Discipline and integrity were supposed to be the hallmarks of the bureaucracy when, 70 years ago, India stepped into its new era of freedom and democracy. Those nice, heart-warming perceptions have, however, evaporated over time. India’s bureaucracy is seen as being among the most corrupt in the world today, due largely to the weakening of the nation’s well-laid-out systems fashioned on the British lines. Nothing much is heard about corruption in the UK or rest of the developed world where public scrutiny of governmental performance is of the highest order. In India, the media plays, but a minimal role, in exposing such acts, while corrupt practices by the bureaucracy are seen to be scaling new heights. What reinforces this view now is a revelation that one in every eight IPS officers has desisted from filing her/his immovable property details, as is required of them on an annual basis.
We are aware that not filing property returns stops those officers from promotions as they do not get Vigilance clearances. We are also aware that property returns do not really mean anything as a truly corrupt officer would never ever disclose her or his ill-gotten wealth on such returns, be it movable or immovable. All of us are aware how wives of IAS officials had approached the CabSec to stop asking for spouse details in the annual returns and their request was immediately heeded to. Clearly, these top police officers – that stunningly includes Directors General of Police and Deputy Directors General in various states – have much to hide. In normal course, they should be filing these details by January 31 every year. But, over 500 out of the nearly 4,000 IPS officers in the country have not filed these details even until the end of the financial year – March 31. This raises serious question marks on both their integrity and sense of discipline. While this information has come out from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, there is no hint about how the IAS officials, who formed the parallel civilian layer of the top bureaucracy, fared in this matter. Chances are that there too is a similar premeditated failure to file the property details with the government from that group too.
Common consensus is that India is up for grabs. The past decade and half saw scams of the highest order of plunder so far – the coal scam, the 2G scam, the CWG scam, the helicopter scam, so on and so forth. It has virtually nothing to do with any political party because even after a change of outfit, change in attitude is not visible. Harvesting people’s discontentment, the BJP led by Narendra Damodardas Modi came to power in 2014. As he steps into the last lap of his five year term, the nation is exposed to a new set of scams in the form of huge loans from banks turning into non-performing assets, or bad loans; meaning in many cases ‘wilful default’ by big businessmen who took huge loans, and then defrauded the banking system. They take their money abroad and park it in tax havens and then take refuge in safe dens. So no political boss in India can claim a blemish free stint now.
The RBI, which oversees the functioning of banks, sat back as a mere silent spectator. This is another case of the bureaucracy failing the nation and taking personal advantage. Top banking and RBI officials apparently played dubious roles in facilitating such frauds. The Union government, and specifically the finance minister, cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility. On one side, public sector banks such as the Punjab National Bank have come under strain and under a cloud as well; on the other, even top private sector banks such as ICICI and Axis Bank that ruled the banking wave in recent years, too, have been virtually looted by vested interests; their top functionaries are now not only in deep waters but have virtually gone into hiding.
The Indian bureaucracy as a whole is being perceived as one of the most-corrupt outfits of the world. This does not mean there are no women or men of integrity in the higher echelons of bureaucracy; but sadly their numbers have drastically shrunk. Feelings are that such officials are squeezed between competing interests and greed of business honchos and governmental functionaries, denied due promotions and often sidelined while the sharks in the bureaucracy have a field day. The bribes that senior cops take in certain states – where people are flush with money – is of the order of crores, be it to settle a land dispute or to allow a criminal to escape jail. No state is free from such corrupt practices, though the levels of greed and opportunities vary. Under the circumstances, there’s little surprise that very many top police officers across the country are reticent about filing their property details with the government.
A question is whether the home ministry would take a serious note of such dereliction or cave in to pressure from IPS Officers’ Association and leave matters where they are. Resoluteness is no more a virtue with the governing establishments in this country. Also, who is to demonstrate this resoluteness is something to ponder about!