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The Hindu
The Hindu

Overdue: On Eshwarappa’s resignation

After being booked by the Udupi Town police in a case relating to abetment to suicide of a contractor, the continuation of Karnataka’s Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister K.S. Eshwarappa in his post was untenable. The contractor, Santosh Patil, had alleged that he and other contractors had taken up some work for a temple fair in Belagavi district after the Minister had asked some gram panchayat members to proceed with the project and that the Minister’s aides had demanded a commission of 40% when approached for payment of the bills. While Mr. Eshwarappa has denied this, citing the lack of work orders as evidence, the allegations that were made by the deceased contractor are in line with what the Karnataka State Contractors’ Association (KSCA) has been suggesting: an “unprecedented 40% kickbacks” in State government contracts and also several complaints against Mr Eshwarappa in particular, and other Ministers and MLAs in the State. These allegations are not new either. In July 2021, in a letter to the Prime Minister, the association had made the same point — that government machinery led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was extracting kickbacks of up to 40% for government contracts and the clearance of contractor bills, and that the rot was systemic, including elected representatives and the bureaucracy. There was a change of guard in the government (a new Chief Minister) after these allegations were made and this was followed by an announcement of committees headed by retired judges being formed to probe tender estimates and conditions. But if the KSCA’s views are accurate, little seems to have changed on the ground.

It is also evident that kickbacks have been a systemic political problem considering that the KSCA’s concern was about the high rate of commissions rather than just the existence of these kickbacks to grease an official’s palm. But the brazenness of the bribery and commission demands by those in power is there for all to see. This should not surprise anyone again as the BJP managed to gain power by weaning away legislators from other parties and the new recruits to power would not have had the incentive to shift but for lucrative gains. If anything, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar affiliates in the State have sought — and rather successfully — to distract people from the issue of corruption by raking up communal issues which in turn have affected public order. But the death of Patil and the resignation of Mr. Eshwarappa have been a jolt to the ruling party. The developments have brought the focus back on corruption and poor governance, which should be a blight on the State that hosts India’s own version of the Silicon Valley and is a key engine in India’s economic growth.

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