Sunday, August 11, 2002, Chandigarh, India


S P EC I A L   E D I T O R I A L

Time to bow out, Mr Ram Naik
Hari Jaisingh

THE entire nation has been watching with dismay and disgust the naked show of political games of favouritism, nepotism and shady practices of the Union Petroleum Ministry headed by Mr Ram Naik. Equally disquieting has been the obvious insensitivity of the powers-that-be to the startling disclosure of allotment of petrol pumps and gas agencies to his partymen, loyal functionaries and power-sharing co-brothers. The whole exercise has shades of the old feudal days when rajas and maharajas would throw gold-and-diamond-studded crumbs to their favourities, sycophants and loyal hangers-on to perpetuate their dynasties. The New Class of our maharajas do everything with a flourish to distribute largesse to their political favourities at the cost of war widows, ex-servicemen and handicapped persons.

What is horrifying is that instead of saying sorry for the messy scam and seeking correctives, the BJP leaders are working overtime to dish out old Congress cases of wayward functioning. There is a qualitative difference between the doings of yesteryears and the latest revelations. The moot point, however, is: in what way is the BJP leadership different from the old Congress functionaries? Haven't it learnt lessons in transparency and fair play from the earlier wrong practices in public interest? What has happened to its principles, ideology and middle class morality? Digging out the old cases of discretionary allotment during Capt Satish Sharma's time, which were subsequently scrutinised and cancelled by the Supreme Court and the norms and guidelines set, cannot wash off Mr Ram Naik's "sins". Nor can they cover up his failures in running the affairs of his ministry and public sector oil companies rolling in millions of dollars.

Everyone knows how public sector undertakings, especially those in the oil business, are "bled white" by the greedy masters for their benefits. Mr Naik's failures are glaring. First, why hasn't he cared to appoint a regulator as per the 1998 Union Cabinet decision to deregulate the oil sector from April 1, 2001?

Second, why didn't he pause to learn a lesson or two from the earlier irregularities and evolve a system of transparency, accountability and fair play in misusing his power in allotting petrol pump stations and gas agencies? The views aired by some of the former Chief Justices of the Supreme Court clearly establish the seamy side of the whole operation.

Third, why hasn't the minister taken urgent steps to put a stop to the large-scale adulteration of diesel and petrol in the face of grave drought conditions in the country? Apparently, at play is big money on the part of unscrupulous persons and petroleum companies in connivance with those in authority who are supposed to set things right for the public good. The observation by the Centre for Science and Environment on how intelligently adulteration of petrol and diesel is done to reap lucrative profits at the cost of users is nothing but a national shame.

No, Mr Naik. We do not wish to see our country, having a rich civilisation, to degenerate into a land of scams and corruption. As it is, the whole scandal has caused enough embarrassment to his party and the government. Even the proceedings in the august Houses of Parliament have become a big tamasha and that too at a considerable cost to the public exchequer. In the circumstances, the only "honourable" course left for Mr Naik is to bow out of his stinking office with whatever little grace he might have been left with. Instead of passing the buck to others, he must own the moral responsibility for the wrong acts and quit before public anger becomes uncontrollable.

Two wrongs do not make one right. It does no credit to the BJP and RSS leaders to justify the controversial allotments if their favourities happen to be beneficiaries. The nation has to come out of the shady oil sleaze. The latest scam stories that have come to the fore are surely endemic. This is yet another wake-up call to the citizens about the urgency of cleansing the system for the good of Indian society.


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