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HindustanTimes Mon,29 Dec 2014

The vulnerable and the whistleblowers

Surinder Singla, Hindustan Times   November 11, 2013
First Published: 09:35 IST(11/11/2013) | Last Updated: 09:40 IST(11/11/2013)

The Association of IAS officers, of late, has been a body lacking substantive resources that its officers could fall back on in times of need and also in terms of its intrinsic value and significance in their working life.

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In the recent Supreme Court judgment in a PIL by former bureaucrats, the apex court has ordered to form service boards at the Central and the state levels for fixing their tenure as also to eschew any oral order by political bosses. This is also the right time to take a holistic view and strengthen their association and make it into a formal body to address the multitude of officers' problems. This will not only help maintain a healthy dialogue with the political bosses so that officers do not feel vulnerable and defenceless, but will also control their impropriety, too. The Association has also shown its preparedness and willingness to take up such a role by some of their recent actions.

Laudable step

Seemingly woken up from its reverie, it is indeed a laudable realisation that has dawned upon the All India Association of IAS Officers to voice their concerns over humiliation that its officers are prone to. They have voiced their strong opinion that the investigating agencies should not be in undue haste to file an FIR on vague and unverifiable allegations.

The recent case of PC Parakh is an example as he enjoyed unquestionable reputation in his career over the years. It is unfortunate that Parakh, after a distinguished service and into eight years of his retirement now, faces humiliation at the hands of ill-equipped and ill-trained investigators of the CBI. Still worse is the fact that the conviction rate of prosecutions launched by the CBI is less than 5% that corroborates the poor quality of their investigation and attaches much more responsibility to them to be even more cautious in their enthusiasm to test their investigations at a legal forum.

Thick-skinned

The history of the Association has not been strikingly quotable. Its conscience rarely gets disturbed as there are hundreds of examples where honest officers of the service get rough treatment from their colleagues and political masters and their honest causes remain unaddressed.

Be that as it may, the present initiative, however, is the first act of positive departure to confront the investigating authorities in order to protect the honour of an officer. The modest start and a symbolic fight so initiated must continue so that the government and Parliament may come up with an appropriate legislation to protect serving as well as retired officers from such embarrassment and humiliation.

The 'right voice' of the Association will have an inspiring effect on the civil service as well in improving the governance which is the central issue for the Indian people. It is equally true that the civil service has a pivotal role and dominant position in the governance of the country and any step that facilitates a free and fearless approach is welcome. Recently, a view has been expressed by former cabinet secretary Subrahmanyam that 90% of the governance is delivered by this class. It is evident specifically in the case of the screening committee on coal blocks allotment when Parakh maintained that its recommendation need not be shown to the minister. However, reluctantly, he accepted it to be signed by the minister. Had it not been the case, who could have been the competent authority? Was it the chairman of the committee or the entire committee?  Certainly, not the minister concerned.

Addressing the other side

The Association, while taking the current stance of protecting its distinguished officers, will also have to address the other side of the coin since there are unscrupulous officers also who face serious charges of corruption. The Association must express its position of not only disapproving the actions of such officers but even weed them out from the system to clean it up. Only then would they perform the real role of giving people excellent governance which is expected of them.

There are many notable cases of IAS officers indulging in massive corruption. Former union secretary, personnel, Satyanand Mishra, says, "Since our Independence, probably, a dozen officers have been dismissed. Should we then conclude that the officers are doing such a good work that there is no room for dismissal?  Obviously not," He says, "It is because our system is so complicated that an officer rarely gets punished. What is needed is to revamp the process of disciplinary proceedings against officers." The Association remained silent, what to talk of taking action against such officers. Such silence certainly lowers the prestige and honour of the Association in the eyes of people. The present position on Parakh will remain limited in appreciation of the association so long as it does not distance itself from the bad elements in this class.

Similarly, Durga Shakti Nagpal's case was taken up by the state association with the chief secretary and it was addressed. The Association, however, chose not to express its views in public and Durga also maintained a dignified silence despite various provocations in the best traditions of the civil service. They refused to be a part of the public debate and a culture of discipline was outlined. In this context, Shakti Sinha's views are relevant - he silently exercised the option of premature retirement recently - the Association should not forfeit its right to voice a legitimate grievance; not just for individual but as a broader issue of governance. This will enhance and improve the credibility and stature of this organisation.

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