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Who will sign?

The single biggest drawback bedevilling bureaucracy or babu culture is attempt to figure out who or what is a 'competent authority', writes VBN Ram.

india Updated: Aug 15, 2006 05:13 IST
VBN Ram

The devil, it is said, lies in the details. But details seldom identify the devil. The single biggest drawback bedevilling the bureaucracy or the so-called babu culture is the attempt to figure out the who or what is a ‘competent authority’. It is defined as the individual, or body, duly authorised to take a decision on an issue that falls within its purview. For instance, many an FIR isn’t lodged because police stations make complainants run here and there, in search for the elusive ‘competent authority’.

I was inducted into an outfit structured on government lines. The emolument package offered for the position did not match  what I had already been drawing in my earlier employment. In the interview, I was assured that my salary and allowances would not merely match my earlier emoluments, but would be a tad higher. However, on receiving the letter of employment, I discovered, much to  my chagrin, that my employers offered me a salary a trifle lower than what had been quoted. This, I was told, was due to a ‘technical aberration’. I spoke to the CEO to amend the pay package. I was told that he was helpless in the matter since he, by himself, did not constitute the ‘competent authority’ to amend the terms of employment,  which, in this case, was the interview board.

My attempts to convince the CEO that since he had not merely signed my appointment order, but also the file noting authorising my appointment, was reason enough for him to be taken as the ‘competent authority’ fell on deaf ears. But I was determined. And, in the answer I was given lies the significance of ‘file notings’ — the same cumbersome load over which RTI activists are crying themselves hoarse.

Just as a matter of interest, replied my CEO, it is neither me nor the interview panel that is the competent  authority. It is the pen, which signed these precious papers, which is the competent authority. Make of it what you will. But it may be the reason why a judge passing orders to execute one convicted invariably breaks the pen used for signing the execution order — a legacy from the days of the Raj.

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