Ex-men return to fight bureaucracy’s fear of sunset years

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SummaryAmending corruption law and eminent panel to sanction prosecution will help dispel civil servants’ fear of taking action, say ex-bureaucrats.

The Indian bureaucracy plays a key role in policy-making, but is virtually gagged by law. The political executive, which takes the real seat of power, communicates to the people on the supposed pros and cons of policies (or lack of them) and often uses its persuasive skills to garner support for decisions taken in public interest. While this system has conventionally shielded the bureaucracy, things have changed in recent years. The bureaucracy is fretting over the inability to speak its mind, as many senior members are deemed culpable for actions taken at the behest of the powers-that-be.

Now, a group of ex-bureaucrats has offered a set of proposals to speed up decision-making, which gets delayed as worried bureaucrats drag their feet. The proposals, if implemented, could help bureaucrats work freely and take bold decisions, as suggested by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Civil Servants Day last year.

The move comes at a time when the names of over a dozen civil servants who had retired in the rank of secretaries, additional secretaries and others have figured in various scandals. These include former power secretary RV Shahi (coal scam), former chairman of telecom commission and ex-DoT secretary Shyamal Ghosh and former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura (2G scam) and former urban development deputy secretary, PV Deshmukh (Adarsh scam).

The ex-bureaucrats have suggested immediate amendment of Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 to extend protection to public servants after retirement on decisions made during service. They have also pushed for setting up a body of eminent citizens which will be empowered to sanction prosecution of ex-bureaucrats, unlike the current system where the political masters take the call. The former civil servants have also asked for implementing a Law Commission amendment in the Prevention of Corruption Act whereby a special judge can attach the ill-gotten property/bank balance of bureaucrats acquired during their service tenure.

On the Civil Services Day last April, the Prime Minister had said: “We cannot have a bureaucracy which is 100% risk-averse. In fact, we should encourage boldness in decision-making, provided that the decisions are well-considered and as per the law of the land. A civil servant who does not take decisions might always be safe, but at the end of the day he or she would have contributed nothing to our society and to our country.”

Former cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar echoed the PM’s thoughts: “Till 2005, civil servants’ actions were protected

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