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Raveen Thukral
State of Affairs

Babus are whipping boys for politicians

The state has immense powers and if government is committed to rooting out bureaucratic corruption no one can prevent it.

 

Bureaucracy and bureaucrats have been making news in Punjab and Haryana. While the Central deputation of IAS officer Ashok Khemka, the whistleblower in Robert Vadra's controversial land deal, has created quite a stir in the political circles in Haryana, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's pronouncement that "corrupt bureaucracy" has given a bad name to his government, has left the state's babus red faced, besides generating political heat.Khemka's Central deputation, reportedly done at the PMO's behest, is a huge embarrassment for the Congress government in Haryana, which had gone all out to harass the officer for daring to cancel the mutation of the land deal between Vadra's company, Skylight Hospitality, and the DLF. The manner in which the Bhupinder Hooda government hounded Khemka, issuing charge sheets and initiating inquiries against him, was totally undesirable.

 

The way these inquiries were conducted and their verdicts passed, blatantly smacked of political vindictiveness and exposed the Haryana government's real intent behind them. Khemka, during his tenure as director general of Land Consolidation in 2012, had cancelled the mutation of Vadra's Gurgaon land on grounds that the officer who carried it out was not authorised to do so.

Instead of taking a legal recourse for setting aside his order, the government chose to hound him for two years and did nothing to overturn his order, which incidentally stands till date. Khemka's victimisation was too blatant and the Hooda government rightly got the criticism it deserved for it.By coming to the rescue of the beleaguered officer, the Narendra Modi government has tactfully killed several birds with one stone. One, it has succeeded in projecting itself as a regime that would stand by honest officers; Two, it has willy-nilly stamped its approval on Khemka's decision on the Vadra land case by overruling the inquiries conducted by the Haryana government; and finally, it has proved itself more decisive than the Manmohan Singh government, which did little in the case of UP IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, who faced similar victimisation under the Akhilesh Yadav regime, despite Sonia Gandhi seeking the Centre's intervention in the matter.In Punjab, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's statement, painting the entire bureaucracy black by claiming that "corrupt" babus were bringing a bad name to his government, has come as a surprise. Badal, a record five-time Chief Minister, is an astute politician and a man of few words. So it's not surprising that such a statement from him has left many, including party leaders and bureaucrats, wondering the real motive behind it.

While addressing a NABARD function in Chandigarh recently, Badal said, "The bureaucrats are busy collecting money. They are not interested in improving governance, and if I say anything, they gang up and support each other." Badal may have said what the majority of Indians like to believe, but such a statement coming from a Chief Minister, who is directly responsible for the state's administration, reflects poorly on his political and administrative acumen. The reality is that in Punjab the Badal clan — the CM himself, his son and Deputy CM, Sukhbir Badal, his son-in-law Adesh Pratap, daughter-in-law Harsimrat (now a Union minister) and Sukhbir's brother-in-law, Bikram Majithia — practically run the entire government and if they together cannot control and rein in the bureaucracy to tow their agenda, who else would?

If the state's bureaucrats are really corrupt and are hampering governance, as claimed by Badal, then he himself is responsible for it. Who has prevented Badal from taking action against corrupt bureaucrats or even replacing them with honest ones? If it hasn't been done, then why make noise about it? By making such a statement, Badal has unnecessarily opened himself to criticism. The Congress has dubbed his statement as a case of a "poor worker blaming his tools" and has demanded that he names all such corrupt bureaucrats. According to the state Vigilance Bureau's records, only five IAS officers have been proceeded against in corruption cases in the last 10 years. Of these, charge sheets have been filed only in three cases, while one awaits government's sanction for prosecution. In one case, the government had denied the prosecution sanction.

 

The state has immense powers and if the government is really committed to rooting out bureaucratic corruption no one can prevent it. If Badal is really serious about dealing with this issue, he should crack the whip and use all the resources at his disposal to cleanse the system and depoliticise the bureaucracy. But the question is, is he?

 

 
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