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Pak dossier blunder: Time govt wielded the stick

May 24, 2011 14:17 IST

There have been too many instances of top brass letting down the government with a slothful approach to their duties and continuing in their chairs. There is no point in going after low-level functionaries, head must roll of those at the highest levels, says B S Raghavan.

The Union home ministry will take a very long time indeed to live down the ignominy of the utterly sloppy manner in which it has gone about preparing the list of the 50 most wanted fugitives it had handed to Pakistan government in March.

A proud and premier ministry in the early years following Independence, it has become the laughing stock of the world by including in the list names of two persons one of whom is living in India and another is in an Indian prison.

The second goof-up came to light within a day of Home Minister P Chidambaram dismissing the first one as 'human error' and of little consequence, thereby doing less than justice to his wonted perspicacity and belying the impression of having command and control of the new security architecture that he had set up.

It puzzles me how he could have failed to understand that in matters impacting not only international relations and reputation, but also domestic issues being handled by the government, it is incumbent on the highest officials of the ministry/department concerned to take the utmost care to make sure that every official documentation prepared under its auspices is double-checked and verified a number of times for accuracy at senior-most levels in the ministry.

I remember my days in the home ministry working with Lal Bahadur Shastri, Gulzarilal Nanda and Y B Chavan as home ministers, when officials were severely and formally censured for what would nowadays be regarded as trivial omissions; one official was promptly reverted to his cadre in disgrace for giving a wrong total in answer to an unstarred question in Parliament, even though it could have been easily corrected with the Speaker's permission.

It is impossible to exaggerate the vital importance of observing the most stringent precautions against mistakes and errors occurring in documents on sensitive security issues and meant for foreign governments. Taking serious lapses lightly will only result in the plummeting of standards all round.

All the more so, when Chidambaram knows that this is not the first time that the bureaucratic leadership of the home ministry had been found wanting in dealings with Pakistan on 26/11. In the list of DNA reports of 10 terrorists given to Pakistan on March 13, 2009, two different DNA reports were given for the same person. One dossier mentioned the statement of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab as an enclosure, but it was left out due to what was later claimed to be 'a clerical error', after Pakistan exposed the ministry's shoddiness.

I have heard it said by security experts that the 26/11 Mumbai carnage itself is a monumental example of the cardinal failure at the level of the home secretary and the National Security Adviser of any effort to collate, digest and draw pointed conclusions from all the information and intelligence available to them and forthwith set in motion the necessary pre-emptive and countervailing actions at the central and state levels.

The grave omission on their part was compounded by the failure to enforce accountability to the people's satisfaction. Those who should have been punished for their dereliction at the most critical and dangerous moment in the country's recent history went scot free and continued to rule the roost.

In the aftermath, the earlier failures are being further compounded by the silly errors in the dossiers given to Pakistan from time to time. The home ministry officials' want of care and thoroughness has seriously damaged India's credibility, exposing the government to embarrassment in the full view of the world.

The sloppy wording of the Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan is yet another deplorable instance of the mental and functional fatigue and lack of alertness of the top echelons of India's bureaucracy. Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon rather nonchalantly confessed at a meeting with MPs that "one can argue that the drafting (of the statement) was not proper".

The high priest of the external affairs ministry gave no clue as to who was responsible for the improper wording, and how he was dealt with. Considering the odium to which the government and the prime minister were subjected on this account, the foreign secretary himself should have assumed constructive responsibility. Instead, he got away with absolving himself and his colleagues who were in attendance at Sharm-el-Sheikh of all culpability.

Too many instances of top administrative brass letting down the government with a slothful approach to their duties and continuing in their chairs without being sacked then and there have been surfacing. There is no point in going after some functionaries who are very low in the hierarchy when the heads to roll are properly those of the highest levels.

If the government does not firmly wield the stick to arrest the inefficiency of officials holding top posts and the poor performance on the part of the permanent services, it will have only itself to blame if it is forced to face more such embarrassments in the future.

B S Raghavan