Nikhil Service Station is one of the more popular petrol bunks in South Bangalore. If you wonder why you have never heard of it, however, it is because nobody refers to the petrol bunk by its real name. The bunk is owned by Anitha Kumaraswamy, wife of former Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and daughter-in-law of former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda. The service station came into service in the early 2000s. It had been allotted by Indian Oil in the “Kargil martyrs” quota. It is now a landmark in South Bangalore, and popularly known as “Deve Gowda Petrol Bunk”.
The reason I’m bringing up the issue of the petrol bunk is to draw a parallel with the scam-ridden Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society in Mumbai, which was again ostensibly built for “serving and retired army personnel”. The Adarsh scam is in the news once again due to the rejection of the report by the Maharashtra cabinet and the connection with arrested diplomat Devyani Khobragade.
The question about Adarsh that nobody is asking is this – why is it the government’s business to construct housing for “serving and retired army personnel”? Why is it that the government should compensate families of martyrs with petrol bunks and LPG dealerships and not cash? Aren’t these structures designed to be scammed?
Nobody argues that the army must be paid well. Nobody argues, either, that army personnel should be generously insured and compensated, given the hazardous nature of their jobs. My argument, however, is that this insurance and compensation should be universal and standardized. Allotments such as housing and LPG dealerships are discretionary by nature, and that makes them prone to abuse.
Consider for example, a housing society the government constructs for “serving and retired army personnel”. Let us say that the society has 500 apartments. How does the government choose who gets these apartments? And in what way are the 500 such chosen personnel different from those that did not get the allotment? Does this discretionary allotment not leave the system to abuse? Does this not lead to unhealthy competition among the “serving and retired army personnel”? Do we want that in our armed forces?
On a similar note, after each railway accident, we have the railway minister announcing a discretionary compensation for the dead and injured. The question is why this should be discretionary. Cannot the railways simply buy group insurance for all its passengers, which is automatically paid out upon an accident?
The argument I’m making is that some of the processes we follow are designed to be scammed. In the time of tragedy, either in an accident or in battle, what we need is a standardized and predictable response on behalf of the government agencies. By not putting that in place, the system is prone to abuse.