A former Delhi chief secretary and currently Delhi's public grievance commission chairman has warned the prime minister not to strangle the 'doers' in the bureaucracy and paralyse the government while the 'non-doers' go scot free in the euphoria over ushering in a strong anti-corruption ombudsman.
In an appeal that echoes concern of all senior bureaucrats, Ramesh Narayanaswami sought Dr Manmohan Singh's urgent intervention to ensure the best safeguards possible in the Lokpal Bill to protect "the high performing, strong work ethics imbued segment of the higher civil services who are the "doers."
He warns, "In the emerging scenario, higher civil services, who in public perception today, have in their vanguard only auditors, criminal investigators, vigilance inspectors and the like as their role models, are hardly likely to deliver through prompt decision-making on important government programmes and projects in the challenging times ahead."
The Prime Minister's office referred the 3-page letter of Narayanaswami, an upright and hard-working Indian Administrative Service officer right from his days as the collector in Goa, to the Group of Ministers on corruption, headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, highlighting the relevant issues he has raised.
The letter says,"...there are still a large number of 'honest' senior civil servants imbued with a strong work ethic, wishing to contribute constructively in their spheres of responsibility, to be seen as dynamic and result-oriented and decisive, in short, to be doers."
However, there are other 'non-doing' officers who may be honest but who are indecisive for most part, ultra cautious and pessimistic to the point of being stumbling block to any positive venture, Narayanaswami wrote, pointing out that they are invariably beyond any scrutiny of a criminal nature or misconduct and happily protected by the trait of being indecisive and obstructive.
"They even have a good chance in some situations of being hailed as a whistleblower!"
He has asserted that the demand voiced both in the Lokpal-related public debates and also to some extent by the Central Bureau of Investigation to remove or dilute the existing protection to civil servants like the single point directive, Article 311 of the Constitution and prior sanction for prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption law and the penal code appears to be "highly self-serving and negative."
"If pursued without serious consideration of their implications, particularly on "doers," there is great apprehension that this may be the harbinger of negation of any serious decision-making in government," it says.
"If not reflected upon seriously and remedied right now, it may be too late to reverse for decades a highly straitjacketed and draconian legislation that may emerge," Narayanaswami said, flaying "undimensional thinking on the totally erroneous presumption today that all higher civil servants are potentially corrupt, unless proven otherwise."
In a tongue-in-cheek attack, with "highest respect," on the trinity of Comptroller and Auditor General, Central Vigilance Commission and the CBI, he says they function as administrative and constitutional referees under particularly trying conditions, often subject to conflicting lines of command and oversight, and "while certainly not being in the category of 'non-doers' are by no stretch of imagination 'doers' either."
"But in the discharge of their perceived legitimate functions to catch wrongdoers and offenders, they very often implicate genuine doers as well, the category whose success is critical for the positive performance and progressive momentum of the government. 'Non-doers' remain unaffected and are well protected," Narayanaswami lamented.
The former bureaucrat says a dangerous message is going to the senior civil servants that "it is advisable to play safe and diffuse and obfuscate the decision-making process as far as possible, so as to be not held accountable, if and when, the inquisitorial process commences."
"It is eminently easier and safer, nowadays, not to bother about deadlines or take any major initiatives and even better, shelf the decision-making indefinitely to avoid being investigated later on for purported criminal actions, or collusive misdoings.
"Such probabilities are very high now, and officers are prematurely condemned through innuendoes and trial by media, and as a result, they and their families suffer serious social disapprobation and mental trauma. ...it seems much better to be among the non-doers."
Narayanaswami cites the perceived merits of a "non-doing approach" that arose when a senior secretary to the Government of India in a high profile ministry who retired in 2007 reportedly chose not to see certain sensitive files months before his superannuation, citing this as a legitimate ground for such abdication.
"No doubt, his foresight paid off, as he escaped the criminal investigation which visited his successor, but the question arises whether this non-doing approach, though wise, was ethically defensible......many senior civil servants are nowadays encouraged to avoid serious decision-making, as they approach the unavoidable career milestone of superannuation. And this, at a stage when their decision-making contributions should be at their peak with a wealth of over 35 years' experience behind them."