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Govt Rules & Procedures: COSTLY & NEEDLESS MISTRUST, By Shivaji Sarkar, 19 Oct, 2012 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 19 October 2012

Govt Rules & Procedures


By Shivaji Sarkar


The nation is increasingly becoming obsessed with corruption. Every aspect of national life is being looked at with suspicion and everything appears opaque. A fear psychosis is setting in. Pettifogging has either led to putting off decisions or penalising the innocent, who might have jumped a rule or not.


While the headlines these days are on those in public life, mistrust is equally pronounced in government departments and autonomous institutions. The basic premise unfortunately is not to trust the employee and to let him and the whole world know about it. Recently, two navy officials were being prosecuted by their department as they had shared knowledge of bungee jumping learnt during their courses in the US with common enthusiasts. Sometime back a lawyer was almost thrown out of her profession for modelling and action was threatened against some other lawyers for teaching in a law institute.


Shockingly, in a Government office, simple tour bills are a high potential risk of either losing the money spent for travelling due to the inability to produce the receipts or even a job. In fact, the Sixth Pay Commission rules have made claims even more cumbersome. Accompanied by the British mindset about Indian workers – that every Indian is corrupt, the trend is a virtual witch-hunt, humiliation and harassment of those going out on official work.


The burden of ethics is on the worker or the official but those manning the department have the ubiquitous right of denial of any or all expenses made. For example, if one spends a modest Rs 2000 on local transport (taxis and auto-rickshaws) in a city he is sent to, he is denied reimbursement if he fails to produce the bills. And, even if he gives a bill he could face the risk of being accused of having forged it and the consequence, though there is no specific rule, could even be a summary dismissal. The above invokes the basic question: Is the nation trying to establish the rule of ethics or whims?


Not so long ago an IIT professor was suspended for suggesting reforms in the examination system. The IIT, Kharagpur misconstrued his good intentions and sought the Supreme Court's permission to take disciplinary action against him. The reason cited was that the professor had caused “irreparable damage to the image and reputation of the institute and for lowering the morale of the teaching faculty as well as the students by alleging mass copying”.


In another top institute in Delhi, a professor was summarily dismissed for a mistake he committed in a bill, which he readily owned up. Perhaps, had he denied the allegation he may not have had to suffer! The issue actually was not about him making a genuine mistake but more to do with his bold views about the erroneous ways the institute had been functioning. Even though he made a representation to the topmost he was accused of a political bias simply to justify the harsh and humiliating action taken against him. It is a sad reflection given the fact that others in the same institute making a quick buck on fake bills were let off with a token or no penalty at all.


These cases beg an answer to what is objectionable if a lawyer or a Government employee does modeling beyond working hours or seeks to become a news reader? On its part, the lawyers’ regulatory body considered it immoral and cited the rule book that a lawyer could not engage in any other work so long as he/she was a registered lawyer. Clearly, this is debatable. Likewise, many other organisations and professional bodies have similar quixotic rules.


Take the case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT). It is facing many frivolous cases pertaining to promotions and petty expense bills etc that damage the career, professional and personal lives of many employees. The rules are kept vague with immense discretionary powers to keep the staff and officers in tow. These do not help anyone rather damage the institutions, departments and the working atmosphere. But, for the bosses there is a “positive” side -- the rules inadvertently promote a culture of sycophancy. These could be interpreted either which way depending on the equation with the employee. A study of the cases in CAT would make startling revelations.   


Therefore the nation needs to act and review all such frivolous rules. Claiming a paisa or two more in a bill is often equated with the largest corporate crimes. One can emphatically say that it is never so.

If these rules are transparent and intimidation is not the rule, institutions such as CAT and other administrative tribunals would become redundant. At least they would have far fewer cases than they have to grapple with now.


This apart, there is an economic cost involved as well. Each such frivolity leads to enormous legal actions and expenses by all, the victims and the Government. In other words, government is paying for harassment and intimidation for petty jealousies and rivalries in such organisations and ending up spending thousands of crore in unnecessary and unwanted litigations.


Moreover, the Government departments thrive on other whimsical actions. In many departments, a promotion that is due is not given and of late there is an ingenious method to put it off for years. After going through the process of departmental proceedings for promotions, interviews et al, these are referred by the final panel to vigilance department for an enquiry. It is common knowledge that anything that is referred here is put off for an indefinite period and leads to demoralisation of the young talented staff. In turn, they start looking for avenues outside the Government, leaving the latter to make do with the less-talented.


Ironically, while the country has not been able to stop corruption at the highest level, it has developed an expertise to use it to harass the poor workers and talented staff, scientists and professionals. Can it be stopped? Yes, the solution is simple, but it may not suit the bosses. For one, travel and promotion rules should be simplified and implemented on a time-bound basis. Expenses need to be evaluated on the actual requirement.


The Government must end its penchant for witch-hunting in the lower rungs. An employee should be encouraged to work and not be harassed. Perhaps, it could take a cue from the private corporate, wherein even if a superior does not trust his junior, he does not make it public, but deals with it at an individual level. There is need to build this trust in Government and its institutions. Let the rules be transparent and clear-cut, leaving no scope for maneuvers or corruption, which sadly has engulfed the nation like never before. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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