September 21, 2011The Union Cabinet gets healthierP. SAINATHAir India might not be doing as well wed like it to. But the braveheart who flew it fearlessly intodense clouds of debt is doing okay. Praful Patel (who no longer holds the aviation portfolio) added,on average, over half a million rupees every day to his assets in 28 months between May 2009 andAugust 2011. This might be an understated figure since it is based on his own word. Ministers tend tobe modest in these matters. But given the official data, the math is inescapable.In his 2009 poll affidavit, Mr. Patel said his assets were worth over Rs.79 crore. Lets assume helisted all he had up to April 2009, the polls being in May that year. Compare that figure with themore than Rs.122 crore that the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) put up against his name online thismonth. Since this increase occurred in 28 months, my math says that averages over Rs.5 lakh a day.(I can add, though not at the speed of Mr. Patel.)Air India, meanwhile, struggles to pay salaries to its employees. Mr. Patel adds more to his wealthevery day than each of 40 per cent of the airlines employees earns in a year. So while the airlinemight get grounded, he flies high. As an ex-Board for Industrial & Financial Reconstruction (BIFR)chief said decades ago (of ailing private units): the sicker the units grew, the healthier the owners got.That crudely fits the state of the Indian poor in relation to their government. The worse off theybecome, the healthier the Union Cabinet gets. (Drag corporate bosses into the equation and its moredramatic. But thats another story.) Patel was rewarded for services rendered. He was elevated toCabinet rank as Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises.The analysis of the Union Cabinets assets, done as thoroughly as always by the Association forDemocratic Reforms (ADR) and the National Election Watch (NEW), makes crisp reading. Itsofficial. Trickle Down is passé. Lift Irrigation, sending flows gushing to the top, is in. The averageasset worth of a union minister rose from Rs.7.3 crore to Rs.10.6 crore in those 28 months. Adding amodest million a month on average through 28 months.Mr. Patel is the richest Union Cabinet member by far. But the DMKs Dr. S. Jagathrakshakan made abold dash to fame. The Minister of State (MoS) for Information and Broadcastings assets grew by1,092 per cent to Patels 53 per cent. According to the ADRs analysis, his assets went up from Rs.5.9crore in 2009 to Rs.70 crore this year. But Patel, batting on 122, still tops the Cabinet PremierLeague. The DMK man might have worked up a scorching pace, but Patels dug in for a good, longinnings.Meanwhile, the dashing youth brigade isnt doing too badly either. Young Milind Deora, MoS forCommunications and Information Technology, almost doubled his assets between 2009 and 2011.He went from over Rs.17 crore to more than Rs.33 crore. Consider that his 2004 poll affidavit peggedhis worth at Rs.8.8 crore. Adding almost a lakh every day on average for seven years and nearlyquadrupling your assets in that time isnt so bad.
On the face of it, Deora has outclassed Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. Going by theirdeclarations, Deora is two-and-a-half times richer than the mighty Maratha. He was richer than himeven in 2009, but increased his assets by almost 90 per cent since then. Pawar failed to add even apaltry Rs.4 crore in the same time. Which means he clocks in at under Rs.12.5 crore, all told. A kindlyaccount making the rounds in his home state is that Pawarsaheb was slightly confused over whetherthe declaration called for revealing his total asset worth or a statement of monthly income.Another modest performer is Minister of Science & Technology Vilasrao Deshmukh. Hes added apiffling Rs.1.73 crore since 2009. Mr. Deshmukh is also Minister of Earth Sciences. (A title seen inMaharashtra as jargon for Real Estate expertise.)Otherwise, the cricket caucus in Dr. Manmohan Singhs team is doing well. Minister forParliamentary Affairs and new IPL boss Rajeev Shukla added over Rs.22 crore in those 28 months tohis total asset worth. That takes it from over Rs.7 crore in 2009 to more than Rs.30 crore this year.Its not just serving ministers who are thriving, though. Nor are the upwardly mobile confined to theCentre. As always, the bulk of the Guinness Book stuff comes out of two of my ‘home states.Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. (I have a third, actually: Tamil Nadu — which is whereJagathrakshakan comes from, so the scope for native pride is pretty large.) But lets turn to AndhraPradesh. Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy is not in power. This has not hampered his entrepreneurial march.In 24 months till April this year, he added well over Rs.357 crore to his just-under Rs.72 crore-figureof April 2009. This means he added on average over Rs.50 lakh every single day during thisperiod.Considering hes been embattled on all fronts, this is no minor achievement. Now you knowwhat the pundits mean when they speak of the dynamism of Generation Next in politics.Only Chandrababu Naidu, alas, has grown poorer. The former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister madepublic his asset worth in view of ‘the climate ushered in by the Anna Hazare era. Mr. Naidu isnteven worth Rs.40 lakh. There is no immediate cause for concern over his livelihood though. His wifeis worth almost Rs.40 crore. Yet, the relative picture is a microcosm of Andhra politics: Jagan on therise, Naidu in decline. But while The Fates have not been kind to Mr. Naidu, his accountants havebeen more generous. His Jubilee Hill property (1,125 square yards, or over 10,000 square feet) showsup as worth no more than Rs.23.20 lakh. Now this is the costliest locality in Andhra Pradesh. Sobuilding a 10,000 square-foot home there, on that amount, argues great frugality. But wasnt it worthnearly Rs.9 crore in his 2009 poll affidavit? This time around Mr. Naidu gives us only the ‘cost ofacquisition and not the market value, since the latter ‘varies from time to time.There are, though, serious lessons to be learnt from all of this beyond the need for smartaccountants. This insane rise in affluence and wealth is not just about ministers but about MPs andMLAs too. And leaders at all levels of the main political forces, particularly the Congress, the BJP andmost ruling or big parties in the states. The number of crore patis is up in Parliament and every Stateassembly. In Maharashtra, they went up from 108 in 2004 to 186 in 2009. Over three-fourths of theUnion Cabinet are crore patis . Much of their new wealth was acquired while in office.Thanks to public anger and the persistence of the ADRs and NEWs, data on this comes more into theopen. That is excellent. But all declarations must include what they paid as taxes. That would allowthe public to make slightly better sense of the numbers. If you want transparency in public service,surely that should include having all their returns online, too. This would be a major reform, one
amongst the many we badly need. Another is penalties for cheating. ADR shows us ministers whosedeclarations do not include 12 residential buildings they own.We need to have a serious audit, starting with the wealth of the Union Cabinet. How do people makehalf a million rupees a day while in office? Remember most of them made the greatest additions totheir wealth while ‘serving the public. Surely we are owed answers on this. Mere disclosure of wealthis not enough. If it is so grotesquely large, we need to know how it was made.In late April, the Planning Commission filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court defending a percapita expenditure of Rs.20 a day as a viable cut-off line for determining poverty in urban India. Forrural India that was just Rs.15. They say they might give the Rs.20 figure a generous upgrade — allthe way to Rs.25. Remember the report of the National Commission for Enterprises in theUnorganised Sector headed the late Dr. Arjun Sengupta? It recorded that 836 million Indians live onRs.20 a day or less. How do our clubs of crore patis represent these masses? Or do some start bydoing so and lose anchor very quickly? How do we curb this? Its something to think about. So arethe profound changes of the last 20 years that have made it so difficult for any but millionaires tocontest elections, let alone win them.The worse off the poor become, the healthier our Ministers get.