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Wonders Never Cease..: BABUDOM TO GET A CONSCIENCE?, by Poonam I Kaushish, 11 Feb, 2012 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 11 February 2012

Wonders Never Cease….


By Poonam I Kaushish


Ever wonder why are humdrum and dull every day life is so problematical and troubled? Be it when applying for a gas connection, ration card, property registration, paying electricity and telephone bill et al. Thanks to our corrupt babudom which thrives on holding one to ransom wherein nothing moves till its palms are greased. From the TC in the railways to the traffic cop, there’s no questioning them. Big deal, if it’s all about conversion of human energy into solid waste!


But things are a changing, with the Government notifying a rule making it compulsory for IAS, IPS and ‘deadwood’ from other all-India services to retire in “public interest” if they fail to clear a review after 15 years of service. Those who continue would face another review after 25 years of work or when they turn 50, whichever comes first. All to shore up its governance credentials and instill some sense of responsibility in a heartless officialdom.

True, the rule could shake one of the main pillars of bureaucratic smugness: Security of tenure. But the moot point is: Will the babus  have the courage to correct themselves and overcome red tape? Highly unlikely. As today corruption has become a low risk, high-profit area. The bureaucrat is the third angle of the triangular neta-babu-business axis which has perpetuated a vulturistic culture of the winner takes all.

The modus operandi has been perfected to the last, deliberate scarcity of goods and services, red tapeism and delay, lack of transparency (no matter Right To Information Act), the cushion of a babu is innocent.  Shockingly, a Transparency International 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index found that more than 55% of Indians had first-hand experience of paying bribes or influence peddling to get jobs done in public offices successfully. Ghoos by truckers alone totalled US$ 5b annually.

More scandalous, bureaucrats cornered over Rs.92,122 crore or 1.26% of the GDP, through corruption which is growing annually by over 100%. According to the CAG’s 2010 report scathingly commented that “India is a rich country filled with poor people. With corrupt officials making them even pooere." It is no secret that only 8 paisa of Rs one percolates to the aam aadmi.  


Another 2009 survey of leading Asian economies revealed that Indian bureaucracy to be not just least efficient out of Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, China, Philippines and Indonesia but also that working with India's civil servants was a "slow and painful" process. Whereby, “high-level corruption and scams are now threatening to derail the country's credibility and (its) economic boom”.


What next? Arguably, 15 years is far too long for a first performance review as in the private sector, employees are judged every year. If the Government wants to ensure that babudom functions efficiently and transparently, it should spell out what good performance is. Else bureaucrats might busy themselves with trivia to appear busy, without doing anything substantive.


To push it reforms agenda the Government must introduce a system of lateral entry of people from the private sector who want to work for the public good as in the US. It must freeze the number of senior positions and desist from creating redundant posts to accommodate its favourites.


More. It has to break the neta-babu nexus which helps them not only in being promoted speedily without any regard to seniority or merit but also join the politician in looting the country. In this scenario, a majority of babudom is more than happy to go along with their political mai-baaps. Rooted as it is in the firm belief that, like their masters, they are a law unto themselves. Over the years, they have become used to dispensing patronage arrogantly earning big pay packets for non-productive work.


Thus, every political change of guard leads to ad nauseum transfers resulting in most officials taking no initiative. In fact, the political identification of officials is becoming so marked that even the bureaucracy itself is able to predict as to who will occupy which top post, if ‘X’, ‘Y’ or ‘Z’ political party or individual comes to power!


This must stop. Every transfer order should be justified on paper. If babus are constantly looking over their shoulders in fear of being booted out to some backwater, they will turn into craven servants of netas, rather than working for public purpose.


Three, the system of detection needs to be overhauled. Today all anti- corruption drives necessarily implies investigation by various police agencies i.e. the CBI, vigilance, anti-corruption branch etc. These bodies are empowered with sweeping powers to prove or disprove a person’s honesty. But what does one do when the investigating agency is manned by an officer who himself is corrupt?


Take the case of babus children studying abroad. True, all declare the sources of financing their education. But how much of it is correct? In the US college education costs anywhere between Rs 25 to 35 lakhs per year. Where is the money coming from? It is another matter that the children of bureaucrats studying abroad outnumber those of the businessmen!


Importantly, the Centre needs to incorporate the Bihar Special Courts Act, which provides for confiscation of a corrupt bureaucrat’s entire ill-gotten wealth immediately. Alternatively, one would need to take recourse to a reportedly extreme Chinese measure. Every year an example is set by “eliminating” the corrupt. All it takes is one single bullet.


Once the message goes down the rank and file that all ‘haram ke kamayee’ would be confiscated, then the burden of proof will be on the officer to prove that he got it legitimately the Government must downsize. From the Secretary down to the chaprasi.


The writing is on the wall. It is time the bureaucracy shrugs off inertia and restores its professionalism based on absolute, not obsolete principles. Civil servants must give serious thought to determining what action needs to be taken collectively to remove administrative deficiencies, expose political malfunctioning and restore the system One way is to internalize the zero tolerance principle and the "sunset principle" as in the US. Under this method, justification for any governmental activity is all the time under scrutiny so that no acts of misdemeanour take place.


Undeniably, if our babus do not change their sense of values, they will become increasingly irrelevant. See how the country’s is rapidly progressing despite the bureaucracy. It may exist by the sheer force of Newton's First Law of inertia but it will not be playing a role which would make it a meaningful part of the governance. Will our bureaucrats rise to the occasion or will they allow the steel frame to rot and rust as they revel in mediocrity?  --  ?  INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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