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Bureaucrats should not be punished in retrospect for decisions

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The recent conviction of the Ex. Coal Secretary Mr. H.C. Gupta in the coal allotment case sent shock waves among the bureaucrats across the country. 

According to the newspaper reports many of Mr. Gupta’s ex. colleagues vouch for his integrity, honesty, simplicity, and uprightness. They are of the firm opinion that if an officer of such an impeccable character and conduct can be convicted, the fate of officials with lesser integrity can’t be imagined. But unfortunately, such corrupt officials get scot-free by covering their tracks well.

Mr. Gupta’s statement that he would rather go to jail than appeal against the decision as he has no money to fight the cases is a testimony to his honesty and uprightness. If Mr. Gupta was corrupt, he would have fought his conviction tooth and nail by engaging the best legal luminaries with the wealth amassed by him through corrupt means.

In 2020 during the virtual inauguration of the office building of NHAI in New Delhi Mr. Nitin Gadkari, the minister for Road Transport and Highways commented that instead of being happy to inaugurate the office building he was ashamed that it took 9 full years to complete just a building. A very brave and candid statement indeed!

To quote him  “The decision to construct the building was taken in 2008. The tender was awarded in 2011 and the project worth Rs 200-250 crore has been completed today, after nine years. In the meanwhile, two governments and eight chairmen have changed. This project was delayed only due to indecision of officials.”

The above statement is a sad reflection of the complete  paralysis in the decision making in all the ministries of the Government and the Public Sector Undertakings which fall under the investigation of various enforcement agencies like Vigilance, CBI,ED etc.

Even though the rules clearly state that a clear distinction to be drawn between a bonafide mistake and a malafide intention, unfortunately,  decisions are always viewed with suspicion and with malafide intentions making investigations abinitio biased against the official.

The cases are generally investigated by the agencies after a lapse of several years. By the time the circumstances under which decisions are taken would have changed drastically. It becomes very tough for the official to recall and justify the decisions after several years. Many of them would have even retired and gone into oblivion.

Hence, the current trend among the bureaucrats is to look for a safe passage to protect their jobs and enjoy a steady pension post retirement without taking any decisions

Why somebody would want to be hounded by the enforcement agencies for bonafide decisions taken decades ago which have gone wrong due to various factors beyond anyone’s control? 

The Government should encourage decision making, assure and protect the officers from bonafide errors. For this the investigations must be unbiased and objective. Conviction rates shall not be the parameter for performance of the officer. Instead, the report should highlight the lapses and their avoidance in future. It is not necessary that accountability must be fixed in every case referred to the investigative agencies.

The Government should demonstrate this in a very effective way to win the trust of the bureaucracy. Else decision making would take the biggest hit and the governance would be paralyzed.

Also read: SubscriberWrites: ‘Democracy 2.0’ — A new definition of democracy is needed in changing times

These pieces are being published as they have been received – they have not been edited/fact-checked by ThePrint.

Source: The Print

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