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BW Businessworld

The Commoner’s Guide To Indian Scams

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The origin of the word scam is rather obscure. It is said to have roots in scamp, british slang for swindler. Like the word itself, origins of many scams are equally obscure. What's not is that you have been gypped. Of just how much? The Fourth Estate will make you believe it's a scam a day. How bad is it? The amounts are not only scary, but wonky too, like the Rs 1,70,000 crore presumptuous loss in the 2G spectrum handout. Since 1991, we have seen many a confidence trick. Businessworld drew up a list of the more colourful swindles. Now, if you were to take an average inflation rate of 6.5 per cent per annum, total of these nine scams alone could be about Rs 98,100 crore. That's all? Yes, going by headline swindles. It's misleading, of course, like headline inflation. But then, that's all you have to go by with. If you were to add up crimes of the rest of the bandicoots, the amount will be far higher. Try figuring it out. It's risk free.

Robbed an archaic banking system of Rs 4,000 crore (Rs 13,000 crore by today's value) to propitiate the sacred bull. He lived in a 15,000-sq. ft house with a pool and a golf patch; had a fleet of cars including a Toyota Lexus. Over 600 cases were registered against him. Nothing came out of these. And nothing will. Mehta died in December 2001 in a Thane jail.

The fodder scam was, truly, a cattle class act — overstate livestock numbers and drain Bihar's treasury for the upkeep of the holy cows. Or, koi chaara hi nahi tha. The loot was estimated to be about Rs 1,000 crore (today: Rs 2,400 crore). Lalu claimed innocence. Didn't a mythical ancestor of the yadava say, "Maiya mori, mein nahi makhan khayo."

The deception started with his first name. He raised money from gullible investors through CRB Capital and CRB Mutual Fund, and pumped them into the bourses. When he defaulted, nearly Rs 1,000 crore (today: Rs 2,400 crore) went up in smoke. Guess what: he even had a bank licence from the RBI!

Harshad Mehta 2.0. Persuaded a dumb Madhavpura Co-op Bank to loan him Rs 800 crore  (today: Rs 1,400 crore) to rig stocks. KP's dream ended as the RBI sniffed him out. The bank went under; depositors lost money. His show was not as big a hit job as Mehta's. But he did grab more than just eyeballs.

Simply pushed fake stamp papers. Now, everyone needs one as you enter a contract. His fakes cost the nation an estimated Rs 30,000 crore. Yes, the RBI said it was just Rs 200 crore (today: Rs 300 crore), and we should be happy.

Was an illusionist like David Copperfield, and a philosopher. He knew there was no one Satyam. And so it was one set of accounts for him, another for you and me. So was there a Rs 8,000-crore (Rs 9,000 crore) worth hole in Satyam Computers? The truth, well, nobody knows. The man, now in a Hyderabad jail, says he rode a tiger and finally got chewed up. Or did investors ride Raju and get chewed up?

Scams went hi-tech with 2G. Faulty allocation of spectrum is said to have cost us about Rs 60,000 crore (today: Rs 68,000 crore). No, it's Rs 1,70,000 crore, says the CAG. Raja says he made no wrong calls, but followed his predecessors. Your call, totally!

The roof fell, the sky almost. That's what the Commonwealth Games 2010 will be remembered for. The athlete of the year, Suresh Kalmadi, cried hoarse saying that the prize money was peanuts — just Rs 1,600 crore. There were two games on show — one for those who bought tickets. One for those who chose to play games behind the curtains. And, in all likelihood, they will be issued
tickets soon.

All in the name of the brave men who died in Kargil. The Adarsh Society scam brought in a new principle: if you have a plot with two masters, then it's free for all. The blacksheeps made off with more than just three bags full — the going rate for sq. ft in Colaba is Rs 35,000. And you have a 27- storey building to trade.

Endnote: total sparing Adarsh. Also, it is hard to arrive at a figure for the Taj Corridor (2006), UTI (2001), Scorpene (2005), Madhu Koda (2009) scams or for B.S. Yeddyurappa's land grab. The scammed amount is not equal to value of a contract given out. Breaking news: the loan scam surfaces...

Click here to view 'The Commoner's Guide To Indian Scams'

Compiled by Shrutika Verma and Raghu Mohan

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 06-12-2010)