Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The neta loses his job.The officer loses his commission.But the babu manages to keep both the loot and his pension,reports Josy Joseph

It is high time somebody had the courage to infuse a bit of morality into the soul of Indian bureaucracy the steel frame of governance in this country.If all the scandals of our times have a single unifying theme,it is the central role played by the civilian bureaucracy.Thats right from the powerful Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer to the lowly clerk.In Mumbai,a clever and manipulative Defence Estates Officer,with active support from many IAS officers and military men,was able to corner a prime plot of land meant for the defence services,pull in top generals and politicians and build the 31-floor Adarsh Housing Society.Its pretty much the same story in A Rajas 2G spectrum scam.A host of officials,from senior bureaucrats to Department of Telecom officials,aided and guided the minister at every step.

In both instances,the key political leaders involved have paid a price for alleged involvement in the scam.They have been forced to resign from their postsAshok Chavan as Maharashtra chief minister and A Raja as Union telecom minister.In the Adarsh scam,the army has already started its own court of inquiry and the Ministry of Defence has ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate military officials who conspired to get themselves apartments.Embarrassed former military chiefs and Chavans relatives have given up their apartments.But we are yet to witness any such act of repentance by any bureaucrat involved in these scandals.

The trend is clear.If political leaders are caught engaged in acts of commission or omission,they are mostly forced out of office and always have to face the ultimate test - public trust during the next elections.If you are in the defence services and accused of impropriety,you can be assured of swift and harsh punishment. But if you are a bureaucrat,there is not much of a problem at all punishment is the exception rather than the norm.The message that the system seems to convey is that babus are from a different planet;the rest belong to the wobbling democracy called India.

The steel frame of a rising power,men and women who decide the fate and fortunes of one billion people is increasingly looking like a soulless greedy herd,with very few good men and women.Worse,even as other institutions at least act to placate the angry,the civilian bureaucracy sits back and aloof as if the scams dont concern it at all.

As India takes a closer look at government corruption,there is growing anger against the visible immunity enjoyed by bureaucrats.In the last week or so,almost every gathering of young politicians and military officers is charged up and anger at the way the civilian bureaucracy appears to be,in their words,getting away with murder.

A recent gathering of young MPs,for instance,expressed loud and exasperated frustration at the apparent immunity enjoyed by bureaucrats involved in the Adarsh scam.One MP speculated that it seemed the babu had the best of all wordsit was practically impossible to dismiss them.Another argued that unlike politicians,babus never have to face the public test of their efficiency and honesty.All agreed that it was the wily babu who helps the politician manipulate processes and 6in order to and doctor files to rob the hungry and poor people.

As India liberalized over the last two decades,there was genuine hope that the iron-grip of bureaucracy would be replaced by a more efficient administration of technocrats and neutral regulators.A few years ago,BS Baswan,who was then head of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie,predicted that the IAS may simply not exist a generation from now.Some 20 years ago,the Academy had predicted the evolution of technocrats.It said they would head regulatory bodies as the state withdrew from micromanaging governance.

Its predictions were completely and utterly wrong.As the state itself gets involved in welfare programmes such as NREGA and undertakes nationwide tasks such as infrastructure development,the babu has emerged as ever more powerful.The babus grip on the nations resources and exchequer has actually tightened.

The result of that ever-tighter grip is most visible most in departments that conduct critical public functions.In all of them,corruption has been institutionalized.In the national capital,a bribe is de rigueur if you want to register property.Were one to add the police force to Indias bureaucratic framework,the picture that emerges is disconcerting,ie for the average citizen,this is a cruel and corrupt police state.You have to pay a bribe to file an FIR and almost the same money can be used to hire a policeman to harass someone. The corruption-free government department is all but unknown in India.

A large number of officials serving in the so-called lucrative departments customs and income taxare multimillionaires.They have apartments and own property in almost every big Indian city.A senior IAS officer who recently visited an academy that trains young civil servants was shocked by the way they discussed the ill-gotten gains they could expect in the course of their careers.The systemic corruption that has seeped into Indias steel frame is so staggering that it is not unusual for whistleblowers to be harassed in many departments.And for silent but honest officials to hunted down if they refuse to take their share of the booty.

The Defence Estates department,which is under the scanner in the wake of Adarsh housing scam,is a classic example of what most government departments have become.Of the five officers of Indian Defence Estates Service recently cleared for promotion to the rank of additional secretary,four face serious allegations of financial misdeeds.At least one was originally a member of the Adarsh society,another was raided by the CBI on one occasion and others have faced vigilance indictments in the past.

So,how do babus get away with it The loot And the pension The short answer is politics.The Indian political system,which us driven by a humungous amount of black money,is heavily dependent on its supremely clever bureaucracy to find ways and means to rob the republic.No major national party can operate using clean money alone.Together,the babu and the neta have created a system in which politics,elections and all related activity is driven by massive amounts of black money.

As a weak executive leadership,made up often enough of morally bankrupt politicians,looks the other way the civilian bureaucracy is having a free run.Often,when bureaucrats retire,they merely head right back into the service to head regulatory bodies such as,say,the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.The recently released report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on the 2G spectrum scam is a ringing indictment of some of the most senior officers in the Department of Telecom and TRAI.

If the corrupt babu is sitting pretty its because he feels invincible.Despite aggressive efforts by the Central Vigilance Commission,it takes months for a government department to permit the corrupt to be prosecuted. All too often,permission is never given.

Interestingly,in this season of scams,the political and army class are under scrutiny,but the baby remains unscathed.No firm action has been taken by the Cabinet Secretary;nor has the civil service asked for any.

For India,an emerging power,this immoral babudom may be the poison that finally smothers its dreams.

No comments:

Post a Comment