T.R. Zeliang’s son is the managing director of the firm to which funds were allocated under the Chief Minister’s Road Development Fund.
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be promising corruption-free governance to the people of the Northeast if the BJP comes to power in the region, but in Nagaland, where the party is in government with the Naga People’s Front (NPF), a blatant practice of nepotism has come to light.
NPF leader T.R. Zeliang, who resigned as chief minister of Nagaland in February, reportedly allocated funds under the Chief Minister’s Road Development Fund to a construction firm owned by his brother N.R. Zeliang during his tenure. T.R. Zeliang’s son Kuchi R. Zeliang is the managing director of the construction firm.
Among the 20 beneficiaries of funds under the scheme, the highest amount (Rs 3 crore) was allocated to M/s Hi-Tech Construction to “repair” the hospital approach road in Jalukie town of the state.
In total, T.R. Zeliang recommended four names for different projects. The other three were to Samuel Innovative Construction to build the three-kilometre long “approach road to Sajang Rubber Firm” (Rs 1.4 crore), to Kuheirang Zeliang for “improvement of road from old Chalkot junction to New Peren” (Rs 50 lakh) and to Mosangba Jamir for the construction of “NH61 to Nokzupong via Fazal Ali College” (Rs 35 lakhs).
The total amount of funds released was Rs 12.50 crore.
Interestingly, though T.R. Zeliang ceased to be the state chief minister from February 19 onwards, the date on the approval letter where he signed as the chief minister was March 8. T.R. Zeliang had to make way for NPF president Shurhozelie Liezietsu following violent protests in the state by various Naga tribal bodies due to his government’s decision to hold urban local body elections with 33% reservation for women as per a Supreme Court interim order. Liezietsu took over as the state chief minister on February 22.
In response to the uproar in the local media, and the intervention of the Joint Coordination Committee and the Nagaland Tribes Action Committee, which spearheaded the demand for T.R. Zeliang’s resignation, the present chief minister’s office (CMO) issued a clarification calling it “a clerical error”.
The statement from the CMO said the projects and beneficiaries “selected are genuine and the list was prepared in January and submitted to the department of roads and bridges on January 23, 2017”.
It said when the change of guard took place, the new chief minister suggested some alterations and a review meeting between the former chief minister (T.R. Zeliang) and the new chief minister (Liezietsu) took place on March 8 where “necessary changes were made”.
“However, owing to [the] clerical error, the designation of the former chief minister was not corrected and appeared on the document as what it had been when submitted on January 23.”
“The former chief minister too, through oversight, signed on the document as it was presented to him by the staffers,” it said. The statement, however, didn’t dwell on the question of T.R. Zeliang allocating funds to his own family.
In 2012, a CAG report questioned T.R. Zeliang, the then state planning minister, about handing out as many as 69 projects from the veterinary and animal husbandry department to his brother’s Hi-Tech Constructions. T.R. Zeliang, on his part, defended the irregularities in the CAG report in 2014, after which the media cell of the Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee released a statement with extracts from the report.
Speaking to The Wire, Joel Nillo of the civil society organisation Against Corruption and Unabated Taxation (ACAUT) said, “We have been looking at corruption in Nagaland in the last two-three years very closely. So we can say that open nepotism and corruption are carried out in the state with impunity. Be it allocation of projects or government appointments, it is usual in the state to give it to one’s family and relatives. Such stories, however, never catch the attention of the national media”.
As an instance, he pointed out “thousands of cases of backdoor appointment” made to various government offices.
“The present chief minister Liezietsu, as the NPF president then, justified the move by calling them contract employees. He wrote a letter to all cabinet ministers of his party on February 23, 2016, to continue the practice as he felt that by changing the rules suddenly, more than one thousand such employees would be affected and they would go against the party, which may harm it in the 2018 assembly elections. He didn’t want a repeat of 1993 when many government employees went against NPF and voted the Congress,” Joel told this correspondent.
According to Liezietsu, 65% of the government’s funds are spent on employee salaries. According to an ACAUT press statement released soon after the NPF president wrote the letter to his government, “In the last five-six years, his [NPF] government appointed approximately 40,000 employees, all through [the] back door – that is, without advertisement or interview.”
The BJP is a part of the NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland government. NPF, which has been its poll partner since 2003 in the state, has become a part of its government in Manipur.