Corrupt babus, weak leaders

Joginder Singh ji
Former Director – CBI

The conduct rules of all Government employees in our country mandate that they maintain absolute integrity in their functioning. Though unambiguously stated, these rules have unfortunately been violated both in letter and spirit by bureaucrats as well as their political masters.

It might appear surprising that five months after the Secretaries Committee decided that Ministries with Central Public Sector Employees under their control would not allow them to use facilities owned by or paid for by these state-run companies, the Department of Personnel and Training asked its officials to return at the earliest and before March 31, 2010, all mobile phones, chauffeur-driven cars, air conditioners, laptops and faxes provided to them by Central public sector enterprises.

Instead of specifying that such misuse would attract dismissal or severe penalty, the order says, “Any such use shall attract suitable action… Any manpower or other facilities from CPSEs already being availed by the Ministries or Departments will be returned by the concerned Ministries.” The same communication adds, almost apologetically: “In case of exceptional circumstance, if there is a need to utilise a facility for a bona fide purpose related to official duty, usage may be allowed by the Secretary concerned for a specified period after a careful assessment of the situation.”

Common sense says that if one issues a directive, there should be no loopholes. But our legal experts leave sufficient loopholes when they make laws in order to provide escape routes to crooks in the bureaucracy. Anyone who has had anything to do with the functioning of the Government has suffered the consequences. Nothing moves without love, money, influence or other considerations. I once asked a businessman why he required an agent to move around in Government offices and speak on his behalf. “One is generally unaware of the exact procedure to be followed for getting one’s work done. Even otherwise, it is too circuitous,” was his reply.

Notwithstanding Government’s claims of simplifying procedure, layer after layer of legislation is added to the point that it becomes too difficult to get anything done in the normal course of business. A single window system with a time-bound response is the only solution. The common complaint is that whether in India or abroad, Indian citizens face humiliation, contempt and ill treatment. If one makes a complaint against any member of the authority, one is guaranteed to receive no positive response.

Admitting that the bureaucracy has failed the country owing to widespread corruption and malpractices, the Cabinet Secretary in March said in a communiqué: “The issue of corruption needs to be addressed fair and square. Preventive vigilance should be strengthened. Transparency must be introduced in decision-making. Stringent action must be taken against officers found guilty. Disciplinary proceedings must be expedited.”

He added that civil servants were appointed on the basis of fair and open competition and said, “We must respond in full measure to the faith that citizens have reposed in us and meet their hopes and aspirations of good governance… Of late, there have been some disturbing incidents which call for serious introspection by civil servants. Integrity, honesty, objectivity, impartiality, transparency, accountability and devotion towards duty are the core values which civil servants should cherish and which form an integral part of our decisions and actions.”

The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions has also stressed on the importance of bureaucratic reforms. “There is a perception that the Indian bureaucracy is inefficient and corrupt. If we are not able to provide for inclusive growth and maintain regional and social balance, it may lead to conflicts which may shake the very foundations of our federal polity and our nation,” Minister of State Prithviraj Chavan said. He added that India’s performance (132 out of 179 countries) as per UNDP’s human development index that provides composite measures on three dimensions of human development — life expectancy, literacy rate and standard of living — remains “abysmal”.

Six years ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured Indian industry that a high-level standing committee with representatives from industry and the Government would review all existing industrial laws vis-à-vis international best practices and if required amend archaic laws to end the tyranny of the inspector raj. “The rules and regulations would be made more transparent and simple…The attempt would be to, as far as possible, not leave issues to personal interpretation and to ensure that discretionary powers are not misused,” Mr Singh said. But unfortunately, there has been no change in the working style of the Government.

It is a reflection on the utter insensitivity of our bureaucracy that while the common man and the poor are reeling under skyrocketing prices of food commodities, the subsidy provided by the Government for distribution of foodgrains through the public distribution system is being misused. The Justice DP Wadhwa Committee appointed by the Supreme Court to study the public distribution system said in its report: “It is a known fact that the Department of Food and Public Distribution has the dubious distinction of being one of the most corrupt in the country. Corruption is pervasive in the entire chain and it continues to remain a formidable problem. Most functionaries in the Department are typically callous and resort to corrupt practices. It is, in fact, a cancerous growth and has to be chopped off.”

The committee added that although the Centre was giving a “whopping” annual subsidy of Rs 28,000 crore to the States on food items to be distributed to poor through the system, it was being pocketed by a strong nexus of corrupt officials, dishonest fair price shop owners, treacherous transporters engaged by State Governments to carry the goods to the shops, and unscrupulous mill owners. While finding that wheat was being directly sold to flour mills, the committee said unless concrete remedial measures were immediately taken as suggested, “the poor will go on suffering at the hands of this nexus”.

Despite setting up two Administrative Reforms Commissions, India’s leaders have failed to implement their recommendations. Apart from weak political leadership, one reason for corruption and inefficiency that permeates bureaucracy at all levels is that it defends the status quo long after it has lost its relevance.