SALARY, CORRUPTION & ACCOUNTABILITY
Rajesh Kumar, Advocate
Government officials are angry lot. And they have a right to be angry, for they are not very happy with the recommendation of the Sixth Pay Commission. Although the Tax payers are worried as such increase in pay will result in more taxes, Government Servants are as unsatisfied as ever.
They are called “Public Servants”, for they are expected to serve the public. But what is being done in the name of serving the public is not even an “open secret”, it is available live on electronic media. Everyday we see some or the other so called public servants extracting money from the hapless citizens in the name of suvidha shulka, that is what bribe is called euphemistically. In customs, there is another name, speed money. If you wont pay this, you will end up paying huge amount of demurrage as your files, and consignment consequently will not move.
To curb this menace of “suvidha shulka”, many a times the written law provides that so and so work will be done by this stipulated date. The Notification No. 33/99 of Central Excise, giving exemption to the units located in North Eastern states, prescribes that the refund amount shall be granted by 15th of every month. Even then it is difficult to get this refund without paying suvidha shulka, for the “public servants” always feels that they are much above the notification. Even when they don’t refund the amount by that date, no questions will be asked. They appears certain that even when this fact is brought to the notice of senior officers, nothing will be done. Such feeling of babudom is a direct result of protection provided by the senior officers to their subordinates in extracting bribes. Aren’t we aware of the case when a senior officer was arrested for giving bribe for a choice posting?
Taxpayers are asking, do we pay taxes to give salary, increments and salary hike to these public servants. And the citizens have a right to know. After all the Right to Information Act is in place. Oh God! One of a company asked certain question from a public information officer. The officer was please to reply that a “company” is not a “citizen” and hence not entitle to any information. What a legal interpretation! Marvelous. Only public servants can do it, even when any “person” is entitle to ask information under Section 6 of the Right to Information Act. And on this interpretation, companies, newspapers, NGOs, Parliament, Courts etc. are not entitled to seek information as they are not citizens! Isn’t it a marvelous interpretation of law. But the question is, do u we pay salary for such marvelous interpretation of law?
And just see, how governance works. There are hundreds of agencies of the government to haunt, harass and extort money for common citizens. There are numerous Directorate Generals, but there is no Director General for Public Grievances. There are numerous types of judicial forum where a complaint against citizens can be filed by the government, not even a single forum where citizens can file complaint against the public officials. There are thousands types of penalties which can be imposed on citizens, no provision for compensation against the high handedness of public officials. And we say, democracy is for the people, of the people, by the people.
Is it democracy? Do we need such public officials to run this democracy? With a salary hike! NO.
Take this case. An importer imported a consignment, which was cleared by customs authority provisionally, after execution of bond and some security. After this provisional clearance, the consignment was again seized by a premier agency. The premier agency was pleased to release this seized provisionally cleared consignment, provisionally on execution of bond and bank guarantee. The importer again gave bond and bank guarantee. Still the consignment was not cleared by the Hon’ble Officer of Customs on the basis of non existent stay order of a High Court. The High Court clarified that there is no stay order, then also the release was delayed. All these things were brought to the notice of senior officers but in vain. Now the myth of honesty and integrity of senior officers has been broken. Cant we remember the cases of senior officers? Is it Governance, leave the clause good governance. This author feels that whatever progress we are making, it is despite these public officials and privatization of Public Enterprises has proved that.
Take the example of telephone services. Not long ago, a telephone connection was a privilege at steep prices. Now, after privatization, it is easily and cheaply available to all common citizens. And air travel, after privatization the air travel is cheaper than state run railways on many occasions. See the private banks. And privately build expressways. We could have grown much faster without these babus and without their corrupt ways.
Any person can go and see before any high end public schools, government vehicles ferrying kids of senior public officials. You can always find memsahebs shopping in high end markets, using vehicles of government. Everyday the governance start with forged entries in the vehicle log book! And seizure of a couple of crores from officers getting a salary of twenty thousand is not surprising. And the public servants are demanding salary hike in the name of good governance!
We have a department of statistics, which prepares index for everything. Like index of Gross Domestic Product, inflation, human development but no body prepares any index for good governance. We have a right to know as what is the standard of governance in our country. How it is improving or deteriorating. But it is very difficult to make an index of good governance. You can’t make an index for something (read good governance), which does not exist.
Where is the accountability of public servants? To whom they are accountable? Public servants must be accountable to people. We have failed to develop any institution through which such public accountability can be effectively enforced. One reporter of a news channel goes to a tax office and in a few days he is able to record numerous officers taking bribe on camera, the senior officer sitting in his chamber is not aware of this corrupt happening. And these very senior officer claims to have “information” as to what is happening in assessee’s factory!
And on the basis of such information premises are searched, goods seized, persons arrested. However, there is not even a single case where an officer has been found guilty of vexatious search or unjustified seizure or malicious arrest. It is not because there is no vexatious search, but there is no mechanism to check that. And such lack of mechanism is no coincidence, it is planned. Just remember the Commissioner case where a trader was fleeced of a crore to save him from arrest.
Off course, with inflation and rise in per capita income the salaries of public servants should be hiked. But any such increase must not be claimed as a matter of right. In fact, even the salary cannot be claimed as a matter of right. Any salary hike must be linked to achievement of tangible objectives, like implementation of citizen charter, increase in efficiency and attainment of objectives of good governance. The government must conduct surveys to examine the level of confidence in the governance. And if any pay commission is constituted, it must not give any salary hike without hearing the common man on the salary of public servants.
(The views expressed are personal views of the author. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)