gfiles magazine

May 16, 2011

Manmohan Singh advocates zero tolerance for graft in his inauguration address


THERE were no cheers, no thumping of desks, no applause. The audience, or attendees, were a sober lot: they belonged to the middle and higher echelons of the country’s civil service. On Civil Services Day, April 21, this year, members of the country’s “most powerful trade union” (a phrase coined for the Indian Administrative Service by Jayaprakash Narayan in 1974 while leading India’s first protest against administrative and systemic corruption) gathered not only to mark the day but also to commemorate it by discussing transparency and ethics in governance, the challenge to improve public service delivery systems, and the issue of infrastructure development.
Ironically, outside the venue, Vigyan Bhavan, the government was slammed that very day in the courtroom of Justices B Sudershan Reddy and SS Nijjar at the Supreme Court for having slept over the issue of black money for far too long. Thirty-seven years after India waged a war against corruption and lost it during the Janata Party experiment of 1977-80 (graft remained entrenched during the period), the country has once again chosen to battle the menace. Anna Hazare, the lone survivor of his Army Supply Corps (ASC) unit during a convoy movement in the Khem Karan sector during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, has agreed, like JP, to lead civil society’s assault on corruption.

‘I expect you to be honest and fearless in advising your superior authorities, especially the political leadership.’

That India was winning against corruption in 2011 was palpable on Civil Services Day. Unlike Indira Gandhi, who imposed the Emergency when faced with a nationwide stir against corruption, Manmohan Singh has chosen to ride with the current of India Against Corruption (IAC). In his Civil Services Day inauguration speech, he said, “Corruption is an impediment to faster growth, and hurts the poor most. It is a challenge that we must tackle boldly and we stand committed to doing so.” He added, “There is little public tolerance now for the prevailing state of affairs. People expect swift and exemplary action and rightly so.”
He pointed out, “Our aim is to strengthen the legislative framework, revamp administrative practices and procedures and fast track a systemic response to fighting corruption. A Group of Ministers is looking into the legal and administrative measures that can be taken in this regard. The group has a wide-ranging mandate and I expect its recommendations to be available very soon.” Further, he said, “A committee of Ministers and representatives of civil society is at work to finalize the draft of a Lokpal Bill, which we hope to be able to introduce during the monsoon session of Parliament. Two Bills relating to judicial accountability and protection of whistleblowers have already been introduced in Parliament.” The Prime Minister said India will soon ratify the United Nations Convention on Corruption. “We are committed to bringing more transparency in public procurement and to ensuring that disinvestment of public utilities and allocation of public resources are done in a manner that best safeguards the interests of the asset owning public.” He urged all civil servants to contribute to the efforts to fight corruption. “Each one of you is in a position to do so in many meaningful ways and I hope to see renewed energy emanating from you in this fight. I expect you to be honest and fearless in advising your superior authorities, especially the political leadership. Those of you who serve in senior positions would do well to also encourage your subordinate officers in this direction.”
HE emphasized, “People value the work done by honest and dedicated civil servants and look up to them. I would like all of you to work to strengthen the trust and faith which people still have in civil servants. The spontaneous support of the people of Malkangiri, when the Collector of the district was kidnapped by left-wing extremists, is a pointer to the extent of goodwill that well-meaning and honest civil servants can achieve. I do believe that the core of the Civil Services is sound and rooted in values of integrity and fair play.”
He was distressed to note that “instances of individual waywardness, of lack of moral courage, and of surrender to pressures and temptations tarnish the image of the Civil Services and lead to immense criticism and dissatisfaction. I believe it is only up to the Civil Services as a whole to set the highest standards of probity and integrity in public and personal life and to create an atmosphere and a work ethic which encourages honesty and integrity. Disapproval and even ostracization by peers and colleagues can be a powerful deterrent for those who tend to stray from the path of rectitude.” Dr Singh also availed of the opportunity to speak on his pet issues of inflation, the economy, food security, delivery of public goods and services, security scenarios and gender discrimination. On food inflation and food security, he said, “The long-term solution lies in increased production and productivity in the agriculture sector. The needs of a growing and increasingly more prosperous population can only be met by enhanced production of a diversified basket of agricultural products. We have to make a concerted effort to enhance our food security. The Civil Services again have a major role to play in achieving a higher rate of growth in the agriculture sector.

Cabinet Secretary Chandrasekhar said that civil servants were silently and effectively working in rural areas for change.

I hope you will pay more focused attention to this area, and more especially to the preparation and implementation of district-level agricultural plans. At the State level, some of the brightest officers should be appointed to critical positions of agricultural development commissioners and similarly every effort should be made to upgrade extension services.”
He stressed the importance of strengthening local governance through panchayats and municipalities. “Our country is too large to be governed effectively from the Centre or even from the State capitals. We have to decentralize power, decentralize decision-making and decentralize the implementation of various development schemes. This is the only way to involve and empower people in shaping their own future. The success of the third tier of governance is critical to improved delivery of services and better design and implementation of schemes. While the Constitutional framework has been in place for some time, most States have shied away from giving effective powers and responsibilities to the third tier. Our civil servants must do their utmost to facilitate real decentralization of governance in our country.”
While expressing satisfaction over the security situation of the country in the past few months, he pointed out that “there is no room for any relaxation of vigil on our part. Combating left-wing extremism, meeting terrorist challenges, countering insurgency in parts of the Northeast and maintaining communal harmony and effectively dealing with atrocities on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes continue to be our top priorities. There is now evidence of better cooperation and coordination between the Centre and States in fighting terrorism. As I have stated earlier, we have drawn up an Integrated Development Programme for 60 districts affected by left-wing extremism. We are working in partnership with State governments to provide employment to the tribal youth and to revamp the social and economic infrastructure in these remote areas. We are working for the development of the far-flung areas of our vast country in an ecologically sustainable manner. We believe all these efforts will go a long way in strengthening our internal security.”
Referring to the provisional population totals for Census 2011 released recently, he was distressed over the falling sex ratio, which he described as “an indictment of our social values. Improving this ratio is not merely a question of stricter compliance with the existing laws. What is more important is how we view and value the girl child in our society. Our girls and women have done us proud in classrooms, in boardrooms and on the sports field. They have broken existing barriers to prove their worth in almost every sphere. It is a national shame for us that despite this, female foeticide and infanticide continue in many parts of our country. The social bias against women has to be fought with all the physical and moral resources at our command. There has to be a national campaign to counter this bias and I expect civil servants to play a big role in launching a crusade against it.”
HE also pointed out, “The need to re-fashion our Civil Services as effective instruments for delivery of services and as agents of improved governance is an ongoing process. The aim should be to evolve new and imaginative solutions for the problems facing us. Success would, to a large extent, depend upon a cultural change in the Civil Services. Excessive caution, reliance on precedents and following the beaten path have to give way to innovation and inventiveness and to trying out new methods. Merit, capability and quality should matter more than mere seniority. To deal with the newer challenges, civil servants also need to continuously update themselves. They have to continuously expand their horizons through learning and training. Only this would equip them to keep pace with the changing times.”
Earlier, Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar said in his welcome address that the Civil Services Day was an event for constructive dialogue on important issues related to governance. He said that civil servants were “silently and effectively” working in rural areas for bringing about change in the service delivery system. The vote of thanks was proposed by RC Mishra, Secretary, Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances.