Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Name and shame

There exists in the Customs Act a provision which empowers the Government to name persons who have defaulted in the payment of dues to the Government. The logic is that if these persons are named, at least some, if not all, will be shamed into owning up the liability and will come forward to pay. This legal provision is being made use of by the Central Board of Excise and Customs, and the defaulters' names are made public in several ways, including publication on the CBEC website.

Whether this public shaming has resulted in payment of dues by the defaulters is an issue worth deliberating upon, perhaps in another blog, but it suffices here to say that our attitude to tax evasion being what it is, it is not likely that great results have been achieved by Indian Customs.

The more important issue is that while we do not hesitate to name tax defaulters --- and there ought not to be any hesitation ---- we are extremely wary of naming those amongst us in the bureaucracy who are no better. I would go so far as to call it a conspiracy of silence. 

Among friends who can be relied upon not to broadcast such views, we discuss who amongst are inefficient, lethargic, corrupt, careless, callous etc etc. We name such colleagues, we fulminate, we grow indignant at their acts of ommission and commission. 

Then we step back into our  'bureaucrat" skins and wouldn't be caught dead even nodding acquiescence when an adverse remark is made against the very same colleagues by a member of the public (that we are "servants" of) or even auditors. We rush to their defence or  pretend we have't heard. 

Those who do name names are frowned upon, labelled "eccentric" (so their views don't really matter!)or otherwise discouraged to be so open on a subject we agreed to maintain silence on when we enter the hallowed halls of bureaucracy.

So, its perfectly acceptable, for example, to name individuals and corporates who are smugglers and tax evaders, but it is not OK to name the civil servants who make this possible, either by active collusion or simply by their indifference and lethargy.

Is it that bureaucrats fear that the admission that there a few (actually, more than a few) black sheep in the family will tar them with the same brush, that it will compel them to discard the fondly-held belief that they know better, are wiser, in fact, superior to the public they serve? Its a belief deeply ingrained  in the civil services, a belief that is a legacy of our colonial past, a belief that is so pernicious that its destroying the civil services because if we do not admit there is a problem, we aren't going to address it. 


  1. Its Heartening to know that we have a few good and brave people amongst the black sheep(Its mostly them)The reason why they do not admit to the problems is the entire herd consists of BLACK SHEEP barring a few.

    Our Political forefathers should have disbanded the Bureaucracy and the Police forces( Who were the perpetrators of all human rights abuses in those times) at the time of Independence and formed new outfits which were progressive and people friendly.

  2. Well, its too late to disband the civil services ---- ironically, the Committees which are set up by the Government to suggest administrative reforms are choc - bloc with the representatives of the bureaucracy to be reformed --- and whatever little they do recommend is required to be implemented by the bureaucracy so of course, no meaningful reforms take place.
    But citizens have a powerful weapon now in the form of the RTI Act --- from tax refunds and broken roads to Padma awards and pending investigations, it can be used to hold the bureaucracy responsible for its actions .

    So if you are a do-er, I would request you to use the RTI Act to get the bureaucrats affecting your life adversely to give some answers.