dictates of the party in power in the state and echoed its scripted lines, Verma chose to tell truth to power.
It was not surprising that, in the new dispensation in the Centre, Verma was given the mandatory Central deputation in what many would consider a punishment posting as the chief vigilance officer (CVO) of North Eastern Electrical Power Corporation (NEEPCO). Verma had initially expressed his reluctance to join this job, but, later, he accepted the challenge.
Verma did what he is good at, what many of his fellow police officers would be reluctant to do, to expose the innards of the deeply embedded corruption in public sector undertakings, often with the connivance of the top officials and politicians.
At a time when most of his colleagues in the bureaucracy followed the dictates of the party in power, Verma chose to tell truth to power.
This is where the path of Kiren Rijiju and Satish Verma crossed. Verma came across huge corruption in the construction of two dams for the 600 MW Kameng Hydro Electric Project, located in Rijiju's parliamentary constituency. Verma, on meticulous investigation, found that the bills for carrying thousands of tonnes of rocks were fake; the rocks were apparently carried on scooters, bikes and cars and several other imaginary vehicles whose registration numbers, obviously, did not exist (a grim reminder of the fodder scam in Bihar where a similar scenario had played out).
Kiren Rijiju's cousin, Goboi Rijiju, was the local contractor for the project. The CMD of the NEEPCO, a Power Ministry appointee, was apparently in cahoots with the Rijiju clan, as Verma has fleshed out in his detailed report to the ministry. With the usual top politician-top official nexus in place, Verma had to work extra hard to string together corruption charges. He had to take off, with his team, several times to make on-the- spot verification of the goings-on. He had to make surprise checks, for he knew that any advance information even to the CMD's office would be transmitted down the line to everyone involved in the corruption pipeline.
The CMD was livid that the CVO had established so many corruption charges in the ₹4500 crore project (the initial estimate was about ₹2500 crore!). He persuaded the political bosses to serve a show-cause notice to Satish Verma to explain his unauthorised absence ( Verma had taken off on surprise checks without intimating the CMD several times). Barely five days after the show-cause notice (in May this year), without the formality of waiting for a reply, Verma was transferred to serve in the Central Reserve Police Force in Tripura, another unenviable posting.
The Indian Express managed to get hold of the 129-page report that Verma had sent to the Power Ministry detailing the saga of corruption in the Kameng project. The ministry then referred the matter to the CBI, but being the caged bird that it is, the CBI has not filed even a single case in the last six months. The Indian Express also reported about the audio recording of a conversation that Goboi Rijiju had with Satish Verma (when the latter had stopped the payment to the contractor) in which the contractor had flaunted his connection with the minister and promised to bring good tidings for the officer if he did not act difficult with him.
Had Satish Verma obliged, possibly, he would be enjoying a prize posting in the Home Ministry now, courtesy Kiren Rijiju, the MoS. But he chose to act out of principle—as a police officer of integrity ought to do—and was prepared to suffer the consequences.
All the "nationalist" Indians supporting anti-corruption crusades should salute this upright and courageous police officer.