Nitin Gadkari’s woes and the big question – where the buck stops?

Lalit Shastri

Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways and the Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises

A speech by Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport & Highways and the Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in the Government of India, has gone viral on social media. The Minister was speaking at the inauguration of the new NHAI building that took more than 10 years to build. The Minister did not mince words in stating that it is no time to shower praises or honour those involved in overseeing the construction of this building as they had dragged the work for so many years. Gadkari chose to give the top brass and engineers of National Highway Authority of India a piece of his mind over the poor culture, trend and prevailing norm of working at a snail’s pace. During the period in question, 7 Chairmen and many General Managers and other top officials had come and gone, he said adding some “incompetent” engineers of NHAI are very powerful and they have remained insulated from every form of corrective action. Moreover, he also underscored lack of action on his part against the delinquent and erring officials due to his benevolent and soft nature. It took 11 years to complete the NHAI building worth a couple of hundred crore whereas in sharp contrast, the target before him is to open the Delhi-Mumbai Expressways by 2022. It is being built at total cost of more than ₹1 lakh crore, observed the Minister.

The way Gadkari lamented the working and admonished the erring engineers and top brass of NHAI has obviously impressed the gullible. Now Gadkari is an honourable man. No one can dig even a single rupee of corruption against him but the same cannot be said about those manning the huge organisation linked with his Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. The portfolio for this ministry is with Gadkari continuously since 2014.

One could not imagine even in the wildest dream a Union Minister going public and stating that action could not be taken against the non-performing officers and it was not possible to shunt them out as they were “very powerful”.

Question arises, if not the Union Minister, who draws over-riding powers from the Constitution and whose job it is to ensure good governance, accountability, performance and rectitude, when it comes to the functioning of the government machinery, then who else would perform that function?

Going through Gadkari’s speech, one was at once reminded of the probe he had ordered in July 2017 followed by his announcement in Parliament in August 2017, after it was reported that the US company CDM Smith, through its employees and agents, and those of its wholly owned subsidiary in India (CDM India), had paid approximately $1.18 million in bribes to government officials in India in exchange for highway construction, supervision and design contracts. On the “bribes to bag contracts”, Gadkari had told Parliament that the Central Vigilance Commission of India has constituted a Special Investigation Team of three officers to investigate the charge that National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had allegedly been bribed by the US based firm to bag contracts during 2011-15. Nothing in terms of follow up – whether or not anyone has been found guilty, prosecuted and convicted in this matter, has been heard from Gadkari till now.

Check:

Bribes linked to NHAI contracts: CDM Smith to pay the US Treasury over $4 Million for FCPA Violations

Should babus be allowed to build a smokescreen to hide what is holding back the nation

For speech by Nitin Gadkari check cursor from 7.46 till 26.30

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