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Punish the corrupt but protect the honest

The Anna Hazare team has rejected the official  Lokpal  Bill, for good reasons. But in its anxiety about the corrupt neta and babus (leaders & bureaucrats), it has completely forgotten the plight of the honest public servants at the hands of the crooked politicians and serving or retired bureaucrats and members of the staff. Only those who possess no first- hand experience of the crooked ways of these dirty lobbies would tend to underestimate the damaging power of such elements. The law says that every person is innocent till proved guilty. Service rules also provide for protection to the serving employees of the government. It is not as if no action is taken on complaints of corruption against serving government servants. Immediately on receipt of a complaint, investigations start. There is an elaborate procedure to do that. The charged officer also gets full opportunity to defend himself. Penalties are imposed. The official to be penalized gets opportunity for appeal. After exhausting all these channels, the erring official gets penalized. The complaint of the public is regarding delays taking place in imposition of penalties. If the government accelerates the process, this complaint will go. That is the case of a delinquent public servant. But there are a large number of motivated, mischievous, baseless and frivolous complaints against those public servants, who refuse to act against the law and public interest. It is these public servants who are sought to be “fixed” by the really crooked netas and babus.

Under the existing government orders, complaints carrying details of the complainant are immediately taken on record. Complaints made by Members of Parliament are first checked with them for veracity, as in a number of instances the members of parliament have disowned the letter of complaint. In all other cases, departmental vigilance wing starts inquiring about the complaint and initiate action according to the rules.

 

Serious complaints attract severe punishment and are processed for imposition of “major penalty”. A major penalty may be dismissal, removal, reduction in rank and recovery of financial loss caused to the exchequer from the guilty public servant. In fact, a government servant can be booked in corruption cases even after retirement, if action is initiated within 4 years of retirement. The procedure is so stout that the penalized public servant fails to get any reprieve even from the courts of law. Moreover, in scams like the Bofors, 2 G, CWG etc, even those retired long ago can be brought to book for genuine acts of omission or commission on their  part. In other cases of delinquency, “minor” penalties are imposed. Finally, a blot on the career of a public servant hangs like the albatross round his/her neck for the whole life. There is decided loss of happiness due to harm caused to the career and reputation. What has angered the public in the last 7 years is the “reward” and not harm to the corrupt/delinquent public servant, even though his/her reputation has drastically gone down. This has created a perception in the public mind,that the corrupt are never punished. That is the reason they have proposed the Jan Lokpal Bill to set up an omnipotent institution of an Ombudsman to punish the corrupt. They want the Lokpal to initiate criminal proceedings straightaway against the complained public servant. It is fine so long as the complaint is genuine and against a corrupt person. But there is more to it than meets the eye.

 

A large number of complaints are baseless, false, motivated and frivolous. Generally these complaints are against an honest public servant for rendering honest service .Presently there is no law to provide any assistance or damages to the public servant sought to be fixed by vested interests. The absence of any such law to protect the honour, dignity, reputation and prospects of an honest government servant has given a fillip to the crooks to indulge freely and nonchalantly in vilification campaigns against the targeted officer. Under the law of torts, any attempt to malign the reputation of a person by way of scandal, innuendo, libel etc can be punished with unspecified damages, to set right the wrong and bring the scandalmonger to book. Unfortunately, the honest government servant has no such remedy available to him. The onslaught on such a public servant is simply intimidating. Worse when it is made on an official letter head of a member of parliament or state assembly. The public servant is so dispirited that he runs away. He is transferred frequently at the behest of the crooks and made to give his lengthy explanation on each letter. The latest case of the investigating officer of the Directorate of Enforcement investigating the black money in foreign banks case being bombarded with more than 40 letters of complaints is a classic example of the power of the crooks. He has requested to be relieved of his duties! Because some of the really dangerous and influential persons are involved in the black money case. The story does not end here. The honest public servant gets threats (as the heads of governments have also started getting from terror groups after 9/11). These threats can be converted into action any time anywhere. The family suffers the consequences. In fact, even the family is not spared. He is also dragged to the court on flimsy grounds, where he has to defend himself at his own cost. Is that the cost for rendering honest public service?

 

It was for this reason,that the vigilance machinery in the country ordered that no action need be taken on complaints without name and address of the complainant. These are called anonymous complaints. Even though the rules mandate to ignore anonymous complaints, they are not thrown into the waste paper basket. Each such complaint is also considered and if it justifies inquiry, action is taken. Many such complaints are made with the avowed purpose of stalling the appointment of the officer to some higher position such  as  Joint Secretary, Secretary, Director General, Chairman cum Managing Director or similar higher positions. The complainant’s interest lies in damaging the prospects of the officer complained against and promote the interests of the person he is interested in. A complaint has the immediate effect of withholding the promotion or appointment of the officer complained against as vigilance clearance is not issued till the results of the inquiry become available. The meanest part of such complaints is considerations of caste, creed, region, language, gender etc. If such an officer is booked on the basis of a false or frivolous complaint by the Lokpal, it will cause irreparable damage to the interests of the person. There is no denial that the honest public servant has no godfather. The tragedy is he has to work in extremely difficult situations where his boss is disgustingly corrupt, who has corrupted his lower ranks and getting work from subordinates patronized by the corrupt boss is no easy task. The honest public servant derives strength from the law in such trying circumstances and is motivated by his courage of conviction and honesty. Treating the honest and the corrupt similarly by the Lokpal will do more injustice to the people.  Registration of FIR (first information report) and criminal proceedings indiscriminately by the Lokpal is fraught with dangers. Has the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) not been charged with selective investigation and  false cases ? Will the CBI under the Lokpal suddenly become a paragon of ethical values?  A government that has compromised honesty to such an extent that it’s Home Minister acknowledges publicly governance and ethics deficit, will sacrifice easily the honest public servants only to dole out statistics for fooling the people. Who will take up public service jobs if the price is to lose reputation and also pay hefty fines? What guarantees protection to the honest? In our justified anger, are we not sacrificing the miniscule of honest public servants? No Lokpal can ever become an alternative to a government as by law established, which upholds the Rule of Law. The public is frustrated because of total absence of such a government. The drafting Committee of the Jan Lokpal Bill needs to give profound thought to this issue. Corruption in India is born not out of absence of laws but non implementation of the laws! What more explains it than the indiscriminate use of the red/blue beckon lights on cars by all kinds of non entitled persons and authorities of the Government?  How many MPs wrote to the Prime Minister to influence him in deciding the spectrum allocation for 2 G licence applicants? Media reports have put it at 80 !  Are such lobbies to be reined in or un-reigned?

I will deal with other aspects in my next post.

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