Discounting the accounting
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A rupee 10 years later is worth little. If CAG applies discounting rules, its coal scam gets reduced to very, very little
By now, gali gali mein shor hai ke India mein corruption hai. Whether it be the army chief's latest salvo (remember Bofors?) or soundbites from Team Anna (remember them?) or the mountain top dispensations from the CAG (remember the 2G scam?), the refrain and the shouting and the protest is the same — there is corruption in India. That the level of corruption has gone out of control. That the army, politicians, former members and chief justices of the Supreme Court, senior bureaucrats, journalists, NGOs have all been involved in big-time corruption — yes, that is true.
So where do we go from here? At a minimum, we should have a balanced debate, a balanced appraisal and an even more balanced remedy. An essential part of this balancing act is that we do not exaggerate the problem in order to either draw attention, or be holier than thou. Or indeed to be disingenuous.
It is with this as background that I want to discuss two recent debates in India — the intellectual corruption with respect to poverty in India (next week), and money corruption with respect to the coal allocations. Last week ('Where donkeys fly', Indian Express, March 24, goo.gl/ LaEZb), I had assessed the CAG's allegation that Rs 10.67 lakh crore had accrued as windfall gains to those who had been allotted licences to explore coal mines in India during the UPA reign from 2004 to 2009. By any criterion, this is a woman-bites-dog story. The alleged corruption amount is not small. It is more than five times the exaggerated notorious figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore that the CAG had imagined was lost with respect to the 2G scam. It is close to 7.6 per cent of India's GDP in 2011, or close to the entire consolidated central and states fiscal deficit of India.
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