India’s failed food distribution system gets reviewed – not fixed

Ranwan, India — In this north Indian village, workers recently dismantled stacks of burned and mildewed rice while flies swarmed nearby over spoiled wheat. Local residents said the rice crop had been sitting along the side of a highway for several years and was now being sent to a distillery to be turned into liquor.

Just 180 miles to the south, in a slum on the outskirts of New Delhi, Leela Devi struggled to feed her family of four on meager portions of flatbread and potatoes, which she said were all she could afford on her disability pension and the irregular wages of her day-laborer husband. Her family is among the estimated 250 million Indians who do not get enough to eat.

Such is the paradox of plenty in India’s food system. Spurred by agricultural innovation and generous farm subsidies, India now grows so much food that it has a bigger grain stockpile than any country except China, and it exports some of it to countries like Saudi Arabia and Australia. Yet one-fifth of its people are malnourished — double the rate of other developing countries like Vietnam and China — because of pervasive corruption, mismanagement and waste in the programs that are supposed to distribute food to the poor.

“The reason we are facing this problem is our refusal to distribute the grain that we buy from farmers to the people who need it,” said Biraj Patniak, a lawyer who advises India’s Supreme Court on food issues. “The only place that this grain deserves to be is in the stomachs of the people who are hungry.”

After years of neglect, the nation’s failed food policies have now become a subject of intense debate in New Delhi, with lawmakers, advocates for the poor, economists and the news media increasingly calling for an overhaul. The populist national government is considering legislation that would pour billions of additional dollars into the system and double the number of people served to two-thirds of the population. The proposed law would also allow the poor to buy more rice and wheat at lower prices…

“India is paying the price of an unexpected success — our production of rice and wheat has surged and procurement has been better than ever,” said Kaushik Basu, the chief economic adviser to India’s Finance Ministry and a professor at Cornell University. “This success is showing up some of the gaps in our policy.”

The biggest gap is the inefficient, corrupt system used to get the food to those who need it. Just 41.4 percent of the grain picked up by the states from federal warehouses reaches Indian homes, according to a recent World Bank study.

RTFA for details of the incompetence, crime and corruption from top to the bottom of this food logistics chain. Everyone steals, everyone profits — and the people get much less than the portion paid for by India’s taxpayers.

Flunky or Bag Man? Indian government employee making £50 a month magically acquired millions!

An Indian government ‘peon’, on £50 a month, has been arrested on suspicion of corruption after police found he was a millionaire with a property empire and had a home laden with gold and jewels.

To the outside world, Narendra Deshmukh was a lowly ‘peon’ or local government messenger boy. For more than 30 years he was posted outside the office doors of more senior officials in Ujjain, Central India, where his job was to run errands and bring in the business cards of visiting callers.

Detectives said in 31 years of working for the Ujjain Municipal Corporation, where he had started on a salary of less than £2 a month, he had earned a total of just under £19,000.

They believe only corruption can explain the fortune they uncovered in their dawn raid this week: evidence of properties worth around £500,000, a fleet of cars and motorbikes, including an SUV, a Chevrolet Avio, a truck, two motorbikes and a scooter.

They discovered a commercial property empire, including a five hectare chicken farm, butcher’s shop, and a £200,000 chicken processing business, deposit receipts for £30,000, thousands of pounds worth of consumer electronics, jewellery worth £3,000 and twenty bank accounts they have yet to open…

Detectives now believe that while he was officially working as a peon, he had in fact been given executive duties by senior officials they suspect were involved in a wider corruption scandal.

Corruption is endemic in Indian government and it is common for even low level employees to share in the spoils from bribes paid for licences, permissions and ‘no objection certificates.’ What has surprised detectives however is the size of fortune Mr Deshmukh acquired from such a lowly position…

He was in a position in the department with no responsibility, yet he was disbursing power and acting as an executive. We have seized many official tender processing documents during the raid.

“Without the help of many officials in the department, it would not have been possible for him to amass the sum. We have seized more than 15 fixed deposit certificates in the name of the Commissioner of Ujjain municipality, which is being probed separately,” Police Superintendent Arun Misra added.

Not an unusual tale in many bureaucracies. What stands out is the size of the wealth he accumulated. Some of this may have grown from what he acquired over time – but, no investment accounts were found. Just lots of goodies.

Former Massachusetts Speaker of the House gets 8 year sentence

Former Massachusetts House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for his conviction on political corruption charges, the longest federal sentence handed out to an elected official in Massachusetts history, climaxing a years-long scandal that had captivated the state’s political establishment.

DiMasi’s codefendant, Richard McDonough, a well-known State House lobbyist, was sentenced to seven years in prison for taking part in the conspiracy to help a software company win state contracts in exchange for kickbacks.

US District Court Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf called the sentence appropriate, saying he balanced the ages of both men, 66, and consideration for their families, against the fact that they had betrayed the public’s trust by orchestrating the criminal scheme…

You and Mr. McDonough devised a scheme to sell your office,’’ the judge told DiMasi, who was forced to stand as Wolf handed out the sentence. “You’re standing here today because you committed what I consider to be, what the law considers to be, a most serious crime…’’

US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said outside the courthouse…“Public corruption is a very, very serious crime, and it has a tremendous amount of impact on the citizens of this Commonwealth and the trust of the public,’’ Ortiz said. “The reality is that the core of this case was simply about how a high, powerful speaker of the House took kickbacks in exchange for using his political position to benefit himself and his friends…’’

In his remarks, Wolf said he was troubled by the fact that DiMasi was the third consecutive House speaker to be convicted in federal court. His predecessors were Thomas Finneran, who was convicted of obstruction of justice, and Charles Flaherty, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion. They did not serve prison sentences.

Some cases come up to legal standard. Some to American political standards. If that’s what they’re called?

Government ministers stole millions in India mining scam

Karnataka’s Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa was involved in an illegal mining scam that cost the southern Indian state $400 million, according to an anti-corruption ombudsman.

Retired judge Santosh Hegde said he had evidence of a “huge racket” involving members of the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. Members of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) parties are also accused…

The chief minister, who led the BJP to power for the first time in Karnataka in 2008, is holidaying in Mauritius and has not commented on the report…

Justice Hegde confirmed the report’s contents after it was leaked. He said he had “substantive” evidence that Mr Yeddyurappa had been involved in the alleged mining scam in mineral-rich Bellary district between March 2009 to May 2010…

Correspondents say illegal mining of iron ore has been rampant in Karnataka which produces about 45 million tonnes of iron ore a year and exports more than half of it to China.

“There has been a systematic plundering of ore with active support of politicians. Illegal mining has thrived only because of a lack of political will,” a senior police officer associated with the investigation told the BBC.

The report accuses Mr Yeddyurappa of benefiting through overvalued land sales to mining companies and kickbacks routed through trusts his relatives have a stake in.

Continue reading

India arrests company executive in mobile graft scandal

Shahid Balwa arrives at a court for his hearing in New Delhi
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Indian police have made the first arrest of a company executive in a multi-billion dollar telecoms corruption scandal that has rocked the Congress party-led government and undermined Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The scandal, one of several during the Congress party’s second term, has not yet threatened the survival of the coalition because it holds enough seats in parliament, and Singh is still seen as one of the few politicians skilled enough to hold the government together.

But it has already led to the arrest of the former telecoms minister and the opposition, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, is going after the prime minister, accusing him of allowing graft to go unchallenged…

Authorities arrested Shahid Balwa, vice chairman of a joint venture with Abu Dhabi’s Etisalat, overnight on allegations two Indian telecoms firms got favorable treatment when licenses were awarded in 2007-2008 in the world’s fastest growing mobile market…

Police suspect government officials colluded with the private sector in selling them lucrative 2G mobile licenses below market value and are now probing whether anyone received kickbacks…

India’s mobile market is huge with around 730 million subscribers, roughly equivalent to Europe’s population. The number of subscribers is growing at some 17-18 million a month…

The executive arrested in Mumbai was managing director of DB Realty and vice chairman of Etisalat DB, an Indian telecoms joint venture with DB Group, which controls DB Realty.

While every nation has unique roots forming any culture of corruption, there is no way to complete a successful move into regional or global leadership without some level of confrontation of that corruption. Those nations that best meet – and defeat – that culture will grow into the fullest appreciation of their capacities.

Nicolas Sarkozy orders hacks to holiday at home

Next one caught, i’ll squeeze your head till it pops!

Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered his ministers to stay in France on holiday to avoid diplomatic gaffes after two scandals over hospitality from authoritarian North African leaders.

Mr Sarkozy bowed to criticism from rivals after embarrassing revelations that his prime minister and foreign minister accepted free holiday flights in Egypt and Tunisia, shortly before popular uprisings in both countries.

From now on, members of the government must prefer France for their holidays,” Mr Sarkozy told a cabinet meeting, according to a transcript released by his office.

“Invitations accepted abroad will be authorised by the prime minister and the presidential diplomatic unit … to see whether they are compatible with France’s foreign policy.”

Francois Fillon, the prime minister, on Tuesday admitted that he had a New Year family holiday on the Nile paid for by Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s under fire president.

“What was common a few years ago can shock nowadays. So it must be strictly monitored,” Mr Sarkozy said. “Only by being above reproach will people holding high office strengthen their citizens’ trust in the state institutions”.

Mr Sarkozy and his pop singer wife Carla Bruni spent their end-of year holiday in Morocco at the Jnane Lekbir royal residence belonging to King Mohammed VI.

Not much difference from golf trips to Scotland paid for with lobbyist money or some congress-creep retiring and waiting a week or two before showing up back on the street with a foreign flag in his lapel and a fat wallet.

Will top Mumbai politician resign over housing scandal?

Mumbai’s top politician has offered to resign over a housing scandal in which top military chiefs and associates of Congress Party leaders were allegedly allocated exclusive flats in an apartment block built for war heroes and widows.

Two of the Congress-led Indian government’s most senior ministers, Pranab Mukherjee, the finance minister and AK Anthony, the defence minister, are heading an investigation to establish the role of Ashok Chavan, Maharashtra’s chief minister, in the affair.

The allegations centre on ownership of flats in a 31 storey block built by the Adarsh Housing Co-operative on Cuffe Parade, overlooking the Arabian Sea, in one of Mumbai’s most expensive neighbourhoods.

It was built on land believed to be illegally-occupied by India’s security forces, but construction was permitted on the grounds that war widows and heroes of the Kargil War would be the beneficiaries.

Last week two former army chiefs and one retired navy chief announced they had acquired flats in the development but denied they had known they were intended for war widows. They have subsequently said they would give up their apartments.

Anyone surprised?

FBI nabbed colonel on official business – arms smuggling!

Preparing for elections,eh?

An Ivory Coast man arrested while allegedly trying to buy weapons in New York last week was on official business, a spokesman for his government says.

Former Ivory Coast Defense Minister Bertin Kadet told Radio France Internationale that the man arrested by the FBI was an army colonel named Yao N’Guessan.

Kadet said N’Guessan was sent to New York to purchase crowd control armaments in advance of the Ivory Coast’s October elections.

The FBI said N’Guessan allegedly was engaged in a deal worth more than $3.8 million for 4,000 handguns, 200,000 rounds of ammunition and 50,000 tear gas grenades when he was apprehended.

The funds to purchase the armaments had already been transferred to the United States.

Opponents of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbago say the arms purchase was intended to keep his party in power.

The United Nations imposed an embargo on arms to the Ivory Coast in 2004.

That’s what happens when you send an amateur out on a shopping trip like this one.

He should have worked through traditional channels, discovered which members of Congress would grease the wheels of international arms sales for him, which lobbyists needed to be engaged to avoid anything like law or principle getting in the way.

The $89 toilet roll shames Delhi’s Commonwealth Games

The official mascot for the Delhi Commonwealth Games is Shera, a cuddly cartoon tiger. But, 60 days before the largest sporting event to be held in India begins, Shera is in danger of being usurped by a toilet roll.

Indians may be inured to graft, but the scale and audacity of alleged corruption linked to the Games in recent days has shocked the most hardened onlookers. Among the allegations are that the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee planned to rent treadmills for 975,000 rupees ($23,080) apiece for 45 days – critics say that it could buy them for half the price – and that it spent 3,757 rupees ($89) on a roll of toilet paper.

Anil Khanna, the treasurer of the committee, resigned yesterday amid reports that his son had been granted a contract for laying 14 synthetic tennis courts said to be of substandard quality. Elsewhere, government officials have been charged with faking fire safety certificates for 5,000 buses to be used during the event.

Concerns over spending were also highlighted by the payment of $429,000 to a British company, AMFilms, to supply transport and portable toilets last October for the start of the Queen’s Baton Relay at Buckingham Palace, despite the absence of any formal contract.

In total more than 300 complaints of corruption have been made to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation…

The Games were meant to showcase a new India, a land of modern infrastructure and giddying economic growth. The old-fashioned corruption scandal is a major embarrassment for a Government already under attack for the event’s financial and human cost.

This is one of those events when the worldwide war against corruption looks like it should take a higher priority than all the other political wars popular with our demagogues.