The Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) government in Andhra Pradesh (AP) led by Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy completed two years in office on May 30. While a lot has changed in this period under the new government, among the highlights has been the visible shift in the functioning of the anti-corruption bureau (ACB).
The ACB has seemingly adopted a different approach under the YSRCP government. While the overall crackdown on corruption has reduced since May 2019 when YSRCP took over, the agency has kept its eyes on the bigwigs belonging to the rival Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
Cases Fall under Jagan
The total number of cases booked by the ACB had seen an increase with each passing year during the erstwhile TDP government between 2014 and 2019. However, it has been falling since YSRCP took charge.
Disproportionate asset (DA) cases dropped by almost 30 per cent to 23 in 2019 compared to 31 in 2018. The number of trap cases reduced by 10 per cent to 96 in 2019 compared to 107 in 2018, according to official data.
DA cases are registered by taking suo motu cognisance by officials based on tip-offs or official inquiries on corrupt public servants, while trap cases are based on complaints from the public.
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While the 2019 numbers may not reflect an immediate considerable change in the ACB’s functioning, as the YSRCP came to power only in May of that year, the 2020 statistics draw a rather clearer picture of a different approach, with corruption cases declining further at significant rates.
Only 14 DA cases were registered in 2020, 54 per cent lower than the 31 cases filed in 2018. Trap cases fell by 42 per cent to 62 compared to 2018’s 107. In fact, the overall count of DA and trap cases for the full year of 2020 is lower than that of 2014, which recorded figures only from June, after bifurcation.
“The ACB cases may or may not reflect the reality. There can be two possibilities: 1) cases going down due to a decline in corruption, or 2) cases going down due to ACB not functioning properly. So, it can be anything,” political analyst K Nageshwar, professor at the Department of Communication & Journalism of Osmania University, tells The Federal.
Soon after YSRCP took over, babus booked under the TDP’s regime, especially under RP Thakur’s tenure as the director-general of AP ACB, formed ‘RP Thakur Badithula Sangam’ (Thakur’s Victims’ Association), accusing him of “unfair practices”. Its president Seelam Surya Chandrasekhar Azad, an endowments official, who was booked for having disproportionate assets to the tune of ₹50 crore, sought a review by the Reddy-led government of all the cases filed during Thakur’s tenure.
“Thakur’s craving for the [then] CM’s [Chandrababu Naidu’s] appreciation caused sorrows for many families. He encouraged unfair practices and we are facing problems because of his shoddy investigation and false cases,” Azad said while addressing a press conference in November 2019.
Notably, the Jagan government has said that it will be probing into Naidu’s corrupt activities.
Only ‘checks’, no ‘balances’
Surprise checks did see a massive increase in 2020 thanks to PSR Anjaneyulu, a 1992-batch IPS officer, who took charge as the director general of AP ACB in January last year. Anjaneyulu’s initiative of state-wide surprise checks on certain departments that were notorious for corruption and irregularities led to the number rising by over 140 per cent year-on-year to 97 in 2020, the highest since bifurcation.
Out of the 97 surprise checks, 52 were conducted on the revenue department, 32 on tahsildar offices, 18 on sub-registrar offices, while one each on commercial tax and endowments departments. The agency seized unaccounted money and also found irregularities in discharging official duties in several government offices.
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Earlier this year, officials raided the famous Kanaka Durga temple in Vijayawada for almost a week and unearthed several irregularities.
These raids garnered a lot of attention. However, surprise checks don’t necessarily result in registering of criminal cases as the ACB only submits reports to the departments concerned making recommendations of either taking departmental or criminal action against the erring officials. Eventually, it is up to the department concerned to decide to either follow the recommendation or take its own measures.
Interestingly, while the overall crackdown on corruption has reduced under the Jagan government, the ACB seems to be going after the elected representatives associated with the rival TDP, which has accused the ruling party of vendetta politics.
For the first time since bifurcation, elected representatives from the TDP have been arrested in corruption cases.
The ACB investigated the multi-crore Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) scam after the vigilance department came out with a strong report indicating severe losses to the exchequer. Former labour minister and TDP leader K Atchannaidu was named as one of the prime accused and was arrested along with several others.
The scam involves irregularities in purchase of medicines, surgical equipment, electronic machines and furniture for four ESI hospitals, three ESI diagnostic centres and 78 ESI dispensaries across the state. The total loss to the exchequer is said to be around ₹404 crore.
The second major scam that the agency looked into was the recent ₹700-crore Sangam Dairy scam, which resulted in the arrest of former TDP MLA Dhulipalla Narendra Kumar. Kumar, former chairman of Guntur District Milk Producers Cooperative Union Limited and Guntur District Milk Producers Mutually Aided Cooperative Urban Limited, was booked for several “administrative and financial irregularities”.
Kumar has been accused of diverting funds and properties of the cooperative dairy for personal use.
These aren’t the only people associated with the TDP arrested by the ACB. It also booked former Andhra Pradesh Advocate General Dammalapati Srinivasa Rao, who served under the TDP regime, in the alleged Amaravati land scam. The case made headlines across national media as two of the accused named were the daughters of a then senior Supreme Court judge.
“Vendetta politics is a common phenomenon in India. Every party, after coming to power, hunts the opposition. It is not surprising at all,” says Nageshwar.
The ACB, however, in the past had said that it was not under any government pressure to act against a political party or its leaders. “We take action as per the law and due procedure. We don’t have anything against anyone on an individual level. There is no pressure on us,” Joint Director Ravi Kumar had said during a press meet on the ESI scam in August last year.
The ACB was given significant boost in terms of budget allocations under the TDP. With Thakur as the DG, the agency saw brand new buildings constructed across all 13 districts at a cost of ₹15.94 crore. Budget was allocated for additional manpower of 350 personnel across various ranks including outsourced employees and ₹1 crore was sanctioned to purchase new vehicles for the senior officers.
An ACB official, however, told The Federal that the department is still awaiting the additional manpower sanctioned even as it faces staff crunch and that the pandemic has only added to the struggle.
“There has been a staff crunch in the department. While the TDP government had sanctioned additional staff, it remains only on the papers. The pandemic has made the situation worse,” says the official. He refused to comment further on the matter.
ACB chief PSR Anjaneyulu did not respond to a query sent by The Federal.
The conviction rate has been poor during both the regimes. The government order issued on April 18 by Chief Secretary Aditya Nath Das showed that 476 cases against 1,686 persons booked between 1991 and 2021 were yet to reach their logical conclusions.