INDIA – Kingdom of Sloth – Jittery over Right to Information Act, babus slip into deep freeze [National Securty Guard to receive tasers] (2011-11-12)

Published on November 12 2011 by admin

[[SUMMARY /COMMENTS: This is a long article covering issues.of which only one paragraph is relevant to tasers:  the National Security Guard responsible for anti-terrorism but also active in the Kashmir, where rioting is frequent.  is to receive new tasers … The paragraph is immediately below, the whole article underneath.]]

(New Delhi) India Today, by Dhiraj Nayyar and Shantanu Guha Ray

Inertia has hit decision-making in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) as well. Procurements worth Rs. 100 crore are stuck for several months. These include new weapons and equipment for the National Security Guard, assault rifles and bulletproof jackets for paramilitary forces, Taser guns and even a derelict aircraft meant to be used for mock drills by anti-hijack squads. The reason? An overcautious financial adviser. An MHA bureaucrat says files relating to procurements are sent back with observations. An official’s chief desire seems to be to postpone a decision beyond his tenure so he won’t be held responsible

 http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/2g-cwg-scams-bureaucracy-is-in-pause-mode/1/159576.html

 Complete text:

In the first week of November, during a mid-career training course for officers of the rank of joint secretary, a guest lecturer at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, the premier training institution for India’s bureaucrats, was shocked to note the one point of unanimity among the 25 attending officers. All of them said they were unwilling to take any decisions on file because of the fear of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. Says the lecturer who did not wish to be identified, “It seems like the bureaucracy has gone on strike against Right to Information.”

Bureaucrats have slipped into deep freeze since the revelations of 2G and Commonwealth Games (CWG) scams, many of which entered the public domain through RTI. There was a big furore in the bureaucracy over the political handling of the now famous finance ministry note of March 25, 2011, that summarised the events that led to the 2G scam. The note, signed by a relatively junior official, Deputy Director P.G.S. Rao, was revealed after an RTI application. It was widely viewed as pointing an incriminating finger at Home Minister P. Chidambaram. What agitated bureaucrats was the attempt of the political establishment to pass the note off as the opinion of bureaucrats alone. Law Minister Salman Khurshid singled out Rao and said that the note was his “opinion”. Later, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee clarified that the note, which he had “seen”, also had inputs from a range of bureaucrats across ministries.

In reality, bureaucrats perceive that they are being blamed unfairly for what is essentially a political war between the Government’s three senior members: Manmohan Singh, Mukherjee and Chidambaram. Senior bjp leader and member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee looking into the 2G scam, Jaswant Singh, says the Government’s plight is “tragic beyond belief”. He strongly believes the responsibility lies with the Prime Minister. “The Prime Minister cannot claim ignorance as defence. He has access to information.” Singh is scathing about the Prime Minister’s role in fostering division. “He is pitting two of his most senior ministers against each other through devious machinations. It is pathetic,” says Singh and sums up, “If you combine timidity and Machiavellianism under the cloak of good nature, you get what you have.”

This inertia in Government provoked even the usually reticent Wipro chief Azim Premji to tell reporters in Bangalore on November 4, “If it (absence of decision-making) is left unchecked, it could set back economic growth.” Premji was further frustrated by the suspicion that inertia now extends to the Prime Minister. He was among several eminent citizens who wrote to the Prime Minister in mid-October about governance deficit. Government is silent even on social welfare projects. Premji got no response from the Ministry of Human Resource Development on his pet plan to set up 1,300 schools across India. He had asked the Government six months ago to identify districts which needed schools the most, and also assist with tying up with the appropriate Central or state board of education.

He is not alone. Mukesh Ambani is probably India’s most powerful businessman. He has received no response from the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH), an organisation that works under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, to a request from Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) to increase capital expenditure on the D-6 gas fields in the Krishna-Godavari basin, off the Andhra Pradesh coast. No reasons are given for stoic indifference. The file, says a DGH insider, moved like a “ping-pong ball” between the directorate and the ministry since no one wanted to take a call because of the adverse observations by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India about RIL’s expenditure in developing the gas fields.

The Reliance case is not an isolated one. Highly placed officials in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas told india today that this lack of decision-taking was impacting a host of other hydrocarbon projects across India. The nation’s oil bill is estimated at $70 billion for the first six months of 2011, but reluctant bureaucrats in the ministry have refused to give clearances to Vedanta-owned Cairn Energy to produce 1,00,000 barrels of oil a day from the Mangla oil field in Rajasthan’s Barmer district. “Indians may be immune to such a lackadaisical attitude but the hydrocarbon giants see this as a genuine crisis of governance,” says Narendra Taneja, one of the country’s foremost energy experts.

A Rs. 50,000-crore order for six submarines, among India’s largest defence deals, has not moved in the defence ministry. “The file has been stuck in the office of secretary, defence production, for the past six months, and officials are intimidated by the size of the order,” says a senior shipyard official. The navy says it is desperate for more submarines. The last undersea combat vessel was inducted over a decade ago. Six new French-designed Scorpene submarines being built at Mazagon Docks are running five years behind schedule.

Inertia has hit decision-making in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) as well. Procurements worth Rs. 100 crore are stuck for several months. These include new weapons and equipment for the National Security Guard, assault rifles and bulletproof jackets for paramilitary forces, Taser guns and even a derelict aircraft meant to be used for mock drills by anti-hijack squads. The reason? An overcautious financial adviser. An MHA bureaucrat says files relating to procurements are sent back with observations. An official’s chief desire seems to be to postpone a decision beyond his tenure so he won’t be held responsible.

Consider the case of state-owned Shipping Corporation of India (SCI). It recently halved its fleet acquisition plans because bureaucrats in the shipping ministry found them “totally unviable” but refused to explain why. As a result, SCI will now order only 10 of the 26 vessels it planned to acquire by the end of the current fiscal year. But what the bureaucrats overlooked is a stark reality: Two years ago Indian ships carried nearly 60 per cent of country’s exports and imports. In 2011, they carried only 8 per cent.

The paralysis seems to have also struck a most unlikely ministry, the Ministry of External Affairs. Routine ambassadorial appointments are being delayed. India does not have a high commissioner in London since the last incumbent, Nalin Surie, retired in August.

Key appointments in other ministries have also been delayed or stalled. The health ministry did not have a secretary between September 1 and October 18. The ministry was missing its top bureaucrat even as it grappled ineffectively with the outbreak of Japanese encephalitis in eastern Uttar Pradesh, an epidemic that had already claimed 450 lives. The Department of Information Technology has been without a full-time secretary for over a year. Telecom Secretary Rentala Chandrasekhar, already overworked with defusing the fallout of the 2G scam, has been holding additional charge. In July, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet handed additional charge of Youth Affairs to Sports Secretary Sindhushree Khullar for three months. She continues to hold the charge.

Two of the most crucial institutions under Kapil Sibal’s Ministry of Human Resource Development have been headless for more than eight months. The University Grants Commission is functioning with an officiating chairman since February 6, when Sukhadeo Thorat’s term ended. The commission’s Vice-Chairman Ved Prakash has been the officiating chairman with the search committee unable to find an appropriate candidate. The National Council for Educational Research and Training (ncert) too has gone without a director for eight months.

The industry ministry under Anand Sharma has failed to push ahead with fdi in retail. The national manufacturing policy was announced after a two-year delay in October and contained no radical suggestions. The environment ministry has not overcome its ‘no-go’ mode despite getting a new minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, in July. The urban development ministry, headed by Kamal Nath since January, has refused to take a final decision on the regularisation of colonies in various cities for over two years. Praful Patel took over as heavy industries minister at the same time as Nath. He began his tenure by urging bureaucrats to ensure a speedy sale of seven loss-making units of the state-owned Cement Corporation of India. The deal will fetch the Government a little over Rs. 600 crore but bureaucrats have not taken a final call on the bidders that include Grasim and Dalmia Cements. “No bureaucrat wants to be questioned for anything he does. They are extremely cautious, extremely careful,” says economist Subhashis Gangopadhyay, managing trustee of the India Development Foundation, a think-tank.

Noted activist Aruna Roy plays down the argument that RTI will deter bureaucrats from taking decisions. “In a democracy, the public has the right to know the basis of decisions once made by the Government; file notings are an important tool in the hands of the public to understand the decision-making process in the Government. Recent revelations may have led to embarrassment for the Government but that has nothing to do with RTI,” she says.

Political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan believes that it has become very easy for ministers and bureaucrats to play safe, thanks to the 2G scam and the cag probes. “Look at the downside of this. There is no work happening. A host of crucial national issues remain ignored, the most galling being food inflation that now stands at 18 per cent compared to last year. Someone needs to act.” says Rangarajan.

India Inc is seriously concerned about the absence of decision-making. Says Rajiv Kumar, secretary general of apex industry body FICCI, “Decision-making has slowed down considerably. It’s having a negative effect on the investment environment.” He adds, “Industry is worried about the uncertainty that is being created. It doesn’t know which way policy will go in the future.” That is bad news for economic growth which has already fallen from a high of 9.4 per cent at the beginning of 2010 to 7.7 per cent in mid-2011. Unfortunately, the list of delays in decision-making is just getting longer by the day.

Says Jaswant Singh, “There is no political leadership. To place a bureaucrat in the office of the Prime Minister was an error of profound dimension.” Manmohan, says Jaswant, is part of the problem, not the solution.

If not the Prime Minister, then someone in the upa needs to begin to lead. Otherwise the impasse in Government is unlikely to end soon.

– With Sandeep Unnithan, Bhavna Vij-Aurora and Shafi Rahman

 

 

 

Read more at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/2g-cwg-scams-bureaucracy-is-in-pause-mode/1/159576.html

 

 

 

 

 

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