The whistleblowing MP who shook the UPA by exposing Coalgate scam

Hansraj Ahir

The coal scam might seem like a sudden explosion that has sent the United Progressive Alliance government scurrying for cover. In actuality, the scam has been brought into the open because of six years of mundane, painstaking, thankless work by one man – Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Chandrapur, Hansraj Ahir.

Chandrapur might not be Wasseypur, but its vast coal reserves have been a boon as well as a bane for this district in Eastern Maharashtra. Ahir’s story begins in the early 1990s, when he was a municipal corporator in Chandrapur. That was the time when the PV Narasimha Rao government at the Centre began “giving away” blocks of coal to private companies as part of its efforts to dismantle the country’s “socialist” economy. “The state-owned Coal India began shrinking due to government apathy and hundreds lost their jobs in Chandrapur,” recollects Ahir

“There are 27 coal mines in Chandrapur. Coal blocks were being given away for free”. After he became part of the standing committee of Parliament on coal and steel in 2004, Ahir realised that this is the case all over India and that private companies in collusion with government officials have unleashed havoc in various coal-rich parts of the country.

Ahir wrote to the prime minister and finance minister in 2006 asking for the allocation of coal blocks via auction. “Initially, they were positive. By 2009, I realised that the government only wants to help private companies,” he said.

Undeterred by the government’s tactics, Ahir complained to the CVC of irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks in 2009. On November 16 2010, Ahir informed the CAG that coal from the blocks allotted to private companies is not being used for production and is finding its way to the market. It is this complaint that eventually blew the lid over one of the biggest scams in India’s history. “Even the Rs.1.86 lakh crore projected by the CAG might be an underestimation. The actual loss could be as much as Rs.50 lakh crore,” Ahir asserted.

Ahir alleges that Coal India, like many other stateowned enterprises has deliberatly been left to decay, just to help big private companies.

Though a BJP MP, Ahir deeply admires the policies followed by Indira Gandhi. “She was right in nationalising all coal companies when she was the Prime Minister. National resources should be controlled by the state,” believes Ahir.

Ahir’s views might be at complete variance with the BJP’s pro-reform stance, but he has proven to be indispensible to the party in its coal battle against the UPA. On being asked whether he would have become a whistleblower without his party’s support, Ahir said, “I definitely wouldn’t have reached where I have without my party, but I would still have done what is right”.

(Other whistleblowers who took on the rich and powerful so that they don’t get away with corruption)

Sanjiv Chaturvedi: Suspended for only doing his job

An officer in the Indian Forest Service(IFS),Chaturvedi fought a long battle against the Haryana government for following the call of the duty.

About five years ago,he opposed the construction of a canal through a wildlife sanctuary which was being carried out in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act. He also opposed the misuse of public money to import rare plants for a private herbal park. The top rung of the Haryana Forest Department launched an offensive against him, claiming that he was not working “in the best interests of the department.” In four years of service, he faced a dozen transfers and suspension on flimsy grounds. The then President Pratibha Patil however, revoked his suspension after a long drawn battle. Chaturvedi had taken the RTI route to prove that his actions were right and in the interest of the public. Chaturvedi has now moved to AIIMS and is serving as the Chief Vigilance Officer in New Delhi.
– By Vikas Kahol

Major (Retd) S.K. Lamba: War veteran who exposed Adarsh scam

Long before India woke up to the Adarsh scam, retired army Major S.K. Lamba had been working tirelessly, along with other army officials, to expose how a plot of land in Colaba belonging to the army was being surreptitiously siphoned off for a residential project in connivance with senior army and Maharashtra government officials.

The 73-year-old army veteran could be forgiven if he thought that serving the army in troubled areas was easier then ferreting out information on Adarsh.

When Lamba began digging out information about the project, he was approached by many who wanted him to let the matter rest. When he didn’t agree, he had to a tough price. In 2006, he was booked for a hit and run,which he claims was foisted on him for trying to ferret out information on the scam.

“The case dragged on for six years, and I was finally able to get justice, a year ago. In between, chapter proceedings were also initiated against me by the police for unruly behaviour and being seen in a drunken state.” said Lamba.

Lamba however, stuck to his guns for he was determined to prevent the rot that had set in the force that he had given his life for.

In his resolve to get to the truth of Adarsh, he started collecting documents and meeting numerous officials. Nothing came between his desire to expose the scam, not even the cancer he was diagnosed with.

Lamba gets very worked up about the rot that has creeped into the army. “Whatever the terrain we were in, it was a pleasure to be with the troops and the commanders who supported you. Now, it hurts to see the changing culture and value of the institution I used to serve.”

Adarsh is not the only scam that Lamba fought to expose. He was also involved in bringing out and opposing the Maharashtra government’s efforts to parcel out a prime plot belonging to the Mahalaxmi Race Course to a private developer.
– By Krishna Kumar

Aseervartham Achary, Raja’s PA: P.A. Who blew the lid off 2G scam

After two days of being poked and prodded by lawyers determined to discredit him, Aseervartham Achary snapped. The crucial 2G spectrum trial witness – and an ex-aide to former telecom minister A Raja – stood up in court and pointed at a man, an ‘office peon’ for accused Reliance executives, whom he claimed had threatened his life. “The person who tried to kill me is just here in the courtroom,” Achary told the court.

Drama of this sort has become par for the course for Achary ever since he blew the lid off what was, until this year’s coal extravaganza, the biggest scandal to ever hit the government.

Achary spent nearly a decade as an aide to Raja, getting close enough to consider the minister his ‘elder brother,’ and allowing him to be privy to all of the alleged deal-making that set up the 2G scam. In 2005, after years of being Raja’s PA, Achary asked the him whether he could leave and go back to Tamil Nadu to pursue other options – a plea that was denied. Raja did the same the next year and, two years later, when Achary clarified that he would like to get into politics too, the minister told him not to.

When word of the scam leaked out, Achary got a call from the CBI. The result? A chargesheet that depends on his testimony regarding the relationship Raja had with Kanimozhi, visits of corporate honchos to the minister’s office and the subsequent arguments that led to one telecom secretary moving away. If the trial ends with what would be unprecedented convictions of a former minister and top executives, the country will owe a debt to the man who endured death threats along the way.
– By Aditya Menon

Manjunath Shanmugan: Paid with life for his values

An MBA from IIM, Lucknow, Manjunath Shanmugan had been working as a marketing manager of Indian Oil Corporation Limited, when he was shot dead on November 19, 2005. Shanmugan was killed by the son of a petrol pump owner and his accomplices in Lakhimpur Kheri after he tried to curb oil malpractices there.

The Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court awarded life imprisonment to six persons including Pawan Kumar Mittal alias Monu, son of the owner of Mittal Automobile Petrol Pump in Lakhimpur Kheri, Sulakshan Mittal. Monu killed Manjunath because he had threatened to seal the petrol pump for selling adulterated fuel.

Shanmugan has also posthumously inspired his friends to set up a trust in his name in 2006.
– By Piyush Srivastava

Satyendra Dubey: His family still awaits justice

With an IIT degree, Dubey could have joined any multinational company. But the middle-class boy from Bihar chose to stay in his home state. As an engineer working on the Golden Quadrilateral Project, he tried to expose corruption by writing to the PMO in 2003. But his letter was allegedly leaked. On November 27, 2003, Dubey was shot dead. His killing fuelled demands for protection to whistleblowers. But six years later, the CBI termed the case as a robbery bid. Three petty robbers were subsequently sentenced. Dubey’s family rejected the findings, saying that the real killers were still free. They are still awaiting justice.
– By Giridhar Jha

Rajinder K. Singla: Cleaning up mess in education

Chandigarh based Rajinder K. Singla lost his job thrice owing to his RTI activism and his attempts to correct the flawed education system. A winner of SR Jindal Prize in 2011 for “Crusade against corruption”,Singla has resolved against picking up any fresh professional assignment now. Several of his jobs – including those at Lawrence School at Sanawar and Chandigarh’s DAV College – ended abruptly due to his activism. At Sanawar, he had sought information about the educational qualifications of the teachers at the school, their pay scales and some school. At DAV College, he raised his voice against irregularities and got the termination order.

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