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DVAC letting go of Whales

The Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption holds an unenviable track record even in run-of-the-mill corruption cases, where the amount that allegedly exchanged hands was as less than Rs 100. Srikkanth Dhasarathy reports

DVAC letting go of Whales
Representative image

CHENNAI: The anti-corruption watchdog of the State government, DVAC is known for netting only small fish, except in cases of politically motivated raids. But, even in cases of punching down, they’re unable to prove charges like the recent judgment in a Chengalpattu court.

After 10 years of trial, a court in Chengalpattu found two hospital workers at Government Headquarters Hospital, Kancheepuram, not guilty of the crime they were accused of — demanding and receiving a bribe of Rs 100 each.

During the cross examination, the original complainant, Paramasivam, an auto driver, turned hostile. He told the court that he was made to sign in four blank papers and that he knew nothing about the case.

According to the prosecution, on April 6, 2010, Stella Mary, a hospital worker had demanded and accepted a bribe of Rs 200 from an auto driver outside the maternity ward for helping his pregnant sister who was admitted in the hospital for delivery.

Another sanitary worker, Andal, demanded her share of the bribe and she was allegedly given Rs 100.

The prosecution claimed that both workers were caught red-handed in the trap laid by DVAC, Kancheepuram.

The women pleaded guilty, but the arguments questioning the sanction order passed by the joint director of health services did not sit well with the court. It didn’t help that Paramasivam’s cross examination dented the prosecution’s theory.

“I was discussing my sister’s health condition in the auto stand, when a person came and asked about the incidents in the hospital. He then made me wait and came back with four blank papers and took my signatures in them. Other than that, I do not know anything about the case,” he deposed before the court.

The court pointed out that he had neither talked about prior demand nor acceptance of bribe amount by the accused in the alleged trap and this was not in consonance with the prosecution’s case. However, the prosecution relied on the statements by official witnesses to the trap, which was also not accepted by the court.

Since the prosecution had failed to prove their theory beyond reasonable doubt, the court stated that the Prevention of Corruption Act has given discretion to the court to decline the statutory presumption if the bribe amount is trivial.

“In this case, the bribe amount involved is Rs 200 and considering the fact that the occurrence took place in 2010, the amount can be considered as trivial. Therefore, this court is inclined to lean in favour of the accused,” R Rajkumar, Chief Judicial Magistrate, Chengalpattu stated.

The court also reserved stringent remarks for the DVAC Inspector who had laid the trap and delayed submitting the FIR. During his cross examination, he admitted that he had failed to conduct background check of the accused and complainant. “The casual, cavalier and indifferent attitude and conduct of the vigilance police who failed to be vigilant in laying the trap and investigation is not acceptable to this court,” the judge stated and declared the two women not guilty.

Since 2011, only 3 cases registered against AIS officers

The DVAC’s aversion to targeting government officials in higher ranks is no secret and has been criticised by many. According to the DVAC data, only 3 cases were registered between 2011 and 2021 against All India Service (AIS) officers – comprising the ranks of IAS, IPS and IFS.

It’s not the lack of complaints that enables these officials to remain scot-free. Anti-graft NGO, Arappor Iyakkam itself has filed several petitions to the DVAC in the past 5 years in which they have named senior IAS officials’ role in scams.

“We’ve filed 17 petitions to DVAC so far, of which FIRs were registered only in 2 cases. Even in those, officials were not even named despite their direct involvement,” said Jayaram Venkatesan, convenor of Arappor Iyakkam. According to him, the department has been dragging the cases under the guise of Preliminary Enquiry (PE) and Detailed Enquiry (DE). Data provided by DVAC shows that only 28 cases are in PE and DE stages against AIS officers in the last 10 years.

Contrast this with DVAC’s performance against lesser ranked officials for a single year. In 2020-2021, it laid traps for 116 officials and registered cases against 286 of them, but 150 complaints are still in the enquiry stage.

Recently, Arappor was at the forefront of seeking action against senior IAS officers in TN Urban Habitat Development Board who turned a blind eye towards poor construction of tenements in KP park, Pulianthope. “Keeping the lower rung in the administration in check is important, as even a bribe of Rs 500 is difficult to pay for the public. But it’s important that DVAC acts on complaints against senior officials too,” Jayaraman said.

An official with DVAC said that amendments to Prevention of Corruption act in 2018 makes it difficult for them to get sanctions to take action against mid and higher ranked officers.

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Srikkanth Dhasarathy
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