Sunday, 7 June 2020

Make bureaucracy accountable Whether Barkis Is Willing

Updated: November 23, 2013 4:01 pm

When I joined Indian Police Service in 1961 in the then Mysore and later on renamed Karnataka cadre, the country was governed by the stalwarts, who treated governance as a trust. They did not treat it as a football ground to kick around the officials, who did not dance to their tunes. Of course, there were cases, when some action did not suit the convenience of the powers that be, the officials were transferred. But nobody in bureaucracy regarded the legislators and ministers as demigods, and in all fairness, the legislators most of the time did not throw their weight around.

The Supreme Court ordered on October 30, 2013, setting minimum tenures for bureaucrats and put restrictions on arbitrary transfers and postings by their political masters, wading into an issue that has long bedeviled relations between the executive and officialdom. The Supreme Court said: “We notice that much of the deterioration of the standards of probity and accountability with the civil servants is due to the political influence or persons, purporting to represent those who are in authority. In the present political scenario, the role of civil servants has become very complex and onerous. Often they have to take decisions which will have far-reaching consequences in the economic and technological fields. Their decisions must be transparent and must be in public interest. They should be fully accountable to the community they serve. Arbitrary transfers are also a major bugbear of the bureaucracy, with politicians wielding it as a weapon against inconvenient officials.”

It is more or less like September 22, 2006, order of the apex court, which has not been implemented. It all started with the ruling of the Supreme Court in a case, when the Supreme Court ordered a minimum tenure for Director, CBI, in December 1997. This was the only post in the law, which has a fixed tenure. Later, others jumped on the same bandwagon, including Home Secretary, Cabinet Secretary, Defence Secretary, Director, Intelligence Bureau, Secretary, Research and Analysis Wing and a few more.

One official is as good as others, but whoever does not suit the powers that be is kicked out like a football from one place to another. Take the case of the most popular state of India, Uttar Pradesh. In a round of administrative reshuffle, the Uttar Pradesh government in April 2012 transferred 70 IAS officers, including 32 district magistrates and five divisional commissioners. With this, the total number of IAS officers transferred since the present government (SP government) came to power on March 15, 2012, has gone up to 221. The total authorised strength of the UP cadre is 537. The present UP government has transferred a total of 1828 officers of the Provincial Police Service (PPS) in Uttar Pradesh in a short period of two years in 2011 and 2012. This includes 478 officers of additional SP (ASP) rank and 1,350 Deputy SPs. 307 ASP rank officers got transferred in 2011 while 171 were transferred in 2011. 892 deputy SP rank officers were transferred in 2012 and 458 in 2011.

Lest I be misunderstood in painting any political party black, I should hasten to add that the same story has been repeated in the state by the previous rulers, belonging to other parties. In the first term in 1995, the BSP government, which lasted four months and 14 days, effected 550 transfers of IAS officers. The second regime of the same party, for all of six months in 1997, saw another 777 transfers. BSP’s third stint in power saw 970 transfers while the number crossed 1,200 during the same party’s five-year term in the CM office. By that logic, the mass-scale transfers in the present government (the SP government) have nearly beaten the previous (BSP) record. These figures do not include other state-level employees, or even the secretariat staff, which have not been spared.

Uttar Pradesh is no worse or no better than almost all other states, though the difference may be in degrees. The Maharashtra government in 2011 was forced to withdraw a blatantly illegal circular instructing policemen not to record politicians’ calls in their station diaries. In a High Court recorded case, a private secretary of ex-CM Vilasrao Deshmukh had in 2006 called up Buldhana police asking them not to register an FIR against a Congress legislator’s money-lender father. Farmers from Vidarbha had wanted to complain about a money-lending racket which squeezed debt-ridden cultivators dry.

The call was recorded in the police diary by the investigating officer. The late Deshmukh had also allegedly told the Collector not to act till he had “personally looked into the matter”. The High Court struck down the circular and the government went in appeal to the Supreme Court, which not only upheld the HC order but enhanced the cost imposed on the state to Rs 10 lakh from Rs 10 thousand. By the above instance, I do not fancy conveying any impression that Indian bureaucracy is full of saints and all politicians are crooks. There is a good percentage of good and bad in both. In fact, the larger share of blame should go to bureaucracy, which is considered the most Inefficient not only by the foreigners but also by Indians.

According to a survey by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), India has been named as having the most inefficient bureaucracy in Asia. Its survey says: “Politicians frequently promise to reform and revitalise the Indian bureaucracy, but they have been ineffective in doing so–mainly because the civil service is a power centre in its own right.” The survey further notes that dealing with India’s bureaucracy “can be one of the most frustrating experiences for any Indian, let alone a foreign investor”.

There are far too many laws, rules and regulations in our country. There are roughly 1,030 Central Acts and 6727 State Acts, which give the bureaucrats plenty of opportunity to further tax the patience of the citizen. There are far too many clearances and approvals to be obtained, for doing anything in our country, whether it is starting a business or setting up a new industry or a new venture. Only speed money can make most bureaucrats move.

If we go by the report of the international corruption watch dog, Transparency International, released in December 2012, India has been ranked 94th out of 183 countries. In Corruption Perception Index ratings, India has a score of 36 out of 100 on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean) which is a result of an average of 10 studies including World Bank’s Country Performance and Institutional Assessment and Global Insight Country Risk Ratings.

In 2013, India is ranked below neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka and China. So, bureaucracy has to pull up its shocks to make life easy for the common man. It is also the duty of the political executive to be fair to all Indians, instead of going by caste, creed or religion and stop indulging in vote-bank politics.

The present position in the government is that whether you work or not whether you are corrupt or not, you are safe as the built-in procedures provide overprotection, which must go. Good governance does not come easy and it involves taking hard decision. The million dollar question will be to quote Charles Dickens, whether “Barkis Is Willing”.

By Joginder Singh
(The author is former Director, CBI)

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