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