SPARE THE MESSENGER PLEASE
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.