Ask these Babus what they’ve done to India
Bureaucracy is the art of making possible the impossible. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an informal meeting with all Secretaries to the Union Government on April 1, 2015, the agenda on the table was to ‘speed up the decision-making processes’. Many Secretaries, however, used the occasion to ‘apprise’ the Prime Minister about the main reason for hesitation among senior officers to take decisions, especially those involving discretion or which could end up giving pecuniary benefits to a private party.
They wanted Section 13(l)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act to be removed under the pretext of working efficiently. Incidentally, legal protection is already available, as no action can be taken or an officer of the level of a Joint Secretary interrogated or investigated, without the sanction of the Government concerned.
The way corruption has grown unchecked can be seen from the fact that India ranked 85th among 178 countries on the global Corruption Perception Index in 2014, with 36 marks out of 100 on the CPI. Hardy has any bureaucrat taken the initiative to curb this menace. In fact, it’s the bureaucracy which often compels businesses to bribe to get their files moving.
The composite index is made up of a combination of surveys and assessments of public sector corruption by international agencies including the World Bank and the World Economic Forum. Of the nine surveys and assessments used for India, most relied on expert opinion on the extent of corruption and the rule of law and only one polled the general public. Thanks to our inefficient bureaucracy, India stood 142nd out of 189 countries ranked by the World Bank for ‘ease of doing business’, in 2014.
The bureaucrats always try to have the best of both worlds, while in service or out of it. They mislead the powers that be. Not only do they escape responsibility at the highest level, but also find scapegoats at lower levels, as had happened in the 2G Spectrum case, and the recent Petroleum Ministry leak case. They gang up to save one another.
One of the latest swindles, exposed in March 2015, shows a case of a woman, who ‘illegally’ stayed at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie for six months. On April 2, 2015, she accused a senior official of the academy (which trains civil services probationers) of taking a bribe and providing her with a fake identity card to facilitate her accommodation.
The lady, Ruby Choudhary, said, “I had paid a bribe of five lakh rupees to the official for a job in the academy’s library. I frequently visited the academy to pursue my case, but I was not a regular resident.” She said the official also arranged a fake identity card of the Administrative Training Institute, Nainital, for her. The ID card identified her as a Sub-Divisional Magistrate. Instead of the Director being held responsible, a security guard was dismissed. This is how things work in the Indian bureaucracy.
Another unique feature of any Government in the country is the inter-ministerial fights, with officials even approaching the courts against one another – despite instructions the Government had issued in 2004, at the Prime Minister’s level. The Delhi Development Authority has approached the Delhi High Court against the municipal corporations’ demand-notice seeking payment of property tax of around Rs530 crore.
Another report of September 2014 says that 19 IAS officers are missing, some for several years, and they still continue to be on the payroll of the Government. Most of these civil servants went abroad on study leave or official assignments and never returned. Although it requires painstaking efforts to get into the civil services, once there, it seems that a recruit can choose not to attend office for several years! Apparently, he or she can calmly go on a foreign jaunt, join a private sector bank, or simply go incommunicado. What is even more baffling is the fact that the Department of Personnel and Training, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and State Governments remain clueless about the whereabouts.
Despite being hesitant to use discretion, most of the bureaucrats function without any fear that they will ever be called to accunt. Senior-most bureaucrats are inaccessible to those who have genuine grievances.
Now, to another issue: The Central Vigilance Commission had issued an order on ‘acceptance of gifts’, on August 27, 2003. On September 22, 2004, it brought out another circular on the subject. Observing that public sector units send gifts to a number of persons, including Government officials, during festive occasions, the CVC had said, “The commission has considered the matter and is of the view that this practice, at least, so far as Government servants are concerned, needs to be discouraged…The gifts are to be provided only to promote commercial/business interests and need not, therefore, be sent to Government officials who are only doing their duty. The PSUs, banks etc are, therefore, advised that they may follow this advice with immediate effect.”
The CVC had issued the instructions 12 years ago and left it to the vigilance-in-charge of the department or ministry concerned to follow through. Not a single report has been received, or come in the public domain, about the number of people that were found to have violated the guidelines. Nor has the directive enshrined in the laws or rules.
I am myself witness, after retirement, to the huge packets being taken by ‘special messengers’ to senior Government officials. One officer told me that he had no place to keep all he receives on festive occasions. He distributed them as wedding gifts and birthday gifts to friends or colleagues or relatives.
The bureaucrats have bungled the administration, by adding layers after layers for approval, even for constructing a washroom. In Maharashtra, more than 160 approvals and sanctions are required to construct anything. This is equally so everywhere else, and had led to the widespread corruption.
It will be revealing if the Prime Minister and other Ministers can get a list of approvals required for a project. Heavens would not fall if the entire exercise is reduced to not more than a dozens approvals. On the contrary, it would lead to faster development and considerable elimination of corruption.
The fight for justice against corruption is never easy. It never has been and never will be. It exacts a toll on our self, our families, our friends, and especially our children. In the end, I believe, it is a price well worth paying to hold on to our
dignity. Moreover, it is in the country’s interest.