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Empowering Mantralayas

Empowering Mantralayas
The collective sigh of relief at Judge O P Saini’s decision to dismiss charges of corruption against Shyamal Ghosh, Secretary Department of Telecommunications (2000-2002), in the matter of allocation of additional spectrum under the previous NDA Government, was expected and justified. To have damning charges of criminal conspiracy and corruption foisted on a top functionary of the Department,  almost ten years after his retirement to settle political scores is indefensible and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. What comes out of the enquiry that the CBI Director has been ordered to conduct will be the subject of intense scrutiny.  There is a lot at stake.

The crossing of swords on the subject by two highly regarded and eminent politicians, Arun Jaitley and Kapil Sibal, is particularly significant. On social media, the Finance Minister said there was “no doubt” that the CBI had filed a charge-sheet against Shyamal Ghosh and three Telecom firms at the behest of the then Telecom Minister under the erstwhile UPA government in 2011. There was nothing forthcoming in terms of a response from the then Telecom Minister, despite his much-vaunted erudition. It conveyed the whole story rather eloquently. The misuse of CBI by Governments in power is not a secret. However, to see the former Minister cornered and waffle about soaring prices of pulses, in a vain attempt to deflect the ignominy, was worth a watch.

It is this, to my mind, which is the big takeaway for those in Government whose mandate it is to be concerned about matters of governance, its norms, quality and effectiveness. The paramountcy of integrity and ethics as the bedrock of good governance has, by this ruling, again, been reaffirmed as utterly non-negotiable. It should, appropriately, in this context, be framed in terms of what needs to be done at the macro level to insulate competent officers from such outrageous machinations of the political executive. Now that it is squarely in the open, it will not do to limit the response to the specific case of Shyamal Ghosh and what the CBI will do with its tainted flock or their minders, political or otherwise. The buck is, therefore, in the Government’s court, while the CBI does what it must.

So far there has been no talk of addressing this sensitive and complex conundrum as a top priority. What we see are expatiations on neutral themes such as the urgency of going high-tech, fast tracking the decision-making process and speedy project implementation, weeding out of antiquated laws and streamlining of procedures and systems, among others. And surprisingly, in spite of the promise of dismantling the Committee-Raj, which had contributed, in large measure to policy paralysis, many more are being obtrusively constituted like the Empowered Committee for Innovative Collaborations, headed by Arvind Panagariya, Vice Chairman of the NITI Aayog. Is change really in the air? The point being underscored, emerging from the Shyamal Ghosh case, is that a fundamental overhauling of governance structures, systems and overall functioning cannot be pushed aside any longer. The usual cosmetic changes, with some new colours and flavours, will not add up to much.

Here the allusion is not only to the setting up of a Lokpal, better oversight by vigilance mechanisms or more action-oriented audit processes but also to the less debated merits of upholding hard-core administrative professionalism and enabling performance without fear or favour for the greater public good. It may well sound like a tall order, given the circumstances. However, these initiatives have to be given a stronger push than before. They must be open to public scrutiny and accountability.

For one, the government should compel each Cabinet Minister to achieve an agreed set of goals, within a specified time frame, in a transparent manner and not look over his/her shoulder for advice, guidance and convenient cues. Currently, this is the case with many Ministers. For this re-engineering to work well, each Ministry must be invested with greater financial and administrative powers, and it should deliver within broad, prescribed guidelines, equity and excellence in the given sector. And as the Prime Minister often says, there should be a report made public of “Har Pal and Har Pai” by each Minister at regular intervals and not only once in five years.

Further, to inculcate a healthy spirit of competition, an annual  President’s Award may be instituted for cognate groups of Ministries, on parameters to be consensually designed and ensure that this gains traction. If there can be healthy competition amongst States, why should the Ministries be allowed to get by with drift and underperformance?

For a better scenario, many preparatory steps have to be taken. Among the more salient ones would be those linked to re-balancing the Ministries in terms of numbers and functions and assigning them to the most suitable and experienced personnel, with impeccable credentials.  As of now each Ministry is a fort to be jealously—not zealously—guarded, without much contribution by way of real value addition. Synergies would need to be nurtured so that they do not continue to function in silos and often at cross purposes. Investment in capacity building and development of the personnel potential in Government, cutting across services and levels in best global practices has to taken up with an evangelical spirit. Tried and failed concepts like RFD (Result Framework Document of the UPA Govt, for those not in the know) and the ritualised MoUs, signed with much ceremony, by the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) with Central Public Sector Undertakings (CPSUs) should be reconfigured. There should be rethinking on such models for greater and more enduring impact.

It may sound <g data-gr-id="61">utopian</g> but there has been enough of bemoaning the perceived, experienced and real inadequacies and shortcomings of the Sarkari structures and their interstices. We know we are a long way off. However, we must rededicate ourselves to deliver on “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas”. Proclamations, many times over, alone will not make that a reality. And “Badlaav” (change) should begin and be felt, first- hand, at home.  Myopic political considerations can never be allowed to occupy centre-stage. That’s the new-age mantra to be adopted and propagated. Stand –up India. That’s not too unfamiliar!      

 (The author is an independent commentator, academic and former bureaucrat. Views expressed are strictly personal)
Tuktuk Ghosh

Tuktuk Ghosh

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