National Informatics Centre Software Of Corruption!
When Rajeev Gandhi dreamt of a computerised India, not even in his wildest dreams, would he have had a nightmare that the computerisation would lead to new forms of corruption. Today, even as leaders and bureaucrats talk about e-governance to bring transparency in the system, ironically, the agency responsible for computerisation, i.e. National Informatics Centre (NIC), is itself mired in corruption.
NIC is a premier government of India Information Technology (IT) organisation having a network of offices spread right up to district level. It is over 30 years since it started functioning and it works under the ministry of IT.
The corruption here is not of political nature, but has an exclusive bureaucratic face. A case in point is that of CLM Reddy, Senior Technical Director, NIC, who was transferred by the then IT Minister, Dayanidhi Maran for alleged corrupt practices. But, Reddy managed to befool the entire government machinery and never went anywhere.
It may look hilarious that an officer after being transferred from New Delhi to Patna coolly attends the office in New Delhi during his transfer period. Reddy who was working as head of department, Courts Informatics division, NIC HQ, was transferred to Patna on March 6, 2007, by Union Minister of Telecom & IT Dayanidhi Maran.
In fact, OSD of the minister had written a letter to the DG, NIC, regarding the mess created during the inauguration of the computerised system in Madras High Court on March 4, 2007, informing him that the minister wanted an immediate transfer of the person found guilty.
The DG, NIC, found CLM Reddy guilty of the mishandling of the project and the transfer order to Patna was issued with immediate effect. Reddy was removed from the Courtis Project completely and another Sr Technical Director JP Kukreti was asked to look after that project.
But surprisingly, Reddy managed to come back from NIC Patna in September, 2007 within six months of his transfer, that is immediately after Dayanidhi Maaran was replaced by the new IT Minister A Raja.
It is learnt that Reddy did not hang around in Patna even for two weeks during almost six-month period of his posting there. Out of the 170 days of transfer period, he was present for around 158 days in NIC HQ, New Delhi. During that period, Reddy was using all the facilities previously given to him like his cabin, computer, PA, peon etc in Delhi office.
Though, JP Kukreti was entrusted with the charge of Courtis Project, Reddy continued attending the meetings of the project. Ironically, the department members also took the transfer lightly and made a joke of the entire episode.
Of course, the department officials and Reddy never broke any rules after the transfer, they just subverted it. According to sources, Reddy showed that he was always on a tour to Delhi HQ and to top it all he even collected TA (Travel Allowance). and DA (Daily Allowance.) Till date nobody knows as for what purpose Reddy was always present in Delhi and neither does anyone knows as to why he was transferred to Patna, in the first place, since the minister had asked the department to transfer the guilty person.
The answer lies somewhere else. NIC is instrumental in the computerisation programme of all central and state government bodies. Therefore from software development to hardware purchase, NIC is responsible for all tasks. There is thus a huge scope of earning money by illegal means of commission in purchase of hardware and outsourcing of software development.
NIC sources say that Reddy, who was head of division of the Courtis Project, was involved in all the purchase matter pertaining to computerisation of the courts in the country. It is alleged that hardware purchased for thousands of crores have never been utilised and dumped as a waste. For example, more than one thousand servers were purchased for district courts with Linux Operating System. Though Linux OS is free, Rs 1,00,000 were paid on account of maintenance and original license of the software. However, it is alleged that actual license was not provided to number of district court and several of them are working with the software in its trial version.
Similarly, one thousand laptops were purchased in 2007-08 with Linux OS for the judges of district courts. The entire order was given to single vendor in a clear violation of existing rules. Moreover, since Linux is not much used in India most of the judges filed complaints with NIC regarding the usage. But till date, like in every other case, NIC is yet to take cognizance of the complaints.
Apart from the purchase deals, NIC is also meant for the software development and computerisation of the government data, but ironically, due to the officers like Reddy, the department is now outsourcing the software development works too. Dr Rakesh Goel, ex-senior technical director, NIC, says, “It is very distressing to hear that NIC is now outsourcing the software development which is its core work. It is due to the deployment of incompetent officers in the senior key positions.”
An RTI query had revealed that Reddy does not have the requisite qualification not only for the promotions which he secured but also for the post he was appointed in the department. As per the qualification specified by the department, the officer has to have first division in MSc, while Reddy’s record reveals he had secured second division in his post-graduation.
Dr Rakesh states, “The incompetent officers don’t tolerate the technically more knowledgeable officers. So they create problems for them until they get full control. Due to this behaviour many talented officers are leaving NIC one by one.”
This is resulting in the software backwardness of the government projects. For example, most of the data of the courts are maintained through a software, named Fox Plus, which is almost 15 years old and is considered to be an outdated system. And despite the availability of much-advanced softwares like Oracle and MySQL, NIC continues to store important court data in Fox Plus, which incidentally is also prone to security manipulation.
Recently, a vigilance enquiry was instituted against Mr Reddy under directions from Central Vigilance Commission but it is doubtful whether something concrete will happen. However, Reddy, when contacted on phone, denied about any enquiry. He said, “I am not aware of any such enquiry and therefore I can’t make any comment.” He also refused to comment on the alleged corruption in hardware purchase. But one vigilance officer confirmed that the enquiry has been instituted against Reddy on the behest of the complain filed by an NIC officer only, but he denied to give the details. Sources said that this vigilance enquiry has put a lot of pressure on the department and it is searching a way out. Dr Rakesh Goel comments, “Many vigilance enquiries had been instituted but nothing happened because there is no proper filing system and department can produce documents in the back date to protect the guilty officers.”
Another malpractice being practiced in NIC is of promoting officers who are neither IT qualified nor are eligible under Flexible Complimenting Scheme (FCS) for the post of scientists. NIC sources claims that a large number of NIC officers having qualification like MA (Economics), MCom, MBA etc are promoted although they are not eligible. The number of court cases in NIC has increased and in almost all cases the department has lost the case almost at all levels from CAT to High Courts and even in the Supreme Court. The High Court of Mumbai has strongly condemned the illegal manipulations done by senior NIC officers in writing and reviewing ACRs. Besides, many officers are transferred from one place to another place, as they do not want to get involved in many undesirable activities like unauthorised financial matters etc. It is very strange that the department does not have any transfer policy even after its three decades of its existence.
At a time when the government is showing its seriousness in combating corruption, will the government and particularly Rahul Gandhi will look in to the NIC’s problems and ensure that NIC, being brainchild of his father and former Prime Minister the late Rajiv Gandhi, gets rid of all such corrupt officers and well-qualified people are promoted? It is high time the department woke up and act against corrupt officers. The present government should fulfil the dream of late Rajiv Gandhi by making IT a tool to remove corruption from the government, instead of allowing IT to play in the hands of the corrupt people.
By Ravi Shankar