It was a cold day in Delhi with a harsh wind blowing outside, but the temperature seemed to be soaring inside Parliament as finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman turned on the heat on the opposition while presenting the “white paper” on the economy on Thursday afternoon.
Making it a clear case of then versus now, Sitharaman focussed on changed observations about India by the International Monetary Fund since Narendra Modi took over as the prime minister. This, in turn, was a reminder of the UPA era’s policy paralysis that even stalled the country’s defence preparedness.
But, politically most significant would be the 15 alleged scams during the previous regime, which she highlighted to remind everyone that the Congress could not even go without large-scale corruption for 12 days of the 2010 Commonwealth Games; but, the BJP-led Centre had managed a year’s worth of G20 summit success.
Talking about the scam regime of the Congress, Sitharaman said in her white paper, “There was pervasive corruption in various government activities, including in procurement, allocation of natural resources, and regulatory approvals. Procurements vital for the nation’s security were also not free from corruption. The scams and corruption cases had shaken the confidence of the people.”
For a first-time voter and Generation X not privy to the UPA regime’s alleged scams, the white paper is intended to be an eye opener. For the rest, it is a reminder of the days gone by.
Here are the 15 “scams” highlighted by Sitharaman in the white paper:
Coal Block Allocation The first one that figured on the white paper was the alleged scam related to coal block allocation, and for a reason. At the time, it came directly under the prime minister’s supervision and, hence, sullied the ‘Mr Clean’ image of Dr Manmohan Singh. It involved corruption in the central government’s allocation of coal blocks to private entities for captive use, leading to an estimated loss of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to the exchequer. “The Supreme Court cancelled 204 such allocations,” the white paper stated.
2010 Commonwealth Games If there is one large-scale corruption that springs to mind from those times, it would be the alleged scam related to the prestigious Commonwealth Games being hosted by India in 2010. “The event was marred by widespread corruption, mismanagement, and financial irregularities in planning and execution of various projects related to the games,” the white paper said. Chargesheets were filed in eight cases, which are still under trial and it sent former Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi to jail, bringing the role of former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit under the scanner.
2G Telecom This alleged scam involved a loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore of potential revenue to the Centre as estimated by a CAG report. Then Congress minister Kapil Sibal claimed that there were “zero” losses, which led to widespread public anger. It sent then telecom minister D Raja, an ally of the Congress, to jail for months along with high-profile bureaucrats.
Saradha Chit Fund This was a ponzi scheme with the diversion of funds for personal use and luring investors with the promise of high returns. It resulted in many poor families losing their life’s savings, with some dying by suicide. The scam unfolded in 2013 and brought the spotlight on many TMC leaders’ roles.
INX Media This case involved money laundering and irregularities in foreign investment approval for investment in a media company. While the case remains under trial, the CBI alleged that Congress MP Karti Chidambaram received kickbacks to the tune of Rs 10 lakh for his alleged assistance, via his consulting firm Advantage Strategic Consulting Ltd. Karti’s father P Chidambaram was then the finance minister and a senior Congressman.
Aircel-Maxis This alleged scam involved allegations of irregularities in the approval of foreign investment in a telecom company and illegal gratification. While the case remains under trial, as mentioned in the white paper, this too had the imprint of the Chidambarams. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had alleged that a company controlled by Karti had, in 2006, received a 5 percent stake in Aircel in return for getting Maxis to pay Rs 4,000 crore for 74 percent shares of Aircel.
Antrix-Devas Deal Irregularities and corruption in a satellite deal between Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the ISRO, and Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd as well as irregularities and allocation of scarce S-band spectrum and wrongful gains to Devas Multimedia are the key elements of the case. The Supreme Court has confirmed the findings of fraud. A chargesheet has been filed in the case. After the ‘Coalgate’ scam, this was another blot on Manmohan Singh’s tenure as the space department was under his purview.
Land for Jobs This is one of the most sordid alleged scams, which involved obtaining pecuniary advantages in the form of transfer to land or property in lieu of appointment of substitutes in Group D in different zones of the railways. The key accused in the case were former railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, his wife Rabri Devi and his daughters. Lalu Prasad’s RJD was a Congress ally in the UPA regime.
Allotment/Release of Prime Land in Panchkula and Gurugram “These are multiple cases reading to release of prime land from acquisition in connivance with the private builders and allotment of industrial land to close associates,” states the white paper. To put it simply, the charge was point blank against the then Congress-ruled Haryana government. The realty firm mentioned was DLF Home Developers Pvt Ltd.
J&K Cricket Association The alleged scam involves misappropriation of at least Rs 44 crore by opening “bogus” bank accounts. After an investigation, a chargesheet was filed. Last year, former CM Farooq Abdullah was named in an ED chargesheet. His party, the National Conference, was a Congress ally then.
Embraer Deal The case is related to corruption, bribery, and kickbacks in the purchase of aircraft from the Brazilian aerospace company Embraer. After an investigation, a chargesheet was filed and the case is pending in a trial court. In 2023, the CBI chargesheeted arms dealer Arvind Khanna, advocate Gautam Khaitan and businessman Anup Gupta in the case for allegedly paying kickbacks worth $5.76 million to finalise a deal with the DRDO.
Pilatus Basic Trainer Aircraft This case involves corruption in the procurement of 75 Pilatus basic trainer aircraft for the Indian Air Force in 2009. What’s more? The BJP’s Nishikant Dubey had alleged Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s husband Robert Vadra’s involvement in the scam.
Hawk Aircraft Purchase The white paper stated, “The case involves payment of bribery to unknown officers of the ministry of defence, during the period 2003 to 2012, in the procurement of Hawk Aircraft from M/s Rolls Royce plc, UK. The case is under investigation.” According to a statement by the CBI, unidentified public servants allegedly misused their positions and facilitated the procurement of 24 Hawk 115 Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) aircraft from Rolls Royce and its associate companies.
Adarsh Housing Society This alleged scam was about allocating apartments in a defence land project in a prime Mumbai location to close family members of the Congress leadership. These homes were originally meant for defence widows and it shocked the country as it unfolded.
AgustaWestland Helicopter Deal Keeping the worst defence scam for the last, Sitharaman said this case is related to kickbacks paid in the procurement of VVIP choppers. The alleged scam involves the payment of bribes to Congress politicians and military officials to win a contract to supply 12 AgustaWestland helicopters to India in 2013. In 2014, after the CBI received documents from Italy, a case was registered.