|Now to business|
|Wednesday, 16 February 2011 00:00|
After having been at the wrong end of things for several months now, largely due to its wanting to obfuscate even the most blatant of scams, the UPA appears to have finally learnt the right lessons. With some prodding from the Supreme Court, it finally arrested A Raja and several of those believed to be in cahoots with him. And now it appears almost certain it will give in to the Opposition’s demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe. Meanwhile, the plans being made to ensure the possibility of future scams is minimised are being finalised by a Group of Ministers. This includes abolishing the discretionary quota for ministers/chief ministers, fast-tracking of prosecution of corrupt officers within 90 days, dismissal if criminal charges are framed, and such other moves. More transparency will mean ministers will have to explain why they are overruling bureaucrats. At one point, the auctioning of natural resources like land and spectrum was to be made the rule, though there’s no talk of it now. That’s disturbing since auctions are likely to reduce corruption, so hopefully that’ll get back on the agenda.
None of this will ensure scams don’t happen again, but it’s a start and shows that if various watchdogs are alert, the government does act. In many instances mentioned in the Shivraj Patil report, bureaucrats/regulators simply recommended what the political class wanted. There aren’t too many cases of ministers like A Raja overruling bureaucrats—in the case of DS Mathur, the telecom secretary, the clearances got done when he was on tour. The law says bureaucrats can have files recirculated in case they don’t agree with ministers, and the Cabinet Secretary is supposed to protect them—there are no cases of babus asking for files to be recirculated and Mathur says neither the Cabinet Secretary nor the Principal Secretary whom he kept abreast stepped in to help. There are also instances of Raja victimising babus and no one stepping in.
The UPA, while trying to fix things, is also trying to keep it political, hoping to hurl enough muck at the BJP to keep it quiet. This is unfortunate, and it’s important the BJP doesn’t retaliate and use the opportunity provided by daily hearings of the JPC to come out to brief the press to score points every day. We’ve lost one session of Parliament, let’s now get on with the legislative agenda of the government. India’s growth has slowed, and we need to see decision-making pick up if the economy is going to grow apace.