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Better armour for Lokpal

Create a firewall for honest officers. This will keep out corruption.Yoginder K Alagh writes.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2011 22:57 IST
Yoginder K Alagh
Yoginder K Alagh
Hindustan Times

When civil society activists took up the issue of corruption, the public responded to their call and delivered an unequivocal and firm message against graft. Demonstrable action is now necessary, otherwise people’s achievements will go to waste.

It is a no-brainer to say that if we create a large bureaucracy at all levels, we will end up with more corruption.

Jayaprakash Narayan was right in saying that at the state level, a Lokpal can only cover politicians and senior civil servants. This will leave out the men and women who actually interact with the public and create roadblocks for them. So we must have an alternative system to ensure transparency.

For example, there could be a system in which those holding public office may be required to go through a public scrutiny and evaluation after a fixed number of years in service. Such a user survey (once in every three or five years) could also cover senior bureaucrats.

However, there remains the danger that those who have been punished by the officer could buy negative votes. To overcome this problem, there could be a panel comprising honest locals, teachers, retired judges and doctors who could supervise the survey.

The Lokpal can also supervise this system. Such judgements could be one of the criteria used for evaluating civil servants. With a well-thought-out people’s charter of rights, already in position in some states, it would be possible to enforcing accountability.

When young men and women are selected to the civil services, they are idealistic. Many remain that way. But an honest civil servant is a threat to the system. Similarly, honest politicians are sometimes forced to become corrupt because their party needs money. This is because there is no public funding of elections in India.

So if a civil servant does his job, he is often transferred.

In a democracy, you cannot take away the power of a minister to transfer a civil servant. We can stop this by putting in place a provision: if there is an unusual transfer, the minister will have to write on his file the reasons for transferring him. We can ensure that when a government changes, large-scale transfers don’t take place.

If it happens, then the man at the helm must explain in some detail the reasons for his or her actions which should also be liable to legal or Lokpal scrutiny.

These ideas came to me from some distinguished Indians who spent a considerable time on a committee I chaired on civil service recruitment and training. One of their concerns was that honest officers are often victimised.

When I was a minister, I remember, a lot of my time was spent in trying to clear younger officers who were hounded for their simplicity and honesty.

After the Niira Radia tapes exposed the nexus among business houses, ministers and bureaucrats, I was worried that India could become a banana republic. At a major ‘training’ meeting, I asked for honest comment. When I was a secretary to the government, we knew the officers whose reputation was negative and never sent sensitive files to them.

But such officers comprised only 10% of the total number. Has this percentage gone up nowadays, I asked. The participants did not think so, but it was increasingly becoming difficult for honest officers to look the other way. The Lokpal will also have to find ways to protect these honest officers.

The work of the Lokpal would be far more difficult than nabbing culprits. He will make corruption difficult. For this to work, we must encourage honest opinions, punish offenders and create a firewall to save honest officers.

All this will mean constitutional space for the Lokpal’s functioning.

(Yoginder K Alagh is former minister of power, planning, science and technology. The views expressed by the author are personal)

First Published: Sep 25, 2011 22:55 IST