King­dom of Sloth

The bureau­cracy is in pause mode ever since the 2G and CWG scams. Of­fi­cials would rather

India Today - - INSIDE - By Dhi­raj Nayyar and Shan­tanu Guha Ray

Ever since the 2G and CWG scams, bu­reau­crats would rather put off de­ci­sions than be held re­spon­si­ble.

In the first week of Novem­ber, dur­ing a mid-ca­reer train­ing course for of­fi­cers of the rank of joint sec­re­tary, a guest lec­turer at the Lal Ba­hadur Shas­tri National Academy of Ad­min­is­tra­tion in Mus­soorie, the premier train­ing in­sti­tu­tion for In­dia’s bu­reau­crats, was shocked to note the one point of una­nim­ity among the 25 at­tend­ing of­fi­cers. All of them said they were un­will­ing to take any de­ci­sions on file be­cause of the fear of the Right to In­for­ma­tion ( RTI) Act, 2005. Says the lec­turer who did not wish to be iden­ti­fied, “It seems like the bureau­cracy has gone on strike against Right to In­for­ma­tion.”

Bu­reau­crats have slipped into deep freeze since the rev­e­la­tions of 2G and Com­mon­wealth Games ( CWG) scams, many of which en­tered the pub­lic do­main through RTI. There was a big furore in the bureau­cracy over the po­lit­i­cal han­dling of the now fa­mous fi­nance min­istry note of March 25, 2011, that sum­marised the events that led to the 2G scam. The note, signed by a rel­a­tively ju­nior of­fi­cial, Deputy Di­rec­tor P.G.S. Rao, was re­vealed af­ter an RTI ap­pli­ca­tion. It was widely viewed as point­ing an in­crim­i­nat­ing finger at Home Min­is­ter P. Chi­dambaram. What ag­i­tated bu­reau­crats was the at­tempt of the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment to pass the note off as the opinion of bu­reau­crats alone. Law Min­is­ter Sal­man Khur­shid sin­gled out Rao and said that the note was his “opinion”. Later, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pranab Mukher­jee clar­i­fied that the note, which he had “seen”, also had in­puts from a range of bu­reau­crats across min­istries.

In re­al­ity, bu­reau­crats per­ceive that they are be­ing blamed un­fairly for what is es­sen­tially a po­lit­i­cal war be­tween the Govern­ment’s three se­nior mem­bers: Man­mo­han Singh, Mukher­jee and Chi­dambaram. Se­nior BJP leader and mem­ber of the Joint Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tee look­ing into the 2G scam, Jaswant Singh, says the Govern­ment’s plight is “tragic be­yond be­lief”. He strongly be­lieves the re­spon­si­bil­ity lies with the Prime Min­is­ter. “The Prime Min­is­ter can­not claim ig­no­rance as de­fence. He has ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion.” Singh is scathing about the Prime Min­is­ter’s role in fos­ter­ing divi­sion. “He is pit­ting two of his most se­nior min­is­ters against each other through de­vi­ous machi­na­tions. It is pa­thetic,” says Singh and sums up, “If you com­bine timid­ity and Machi­avel­lian­ism un­der the cloak of good na­ture, you get what you have.”

This in­er­tia in Govern­ment pro­voked even the usu­ally ret­i­cent Wipro chief Azim Premji to tell re­porters in Ban­ga­lore on Novem­ber 4, “If it (ab­sence of de­ci­sion-mak­ing) is left unchecked, it could set back eco­nomic growth.” Premji was fur-

SIPRA Das/­di­a­to­day­im­

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