8:42 pm - Wednesday November 4, 2015

Nowhere to hide for corrupt Babus: Why we must thank the SC

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Corruption thrives where there is no fear of the law, and there is sanction and encouragement from above. This is what has been happening in Bharat for several decades, and no one who can check this rot has had the will or desire to arrest this permissiveness that has made us the laughing stock of the civilized world. It is perhaps the only country on earth where public servant corruption starts at one’s birth and ends only at death. Here is where one has to grease the palm of the public servant for getting a birth certificate as well as a death certificate.

If a Revenue Inspector demands money for doing the routine thing (such as issue of a ‘patta’ which legalizes an individual’s ownership of land acquired him by lawful means) it is because the Revenue Minister expects a monthly payment to be passed on to his mentor in the political hierarchy. The same thing is true of sanction for building a house or an apartment or registering its sale. What to speak of the police. I have heard of instances of an Inspector demanding a bribe to expedite post mortem of a road accident victim’s father, and another asking for money to permit the funeral of a lady who had died at the hospital after being under treatment for burns for several days following a clear accident in her kitchen. This is the obnoxious state of affairs in a country which we are supposed to love and adore. Only in the name of a vague concept which goes by the name ‘patriotism’. With what face can we ask our children abroad to come back and serve our motherland? It is against the above backdrop that the Supreme Court’s ruling this morning comes as a whiff of fresh air. The Constitutional Bench headed by our brand new Chief Justice of India, Honourable Mr Lodha, has been both wise and savage in putting an end to more than a decade-long privilege enjoyed by senior civil servants at the Centre, of the rank of and above Joint Secretary, whereby the CBI cannot even do a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) against them. The Court ruled categorically that this so-called Single Directive (euphemism for fearless corruption) was not tenable, solely on the ground that it discriminates between classes of civil servants. Within the Union bureaucracy it creates a privileged class. More than this, similarly placed officers in the State governments did not enjoy this kind of immunity. The whole matter was examined during the hearing of a PIL filed by the redoubtable Subramanian Swamy (whose guts I admire most) and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation. This is a shot in the arm for the crusade against public servant corruption which has been burgeoning by the day instead of diminishing against stern judicial sentences and the growing public protest in the form of the rise of Aam Admi Party and similar movements. A main argument against the Single Directive is the shelter it gives to senior officers, whereby they are helped to buy time against inquiries into their known acts of corruption. Very often these individuals act as conduits to enable their Ministers to make enormous money, through convenient and dishonest notings on file. There are instances of their receiving money directly from those favoured and passing it on to their Ministers after keeping a cut. Under the Single Directive, the CBI was required to reduce whatever information it had into writing and request the Ministry concerned to permit it to go ahead with a PE into the matter. There are two obvious flaws here. By sending a report to the Ministry, the confidentiality of the enquiry is lost, and there is enough time for the dishonest civil servant to cover up his or her tracks. No such report can obviously remain a secret, because no Secretary would like to let down an official working under him or her, unless the misdemeanor is too grave to be suppressed. Secondly, and most importantly, how will a corrupt Minister keep off from the vital decision making process in giving the CBI an unfettered hand in dealing with the act of dishonesty? Instances are replete where, in the recent past, at least three Union Ministers in three ‘lucrative’ Ministries, had come to adverse notice.

The public perception is that one of the two had been unfairly let off due to political pressure, and in the third, untenable grounds are being cited to facilitate a reprieve. In such cases, where there is a dishonest Minister who had lined his pockets, how can you expect him to hand over his loyal deputy to the CBI? This alone is sufficient ground to strike down the infamous directive, and the Apex Court has done the right thing. We must compliment it for the sagacity it has shown here. The oppressed common man will welcome it wholeheartedly. One oft-heard justification for the rule was that an untrammeled and mindless CBI was likely to play with good reputations. This was a genuine concern. With the departure of the Single Directive, the responsibility of the CBI Director grows in ensuring that no flimsy PE is initiated against an honest civil servant who had been a victim of circumstances and had no courage to speak against a dishonest colleague or a powerful Minister. It is for the CBI to build an internal mechanism that provides for a clinical examination of all facts before arriving at a decision to launch a PE. This contemplates a collective decision by a core group within the organization which cannot be approached by those elements in the dock. I personally feel that a decision cannot be the prerogative of the Director alone. A group decision is always more credible than that of an individual. This will be distasteful to the current top brass of the organization. But this is the only way the rest of the world can become convinced that the CBI is an impartial and honest outfit that fears only the law and no one else.

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