SPARE THE MES­SEN­GER PLEASE

India Today - - UPFRONT - EAS Sarma is for­mer fi­nance and power sec­re­tary

The Parakh af­fair has also brought to fo­cus the PMO’s dom­i­neer­ing role in de­ci­sion mak­ing at the Cen­tre and its pos­si­ble ad­verse im­pli­ca­tions.

Aday af­ter Ku­mar Man­galam Birla and he were ac­cused of crim­i­nal con­spir­acy by the in­ves­ti­gat­ing agency in the Coalgate scam, for­mer coal sec­re­tary P.C. Parakh said, “The PM cleared the de­ci­sion... He is the fi­nal de­ci­sion maker.” While re­it­er­at­ing that the rec­om­men­da­tion he had made in the spe­cific case and the de­ci­sion taken by the PM were be­yond re­proach, Parakh wanted to know why he should be sin­gled out and why the PM, who was the coal min­is­ter then, should be left out of the ac­cu­sa­tion.

While it may not be ap­pro­pri­ate for any­one to pre­judge the is­sues in an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion mon­i­tored by the court, the ques­tion posed by Parakh is such that any­one with some com­mon sense can­not re­main pas­sive and ig­nore it. Parakh’s poser has as­sumed par­tic­u­lar im­por­tance since he had a long un­blem­ished of­fi­cial ca­reer and was known as a com­pe­tent and up­right of­fi­cer. It was he who first ques­tioned the non-trans­par­ent first come, first served ap­proach for al­lo­ca­tion of coal blocks, that was man­dated by the Mines and Min­er­als (De­vel­op­ment & Reg­u­la­tion) Act at that time and made a ve­he­ment ef­fort, against all odds, to in­tro­duce a more trans­par­ent auc­tion sys­tem for se­lect­ing pri­vate de­vel­op­ers.

Parakh’s pri­mary con­tention is that the ac­cu­sa­tion made against him had no ba­sis what­so­ever, as the rec­om­men­da­tion he had made to the PM and the de­ci­sion fi­nally taken by the PM were based on merit alone, not on any ex­tra­ne­ous con­sid­er­a­tion. How­ever, if there is an ac­cu­sa­tion of con­spir­acy against him, should it slso not be against the PM who ap­proved his pro­posal? There can­not be any­thing more rea­son­able than what Parakh has said.

What ran­kles the pub­lic mind is that patently dis­hon­est politi­cians should be promptly given “clean chits” in cor­rup­tion cases while the smaller fry in­volved are sub­ject to un­end­ing ha­rass­ment. It is still fresh in pub­lic mem­ory how a min­is­ter, in whose house ne­far­i­ous deal­ings of his own min­istry took place, was re­cently given a “clean chit” by the in­ves­ti­gat­ing agency at a break-neck speed, while the other per­sons in­volved were booked with­out any re­morse. Two se­nior po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who are cer­tainly not the bea­cons of pro­bity in pub­lic life were sum­mar­ily de­clared “in­no­cent” at a time when the rul­ing party was per­haps anx­ious to forge po­lit­i­cal al­liances with them. Even if we have the most im­par­tial agency in­ves­ti­gat­ing a case, such de­vel­op­ments erode its cred­i­bil­ity in the eye of the pub­lic.

The fore­most con­cern that comes to one’s mind in the Parakh mat­ter is that no dis­tinc­tion is sought to be made be­tween a bona fide de­ci­sion taken in good faith and a malafide one in­volv­ing quid pro quos. Our vig­i­lance agen­cies have no sys­tem of rat­ing the of­fi­cers in terms of their re­spec­tive track records and in­su­lat­ing hon­est of­fi­cers from friv­o­lous ac­cu­sa­tions against de­ci­sions taken in good faith. In­dis­crim­i­nate ac­cu­sa­tions against hon­est of­fi­cers will cer­tainly dam­age gov­er­nance and kill well-in­ten­tioned ini­tia­tives.

The laws and reg­u­la­tions we have in the coun­try are com­plex and there can be dif­fer­ences in the way they are in­ter­preted by in­di­vid­ual of­fi­cers. Ques­tion­ing the in­ter­pre­ta­tion and at­tribut­ing crim­i­nal­ity to it is cer­tainly not some­thing that an in­ves­ti­gat­ing agency should do. In­stead of at­tribut­ing dis­hon­esty to in­di­vid­u­als in such cases, a pro­fes­sional in­ves­ti­gat­ing agency should di­rect its at­ten­tion to the com­plex­i­ties of the reg­u­la­tions and pro­pose sim­pli­fi­ca­tion. The sug­ges­tions made on this to the Cen­tral Vig­i­lance Com­mis­sion ( CVC) in the past have not elicited any re­sponse.

The Parakh af­fair has also brought to fo­cus the PMO’s dom­i­neer­ing role in de­ci­sion mak­ing at the Cen­tre and its pos­si­ble ad­verse im­pli­ca­tions. In al­most all im­por­tant mat­ters, the PMO is known to in­ter­fere in the work­ing of the in­di­vid­ual min­istries and to or­ches­trate de­ci­sion mak­ing, some­times un­der pres­sure from cor­po­rate houses. I re­quested the CVC in June last year that it should in­ves­ti­gate PMO’s role in Coalgate and a few other scams. I re­minded CVC twice, with­out any vis­i­ble re­sponse. There can­not be dou­ble stan­dards in in­ves­ti­ga­tions, one for the PMO and the min­is­ters, and another for the rest.

This case has also raised the is­sue of an in­ves­ti­gat­ing agency like CBI hav­ing the ca­pac­ity to act in­de­pen­dently. The apex court was re­ported to have de­scribed the CBI as a “caged par­rot” and sug­gested that the Gov­ern­ment should em­power it to act un­in­flu­enced. Ac­cord­ing to press re­ports, the Cen­tre seemed to have in­formed the apex court that the CBI wanted only a lim­ited func­tional au­ton­omy. Ob­vi­ously, the Gov­ern­ment is hes­i­tant to loosen its grip over the in­ves­ti­gat­ing agency for rea­sons best known to it. Merely em­pow­er­ing CBI with­out equip­ping it with pro­fes­sional ca­pa­bil­i­ties may not yield the de­sired out­comes.

The Coalgate probe has di­verted the at­ten­tion of the coun­try from the larger is­sues of coal de­vel­op­ment to triv­i­al­i­ties re­volv­ing around cor­rup­tion, of­ten de­gen­er­at­ing into tech­ni­cal­i­ties that lack sub­stance. It is high time that we come out of the Coalgate con­fu­sion and fo­cus on the more sub­stan­tive is­sues.

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SAU­RABH SINGH/

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