February 21, 2020
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Operation Clean-up

The CBI's anti-corruption drive now targets errant officials

Operation Clean-up
ON a monthly salary of Rs 12,000, before tax, a senior IAS official accumulates assets worth Rs 10 crore, including a fleet of seven vehicles. A motor vehicles inspector owns two flats and has savings of Rs 62 lakh. A senior municipal official has property worth over Rs 15 crore—five farmhouses, a dozen flats in Delhi's prime locations, five shops and office space in the heart of the capital.

The three have one thing in common: they got caught. The aggressive targeting of corruption in the bureaucracy by prosecuting agencies in the last six months has been lost in the hue and cry of the hawala scandal and the arrest of heavyweight politicians. But it has had a salutary effect on the bureaucracy as a whole, says IAS Central Association Secretary B.P. Mishra.

However, a Human Resource Development ministry official notes: "A sort of fear psychosis has developed since the bank scam, when senior offi-cials were targeted for the first time. Afraid that a decision may be questioned, bureaucrats are tending not to make any. What little initiative there was is being killed, as you are constantly looking over your shoulder."

The Supreme Court set the ball rolling by passing severe strictures against five high-profile bureaucrats on November 29 last year in connection with the Skipper real estate scam. Since then, 12 officers of the Union Territory (UT) cadre alone have been caught in the CBI net, all of them of the rank of director and above—most are joint secretaries.

Of them, K.S. Baidwan faces two CBI cases but continues to function as home and finance secretary in the Delhi Administration; R.S. Sethi is a joint secretary in the Home Ministry; while V.S. Ailawadi, a Haryana cadre IAS officer whoretired as additional secretary, has been recalled as a member of the Finance Corporation.

Others have not been so lucky. Political patronage failed to protect C.S. Kha-irwal, joint secretary in the Transport ministry who was arrested by the CBI on charges of corruption last fortnight. Khair-wal, incidentally, is said to have financed tandoor murder victim Naina Sahni's effort to set up a boutique in partnership with his companion, Abha Tyagi.

Ramesh Sabharwal, acting chief architect of the New Delhi Municipal Committee (NDMC), was arrested along with his son inSeptember last year. A few months later, B.B. Nanda, an engineering consultant and blue-eyed boy of the state government, was subjected to a raid. Another official, NDMC Chief Engineer V.P. Chetal, said to be well-connected, was finally dismissed from service after having survived 15 CBI cases, numerous raids, demotion and suspension. Sources said the CBI had threatened to arrest him unless action was taken. Even NDMC Administrator Baleshwar Rai is beingprobed by the CBI for allegedly violating rules to favour some traders.

Customs officials, police officers, two senior India Tourism Development Corporation officials and public sector unit executives have been targeted in the last few months. Not all cases concern accumulation of disproportionate assets; sometimes, questionable decisions are the issue.

In the hawala case, action was first taken against bureaucrats. The chairman and general manager of Neyvelli Lignite Corporation were sent to jail and action is being planned against seven NTPC officials who allegedly favoured S.K. Jain.

So gung-ho are the prosecuting agencies about bringing errant officials to book that the Directorate of Enforcement mooted the transfer of two senior officials of the Tamil Nadu cadre to the UT cadre so that action could be taken against them. The cadre association is reportedly opposing the move, while admitting that it is easier to take action against UT cadre officials who are not protected by the state government. The Tamil Nadu government, whose consent to the change of cadre is mandatory, has reportedly refused.

Has this new-found accountability had an effect on the bureaucracy as a whole? "Given the level of corruption in the Government, this kind of piece-meal action just before elections is not going to make a big difference. Action has to be sustained," commented a senior CBI official.

Mishra believes that the long-term fallout of this anti-corruption drive will be positive: "The Government will become more transparent and this has to continue for five years or more, before the system really becomes cleaner". 

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