The group of ministers (GoM), headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, set up to tackle the issue of corruption, convened its first meeting in Delhi today. The group, comprising senior ministers from the UPA government, is expected to suggest an amendment to the Constitution, allowing for summary trial of cases involving grave misdemeanours and corruption by public servants.
Strung by the growing number of corruption charges, the UPA government set up the GoM earlier this month to take up issues including the scrapping of discretionary powers of ministers, state funding of elections and the formulation of a transparent public procurement policy. The group has been asked to come out with its recommendations within two months.
The UPA government has been accused by the BJP-led opposition of backing corrupt ministers and politicians. The government was forced to evict A. Raja, the former telecommunications minister, and a member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK), a key ally of the Congress, from the union cabinet, after the opposition accused him of being involved in corrupt practices.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had also blamed Raja and his ministry of causing a huge loss of Rs1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer by adopting an opaque system while allocating 2G telecommunications spectrum.
Similarly, senior Congress leader and MP from Pune, Suresh Kalmadi, has been accused of mismanaging the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last year, and of indulging in other irregularities. After the BJP-led opposition crippled Parliament during the winter session, the Central Bureau of Investigation raided the homes and offices of Raja and Kalmadi and also interrogated them. The opposition dubbed the action as a white-wash and said it came too late in the day.
In Maharashtra, the Congress was forced to sack Ashok Chavan, who was the chief minister, after the surfacing of the Adarsh housing scam. Chavan, along with many other politicians, was an indirect beneficiary in the illegally put up building in one of Mumbai's prime locations; his in-laws had been allotted a flat in the building.
The spate of corruption charges against senior Congress leaders and leading lights of its coalition partners has got the party worried. Elections to key states including Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are due this year and the party is worried about the impact of the opposition campaign against it.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi last month called for a five-point action plan to tackle corruption. The GoM has incorporated most of these points in its terms of reference and wants to come out with tough norms against corruption, especially before the state elections.