Deepu has been driving our car for the last two months. A young man of around 30 years, he is reasonably punctual, hardworking, and never says no if he is needed to go to the railway station or airport at odd hours. At the end of the day, he gives me an account of how much has been spent on parking and toll tax, and unfailingly returns the surplus of what was given to him in the morning. In short, he carries himself with dignity.
Yesterday, Deepu had to report for work at 12 noon. He was late by ten minutes and was given a sermon by yours truly. On reaching our destination, I offered him the customary lunch allowance. It was not part of my original deal with Deepu, but it is only fair that I reimburse the expenses if he has to eat out while on duty.
Yesterday, Deepu politely declined the money saying he had had his lunch before coming to our house. ‘That’s the reason I was late’, he added with a shy smile.
Deepu doesn't read newspapers. If he did, he would possibly take the money, keep it quietly, and invest it on his son’s education.
Hasn’t Ms Kiran Bedi, one of the conscience keepers of the nation, done the same thing? She lectures people on value and ethics (I guess in every city that’s connected by air) and her hosts pay for her travel and stay.
The Indian Express has recently reported that she has been travelling Air India paying one fourth of the normal fare as she was a gallantry award winner as an IPS officer, but has been claiming full fare, at times, executive class fare. In some cases, after travelling economy class on private airlines, she claimed business class fare. In one instance, she travelled from Delhi to Hyderabad to deliver a speech and then went on to Chennai to speak at a meeting held by another group. Ms Bedi claimed full fares from Delhi to Hyderabad and Delhi to Chennai from her two hosts! So in effect, she claimed reimbursement for ghost journeys.
Her defence? (A) She did whatever she did with the full knowledge of her hosts and (B) She hasn’t put the amounts into her pocket, but into the pocket of “her” NGO, which uses the money to educate children.
Both arguments are disingenuous, to put it mildly. Firstly, the claim that her hosts know everything is subject to verification. Secondly, and most importantly, the 75% discount that the government of India forces Air India to sacrifice is meant to help a gallant individual. It cannot be used to make a profit for anyone, even if it be an NGO with noble missions. Also, politicians caught taking money can say that they took it for their party! Could that be an excuse?
Thirdly, the tax payers’ money keeps the loss-making Air India alive, and very few of them, beside Ms Bedi, would like their money to go into an unverifiable NGO through fudged accounting.
So who is a better role model and conscience keeper? Deepu Paik or Kiran Bedi?
PS. On 21 October, a former IAS officer and Team Anna member, Arun Bhatia appeared on CNN IBN. He told Rajdeep Sardesai and the rest of the world that many government officers travel economy class and claim business class fare. Nothing happens to them, it is quite normal. I couldn’t believe my ears. Can you, Gentle Reader?
Sunday, 23 October 2011