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Bureaucracy’s ‘oral’ problems

The Supreme Court order saying that IAS officers should not take verbal orders from their political bosses and should have fixed tenures to prevent them from undue political influence and insulate the bureaucracy from rampant victimisation is a landmark judgement. Not only does it put the spotlight on the source of corruption, the oral exchange of orders between politicians and government functionaries, which, because of its unwritten nature cannot be corroborated, therefore leading to much of the dishonesty in the dealings, but, the order also attempts to put a technical full stop to the cavalier nature of functioning within the government machinery. Evidently, the judgement tries to reinforce the code of law that ensures that all orders are taken and given in a strictly textual format, thereby keeping healthy records of the transactions to free them from unscrupulous manipulations by either the political figureheads or bureaucratic officials. Not only does this reiterate the constitutional and legal framework within which the bureaucrats and legislators must function, this also drives home the point that maintaining proper records and files of every project and official transaction is mandatory, and therefore any tampering with the protocols is punishable under the eyes of law. The SC order, given by a bench headed by Justice KS Radhakrishnan, emphasised ‘professionalism, efficiency and good governance’, and having a law that strictly forbids oral transactions amongst the government functionaries is not only a welcome development, but is also a much-needed verdict that could potentially cleanse the legislative and executive bodies of the systemic rot infesting it from within.

Moreover, the other aspect of the judgement that seeks to fix the tenure of a serving IAS officer and protect him/her from frequent punishment transfers in case of lack of malevolent complicity on the part of the honest bureaucrat, is also a crucial step towards ensuring a smoother and surer way of functioning. Although of late, the bureaucracy had been under attack from the political fraternity for standing up for the right cause, the cases in point include those of Durga Shakti Nagpal, Ashok Khemka, among others, it is also a fact that even the executive cannot be exempted from the structural corruption of which the latter is an integral part. Hence, even though the apex court verdict comes as a huge relief from those beleaguered officers at the wrong end of the governmental machinery, it might not be enough to completely wipe out fraudulence from the administrative bodies. Hence, although the SC’s premise that the written orders and fixed tenures make the Right to Information bolder and bring in a culture of transparency within the state apparatus, those alone are simply not enough to consolidate a truly open, effective and efficient working system. Certainly, the apex court’s advice that Parliament enacts a law to regulate postings, transfers and disciplinary action against bureaucrats comes in good stead, since that should work in favour of the executive sector insulating it from unjust political interference. However, to usher in an apparatus of truly dedicated public officials, we need to look beyond the myopic demands of here and now.
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