The Central Vigilance Commission is casting a fresh net to catch the big slimy fish in the bureaucracy that slips out of vigilance investigations leaving subordinate officials to face the music.
According to the new rules of the game drafted by the watchdog on corruption in the bureaucracy, senior officials will not be able to wriggle out of investigations on the plea that they trusted their delinquent subordinate’s judgment and integrity to have signed on a controversial file. Or that they simply were unaware of subordinates throwing every rule in the book out of the window.
Pratyush Sinha, who took over as the Central Vigilance Commissioner three months ago, told Hindustan Times that these are "limp excuses". Sinha intends to make sure that they do not work any more.
Vigilance officials have long noted a tendency within the bureaucracy to hang the junior-most official involved - three to four levels are involved in most decisions - whenever misconduct is detected. Their supervisory officials promptly claim ignorance and get off the hook in vigilance investigations after a warning on the ground that their lapse was either administrative or procedural in nature.
"I find that very few senior level persons are being held to account," Sinha said, convinced that unless senior officials are held responsible, it was going to be difficult to bring about the desired changes.
The new strategy obviously not only intends to impose penalties for acts of commission but also omission. In the short term, the commission expects to see supervisory officials land in trouble for turning a blind eye to misdemeanour, if not collusion.
The commission recognises it needs to defend "bonafide decisions gone wrong" but if the decision is malafide, supervisory officials will have to answer some uneasy questions.
For instance, senior municipal officials would have to explain why they did not notice encroachments during their inspections and the corrective steps they took. Vigilance cases could be slapped against those unable to come up with a satisfactory response.
Once the message goes home that subordinate officials were not going to go down alone, the commission believes it would motivate senior officials to clean up their stable on their own. "We intend to force these levels to become proactive, not just reactive to misconduct," Sinha said.