Judgment doesn't obviate need to discipline bureaucracy
Last week was exceptional. For the first time one saw a hole in the iron wall of protection the bureaucracy has been accorded in this country. A landmark judgment by the Supreme Court, declaring Section 6-A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act as unconstitutional, is something to be celebrated.
It also needs to be lauded, as for the first time one is seeing a control mechanism getting into place for bringing rouge and corrupt officers to book. One would also like to believe it is for the first time we are recognizing the fact that bureaucrats have had a field day exploiting the resources of this country - and most importantly its citizenry.
The celebration clearly is required as well since no permission would be required from the government to investigate a senior bureaucrat. More importantly, the judgment blows a hole into the ego of the bureaucracy, which at all times saw itself as the ruling class with no accountability.
Quite remarkably it is for the first time one probably has equality before law between an average citizen and a bureaucrat. This has been made possible as the judgment clearly says the protection accorded was in contravention to Article 14 of the Constitution. It, thus, places an average citizen and the bureaucrat at the same pedestal for the first time since independence -- this is essentially thanks to economist-politician Subramanian Swamy who worked hard over this for more than two decades.
But this is not the end in the struggle towards bureaucratic corruption. It is only the beginning. The teeth that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) gets because of this judgment is only against procedural corruption. We have still not found a way to control the moral corruption the bureaucrats extort.
To understand this issue, let's look at the definition of moral corruption in Oxford Distionary: "Moral deterioration or decay, perversion or destruction of integrity in the discharge of public duties."
Going further and understanding it deeper we see in bureaucrats a behaviour, reflection and violation of obligations of fairness towards individuals and citizenry. The most pertinent being the misuse of power vested in them by the state for personal gains or exploitation of individuals.
This misuse of power can be construed and seen in instances where the bureaucrats wage a war against the citizens of the country and hiding behind the veil of government which can clearly be seen as the country waging a war against its citizens.
The hard work done needs to be applauded, no doubt. But the efforts need to be continued. We need to build an appreciation to the fact that corruption is a problem of social justice as well. We have had limited view to the idea of corruption - we have seen it as an economic problem and problem of development.
The ignorance of the aspect of social justice has made us see gross erosion of social trust in the country towards its institutions, headed by babus, as no respite is available if someone grossly misuses the same. The inherent problem is that the accused citizen is subjected to prove his innocence and not rather the accuser, in this case bureaucracy, to prove the crime.
As a move forward we need systems where exerting of individual power is restricted. Any misuse seen and proven should see the direct termination of the services of the bureaucrat. We could also look at this from the perspective or portrait of a morally-corrupt bureaucrats at the levels of directors, advisors or joint secretaries. But that later.
For the moment what we need to do is to continue the effort that Subramanian Swamy has started: Find ways to dismantle institutions of moral corruption that bureaucrats have built in this country.
(Amit Kapoor is chair, Institute for Competitiveness, and editor of Thinkers. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @kautiliya.)
(Posted on 12-05-2014)
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