the buck must stop some­where

It’s easy to blame lapses on ‘sys­tem fail­ure’. What is needed is to fix re­spon­si­bil­ity and hold su­per­vi­sory of­fi­cers re­spon­si­ble

Governance Now - - CONTENTS - Mukul San­wal

It’s easy to blame lapses on sys­tem fail­ure. Su­per­vi­sory of­fi­cers should be made ac­count­able

We are now faced with a sit­u­a­tion in which se­nior of­fi­cials across gov­ern­ment are not do­ing their duty. That role has shifted to the next higher level, the comptroller and au­di­tor gen­eral (cag) and the ju­di­ciary, and that is the real ‘sys­tem fail­ure’.

The state gov­ern­ment of Ut­tar Pradesh has rightly trans­ferred and will charge-sheet the district mag­is­trate of deo­ria for the wrong­do­ings in a shel­ter home. clearly, the chief min­is­ter did not buy the ar­gu­ment of ‘sys­tem fail­ure’, im­ply­ing that the buck does stop with the dm.

The gov­ern­ment of in­dia has be­lat­edly dis­missed the chair­man of the PNB, on the day of re­tire­ment, for fail­ure to ex­er­cise con­trol over the func­tion­ing of the bank, which en­abled the fraud through mis­use of SWIFT at its Brady House branch in mumbai. a clean-up ex­er­cise is not just plug­ging gaps in the sys­tem.

The supreme court has sought to de­fine ‘bona fide’ acts of the armed forces in dis­turbed ar­eas dis­tin­guish­ing a con­flict sit­u­a­tion from rape and cold­blooded mur­der af­ter de­ten­tion and dur­ing searches where there is no im­mi­nent threat to the life of the sol­dier, and the later cover-up by the ‘sys­tem’.

The grow­ing in­ci­dence of mob vi­o­lence in the pres­ence of the police has re­sulted in the ad­vo­cate gen­eral ad­mit­ting be­fore the supreme court that it was dif­fi­cult to stop these in­ci­dents un­less re­spon­si­bil­ity for vi­o­lence and van­dal­ism was fixed on some of­fi­cer.

This sets a prece­dent be­cause the usual re­sponse is to deal with the symp­toms, the pub­lic anger and me­dia at­ten­tion, to defuse the sit­u­a­tion by tak­ing some ac­tion rather than deal with the root causes – lapses on the part of su­per­vi­sory of­fi­cers.

For example, the first riot in ay­o­d­hya took place un­der colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tion and the district mag­is­trate was not just trans­ferred but got no fur­ther pro­mo­tion, be­cause trans­fer is no pun­ish­ment. lal Ba­hadur Shastri re­signed as rail­ways min­is­ter tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for a ma­jor train ac­ci­dent.

‘Sys­tem fail­ure’, or fo­cus on process rather than out­comes, comes in many forms and a few are listed be­low to show how per­va­sive it is across gov­ern­ment. it af­fects all sec­tors and lev­els, as well as of­fi­cials and politi­cians.

The ac­tiv­i­ties in the shel­ter home in deo­ria have been widely re­ported and pro­vide an in­ter­est­ing case study where or­ders from a higher level were sys­tem­at­i­cally ig­nored by the lower level.

on July 28, the women and child wel­fare de­part­ment of Ut­tar Pradesh or­dered the district mag­is­trate to shift res­i­dents of the shel­ter home as it had been run­ning il­le­gally. on July 31, when a team led by the district pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer went there, they could not en­ter the home. an Fir was lodged but no fur­ther ac­tion was taken un­til a 10-year-old man­aged to es­cape from it. The women and child wel­fare min­is­ter rightly charged the district mag­is­trate with dere­lic­tion of duty, as he had been there for the past one year and a num­ber of let­ters, in­clud­ing by the prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary, were sent yet the cen­tre con­tin­ued to op­er­ate.

at the level of the district, de­spite the dm writ­ing to the su­per­in­ten­dent of police not to send girls there, the prac­tice con­tin­ued. The SP in turn

The state gov­ern­ment of Ut­tar Pradesh has rightly trans­ferred and will charge-sheet the district mag­is­trate of Deo­ria for the wrong­do­ings in a shel­ter home. Clearly, the chief min­is­ter did not buy the ar­gu­ment of ‘sys­tem fail­ure’, im­ply­ing that the buck does stop with the DM.

is­sued di­rec­tives to the police sta­tions which were ig­nored. The man­ager of the home has claimed that af­ter the ngo was black­listed, 450 girls were sent to the home. The district child wel­fare com­mit­tee re­port­edly sent eight let­ters to the dm and SP. in this case the cbi was also called to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of funds worth crores meant for a crèche run by the same man­agers to cater to women labour­ers. Even more shock­ing is the re­port in The Hindu, with a se­nior police of­fi­cer claim­ing that af­ter los­ing recog­ni­tion “the shel­ter home did not be­come il­le­gal; it only meant that its va­lid­ity had been sus­pended”. an in­quiry into lapses by the police has been or­dered at the adg-level.

The ‘chalta hai’ at­ti­tude of ig­nor­ing or­ders extends even to the army. as re­ported in the press, the pre­vi­ous army chief, when he vis­ited Uri to as­sess the at­tack on the Uri Brigade, in 2016, no­ticed im­mac­u­lately man­i­cured grass at the golf course as com­pared to the wild fo­liage else­where in the camp that had pro­vided cover to the in­fil­trat­ing ter­ror­ists, and or­dered that golf would not be al­lowed at army posts in the Val­ley. a year later, the cur­rent army chief, wait­ing for bod­ies of fallen sol­diers at Badami Bagh corp head­quar­ters no­ticed cad­dies at the ad­ja­cent golf course, where golf­ing was to be­gin once the chief left. The lo­cal com­man­der’s ex­pla­na­tion was that he thought the or­der was only for Uri. golf cour­ses in op­er­a­tional ar­eas have now been con­verted to run­ning tracks with open gyms. The dif­fer­ences in the re­quire­ments of op­er­a­tional field ar­eas and peace­time sta­tions are self-ev­i­dent.

The ni­rav modi scam in PNB was also de­scribed as ‘sys­tem fail­ure’ when su­per­vi­sory of­fi­cers did not do their job. now the in­dian Banks’ as­so­ci­a­tion (iba) has con­demned the spate of charge-sheets and ar­rests of bankers by in­ves­tiga­tive agen­cies and called for bankers to be de­fended at the cost of the bank. This would make the al­leged acts as hav­ing be­ing un­der­taken in the pub­lic in­ter­est, fur­ther broad­en­ing the def­i­ni­tion of ‘sys­tem fail­ure’ to in­clude crim­i­nal acts.

The cag has been con­strained to point out that the scope of mod­erni­sa­tion of rail­ways sta­tions should be widened from re­de­vel­op­ment of the façade to in­clude the con­struc­tion of ad­di­tional plat­forms and mak­ing new tracks so that trains do not get late. The ef­fi­ciency of rail­ways is mea­sured by trains run­ning on time. de­lay is ex­plained by ‘sys­tem fail­ure’ be­cause of the in­creased num­ber of trains and main­te­nance work, but sim­ple op­er­a­tional mat­ters are ig­nored at the level of di­vi­sional rail­way mangers, who want the sta­tus of a sec­re­tary to gov­ern­ment, with the sup­port of the min­istry.

Sim­i­larly, the ju­di­ciary has stepped in to or­der a probe into the work­ing of the foren­sic sci­ence lab­o­ra­tory in delhi. in­ter­est­ingly enough, an in­quiry into sim­i­lar cases con­cern­ing rape, where FSL staffers have been ac­cused of pre­par­ing false re­ports, was or­dered in 2016. The blame will be put on the large num­ber of cases, or ‘sys­tem fail­ure’, and not re­peated fail­ure on the part of su­per­vi­sory of­fi­cers.

The chief min­is­ter of Bi­har, who has vastly im­proved ad­min­is­tra­tion of the state, char­ac­terised the wrong­do­ings in the shel­ter home in muzaf­farpur due to “flaws in the sys­tem” and has asked the of­fi­cers to check those flaws, adding that “only gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees will be in­volved in run­ning shel­ter homes for hav­ing bet­ter con­trol.” He is silent on fix­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity of su­per­vi­sory of­fi­cers with ex­em­plary pun­ish­ment for the lapses. Was one of the most ef­fi­cient chief ministers il­lad­vised, con­strained by politics or just de­fus­ing a sit­u­a­tion?

Ashish asthana

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