Saturday, November 20, 2010

Endless love ( the Lallis of today)

Prasar Bharati CEO Lalli's wings clipped, says the TOI headline today. The Supreme Court, the report says, has directed that a three-member Committee should  handle the day-to-day business of the public broadcaster till the Central Vigilance Commission completes its probe into alleged irregularities committed by the CEO.  

Who is B S Lalli? He is a retired IAS officer of the 1971 batch, UP cadre. When was he appointed CEO of Prasar Bharati? In 2006, by the UPA government. His tenure was extended in 2008, notwithstanding allegations of corruption against him.

Why? Well, that's a tough question to answer. The logical presumption would be that he had the relevant experience. What I can gather from media reports on the internet is that he was Secretary (Border Management) in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India before he retired. How that experience would be relevant to running an organisation like Prasar Bharati is something I am still trying to figure out. Perhaps his contribution as Secretary (Border Management) was so outstanding that it weighed heavily in his favour! Hmm --- we all know how secure our borders are.  

Perhaps the reason why B S Lalli was appointed CEO, Prasar Bharati has nothing whatsoever to with his ability and experience. Perhaps the reason is that there is a strong and active nexus between bureaucrats and their political bosses to put in charge of as many organisations as possible retired bureaucrats who are then so obliged for being given the opportunity to enjoy their lives of comfort for several more years that they fall over themselves to keep the bosses happy.

Having enjoyed job security, assured promotions, comfortable salaries, and immense authority for 35 to 40 years, the large majority of bureaucrats are loath to let go of these priviliges. So they ensure that every new organisation which is created by the Government has a slot or two, or more, for retired bureaucrats. Since the Recruitment Rules are not placed in the public domain before they are notified, the public does not even know that the very bureaucrats who have made promotion of their own interest (as opposed to national interest) their life-long mission are going to flourish for another 3 to 5 years after retirement. Even on the occasion that civic society protests, or approaches the judiciary for relief, it isn’t able to secure justice, such is the stranglehold of the bureaucracy over our institutions.

We have seen this happening in the case of the Right To Information Act. The Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions, set up under the Act, have become happy hunting grounds for bureaucrats on the verge of retirement. So the very bureaucrats who have spent a lifetime withholding information from citizens now man the appellate bodies which decide whether or not a citizen denied information that he sought under the RTI Act is to be provided that information.

If I am a bureaucrat who’s going to retire in a year or so, and I see some very attractive post-retirement options that my political bosses can help me exercise, am I going to be foolish enough to displease them in any way whatsoever? Of course not. Am I going to spend all my time and energy in doing my job? Of course not. Am I going to devote myself to lobbying for a post-retirement appointment? Oh yes!

What if I am also the kind of officer who believes that his entry into the civil services was but the doorway to a Swiss bank? What a godsend I would be to a political boss who wants to place a yes-man in a lucrative post! What a god-send the appointment would be to me, since I would continue raking in the millions even after retirement!

What if I am a bureaucrat with courage and devotion and efficiency and integrity? I wouldn’t be considered for a post-retirement slot in the first place, and even if I am, I would have to sell my soul to get there so I wouldn’t do it!

So the very bureaucrats we would be well rid of are the ones who grab post-retirement appointments!

Is the country so bereft of persons with the right qualifications that it needs to lean so heavily on its so called steel framework for filling up all significant posts? Of course not! It’s just that the steel framework has become a self-perpetuating, multi headed creature, which suffers from delusions of grandiosity. Nowhere is this more evident than the phenomenon of post-retirement appointments of bureaucrats to powerful, lucrative posts.

One of my colleagues suggested the other day, in the midst of a passionate discussion on whether or not India is in a self-destruct mode, that the single most important administrative reform the country needs is a ban on post –retirement appointments of bureaucrats. I whole heartedly endorse that view.

Ironically, the Administrative Reforms Commissions that are constituted from time to time have a heavy sprinkling of the very bureaucrats whose functioning requires reform. Are they going to make recommendations that curtail the perpetuation of the bureaucrat’s power? Of course not. Whatever recommendations the ARC does make are required to be implemented by the bureaucracy, which treats them like a headache which will go away if ignored! The latest ARC has submitted 15 reports, and every GOI Ministry has an officer who has become adept at doing a copy/paste job while submitting Action Taken Reports that could be dated 2000 or 2005 or 2010 or 2015 without any significant, substantive change in content!

So there we are, stuck with the Lallis of the world !

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  1. Wow!!1 You are a gutsy woman to speak up and that too this well! Love that energy and love that intellect. Thanks for educating us.

  2. Very right.Happens in the central services and state services as well. There are so many ex-cadre posts that every ex-bureaucrat has eyes in, including gubernatorial appointments and diplomatic assignments.