When did a Rs 10 crore bribe stop shocking us?

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes from Oakland, California: Two stories have been on my mind for a couple of weeks now. These stories aren’t unusual. Nor is the response (or lack of it) to these stories.

Still, we have to ask: why there is no outrage?

I don’t need to recount the first one, for Yashica Sitaram shares her travails with a private builder here on Churumuri. The target this time isn’t a politician or a bureaucrat, but a respected businessman (and his company), whose callousness and unprofessional attitude elicited this response from Mysoreans:

“When we enquired with our neighbours, they just shrugged it off saying their houses leaked too but they had no recourse since the builder had shut them up by saying, “You got what you paid for.” This was short hand for an extraordinary form of price speculation that the whole enterprise was being run on.

“We, and all those who enquired, were told that all the apartments in our block, and the other blocks under construction, had been sold. In reality, this was just fiction. The builder, it appeared, was exploiting his social and other Rotary Club contacts and connections in a masterful way, to jack up prices and make a killing.

“All along, I’ve wondered about the greed driving such projects. And the gluttony, unappeased and insatiable. Perpetuating such perversity is unbecoming for projects which nurture lives, kids, families who plan for lifetimes to purchase homes.

“The response I received was: “Why did you live there? It’s only an investment. You pay something down, you get an apartment allotted. You wait and don’t register until you find an unsuspecting buyers and palm it off at a hefty profit. Why stay there? Everyone knows not to stay so far… so far from progress”.”

Indeed. Everything is an investment, especially for Non-Resident Mysoreans, who can afford to invest in Mysore real estate, which could be palmed off to an unsuspecting buyer. Do unto someone else what you wouldn’t want to happen to you.

If the callousness of the businessmen is abhorrent, what is more reprehensive is the quiet acceptance and indifference displayed by all of us, Mysoreans.

***

Anyways, equally disturbing was another story involving a corrupt Karnataka Administrative Service (KAS) officer, Mari Gowda. Here is what I have reconstructed from reports in the Star of Mysore; I must add that I didn’t find anything in either Deccan Herald or The Hindu, a sad reflection of the priorities of the Press.

So, this person (who was the Land Acqusition Officer from Hoovinahadgali, Bellary district) apparently took a ten crore rupee bribe from farmers, who lost their land to the Hulikatte Irrigation project. Mari Gowda promised to categorise the farms owned by these farmers as irrigated land, thus ensuring higher compensation; the bribe was also to guaranty a smooth payment of compensation. Anyways the officer was transferred to Bangalore and so he left, without delivering on his promises.

When all efforts to get their money back failed, the farmers showed up at his farmhouse near Srirangapatna and threatened to commit suicide, unless their money was paid back.

Some farmers’ leaders appear to have helped them, along with the seer of a local mutt, who fed and housed these visitors from north Karnataka. While they insisted on meeting with the officer in person, and waited for several days, nothing happened.

Well, not entirely. Mari Gowda’s son threatened the farmers, while the Mandya elite regrouped quickly to mediate and save Mari Gowda. G. Made Gowda, senior Congress leader and former Mandya MP, even blamed the farmers for committing a crime by bribing an officer and advised them to return quietly.

Many things are striking. Let us start with the amount mentioned here. A junior KAS officer commands a bribe of ten crore and that doesn’t surprise anyone! Even if he is sharing it with others, it still is a staggering amount.

Then, while most of us were indifferent to the fate of these hapless farmers, many ’eminent’ leaders were prepared to act to save Mari Gowda. But no “sons of the soil” showed up to fight on behalf of the farmers.

We know that corruption is out there and that there is no shame in soliciting and accepting bribes. Still, why isn’t there any outrage, not just at the quantum of the bribe, but that it can be asked and obtained?

Mari Gowda himself seems to think that there are no consequences to his actions. He even told the farmers that their best interest lies in not raking up this controversy; otherwise, the reclassification of their land as irrigated land would come to light and they would loose out on higher compensation.

Star of Mysore reported yesterday that Mari Gowda and his sons have been arrested for an unrelated case. Apparently, they had failed to reimburse a contractor for building a house in Mysore and had no intention of doing so. Mari Gowda himself had been arrested a few months ago and had been out on bail.

Brazen-ness has no bounds.

With regard to both these cases, the question for me is simply this: why isn’t there any outrage? Why is it that all the parties concerned here—be it the builder, or the bureaucrat and mediating politician—think there are no consequences for their actions? Why a cynical acceptance of the state of affairs?