When netas are around, the babus are at play

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The issue is of the over-protection given to bureaucracy. Once you join Government service, there is no fear of loss of job. Even if you are caught red-handed extorting bribes, it takes decades to get rid of you

In a landmark ruling in May 2013, the Madras High Court had said that the Central Bureau of Investigation does not need the Union Government’s nod to probe IAS and IPS officers. This would have affected nearly 300 senior officers, of Joint Secretary or above rank in the IAS, IPS and other services, facing corruption cases across the country.

As per Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, corruption cases against Joint Secretary-level officers and above cannot be commenced without prior permission from the Union Government. But the court ruled that, “An overall reading of entire Section 6A would only show the legislative intent that the approval contemplated therein can at the best be only directory and not mandatory.”

The apex court observed on February 5, during the hearing of the above case, that, “If the policymaker in the top bureaucracy gets protection from inquiry, who should face the rigour of law — the lower bureaucracy which implements the policy decisions? How is this class of bureaucrats separate from others? All bureaucrats and government servants have protection under the PC Act, which requires a probe agency to seek sanction from concerned authority prior to prosecution. Why this special protection for a small band? On what classification can you deprive other public servants of this benefit…” The court said all accused were a class in themselves. “If that is so, then how could the Government create a privileged class of accused among the top bureaucrats by according them this protection?” the Bench asked.

The Bench added that by providing “blanket” protection to a small band of bureaucrats, the clause is seemingly contrary to the object of the Prevention of Corruption Act. It added, “The legislature appears to have not done a responsible job as in this process, it has protected the entire top layer of bureaucracy.”

At present, nearly 300 requests from investigating agencies are pending with the Government and prosecution against the accused is stuck. It seems like the Union Government has become the greatest supporter of those who indulge in malfeasance, illegal conduct and even corruption. It even went against the orders of the Madras High Court and told the Supreme Court on February 4 that bureaucrats of Joint Secretary-level and above “take all policy decisions” and must be protected from frivolous inquiry.

Few will disagree with the Government on this count. But the Government has not produced any facts and figures about the people against whom any frivolous inquiry has been started by an investigating agency. In fact, there is almost no evidence of any such cases.

There is no doubt that many senior officers are reasonably honest. But honest officers are of no use if they cannot stop corruption under their charge. It is equally so with some politicians, whose USP is their honesty.  No Government can be run by mere exhortations of honesty. The real problem in the Government is that it is not clear as to what it should be doing and in what order, and who should be doing what. The Government wants only pliant civil servants who do its bidding, whether legal or illegal. It does not believe in sorting the grain from the chaff, standardising procedures, introducing checks and balances in the system and maintaining them.

Some of the biggest scams in recent years like the Commonwealth Games scam, ‘Coalgate’, ‘Railgate’, or the one relating to the purchase of helicopters, could not have happened without the connivance of high- level officers whom the Government is trying to protect by petitioning the Supreme Court.

 The Constitution guarantees equality before the law. How can the Government, which is supposed to be the defender of the Constitution, say that some categories of employees are more equal than others? Does the Government realise that hardly any benefits of the numerous welfare schemes and poverty alleviation programmes rarely reach those who need it the most because the funds are siphoned off by middle-men? When an apple becomes rotten, it is thrown into the dustbin. It is not preserved in the hope that it will improve with the passage of time.

The Government rehabilitates those who don’t have unique achievements, except outdoing their peers in being yes-men. There is hardly a position within the establishment that is not packed with the retired faithful. Retired folks, whose only claim to faith is that they once belonged to the top echelons of the bureaucracy, continue to call the shots in a country where more than 65 per cent of the population is below 35. It’s also true of senior politicians.

It is rightly said that eternal vigilance is the best course. Look at a defence establishment of the Naval Dockyard in Mumbai, which, in 2009-10, had together paid an overtime of 1.3 crore hours which cost the exchequer over Rs 126 crore. In 2011-12, the overtime payment went up to Rs 302 crore. The reason for this state of affairs is the over-protection given to the bureaucracy. Once you join  Government service, there is no fear of a loss of job, whether you work or not. Even if you are caught red-handed extorting bribes, it takes decades to get rid of you, because of the numerous forums of appeal, and yet again appeal for reconsideration. There is also the political protection.

In India, these employees, seek and get protection of lifetime employment, even if (1) they work or not (2) they are honest or corrupt (3) they are absent but marked present (4) they are efficient or inefficient (5) they get their work done from others (sub-contract their work). It is better to have contract employees and get rid of the dead wood after 20 years. Perhaps I am expecting too much, because present Government gets scared even if a dog barks against it. the regimes yield to pressure lock, stock and barrel. This approach of protecting the corrupt  has to change, if we want the benefits of the various social welfare schemes to reach the ground level.

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