Saturday, October 1, 2016

REFLECTIONS ON DAD-DAY, OCTOBER 1, 2016

October 1 – the DAD-Day – every year is a time of joyous celebration for all DADizens, past and present, of the Department. Meetings and merriment in various hues are a natural accompaniment. The atmosphere is incredibly electric, when everyone seems to be on a high – something reminiscent of a family get-together. After all what’s DAD but an extended family!

What’s often forgotten in this rush of celebration when the spirit is on a high, is that it is also a Day for introspection – to assess how much we have succeeded in exceeding ourselves. This calls for looking inward, of being honest to oneself, in asking hard, pesky questions, and seeking honest answers. Introspection grants self-communing and self-criticism, even self-flagellation, and provides answers that can hit the mind hard. But they are the truth, bald and honest; they are the conscience’s response, embodying one’s internal moral compass that ought to be given free rein; and because they show how much one is true to oneself during such moments of stocktaking. It is also epiphanic. Eureka is not necessarily only Archimedes’s preserve – it is embedded in every human’s wired mind, if only he or she is willing to get a jump on it.

I say this in nostalgia, evoking memories. This, perhaps, the first time in more than three and half decades, I’ll not be a part of the celebration. But my mind is full of DAD-Day thoughts. Inevitably my mind travels back to last year’s DAD-Day, when I had waxed eloquent in my address in Brar Square that our Department has become, among all Departments in the Government of India, the bellwether of Transparency in going completely transparent. The PCsDA and CsDA had been instructed to upload the details of TA/DA claims and Office Expenses with related office notes to ensure transparency in spends from taxpayers’ money. Also, even more importantly, an arm’s length system with Defence Accounts Placement Boards (DAPBs) with IDAS officers on deputation as Chairmen and Members to ensure their independence from administrative authorities (so fundamental to neutrality) had been put in place, to ensure fair and transparent decision-making in matters of transfers and postings. This was in keeping with the Supreme Court’s judgment of 2013.

My mind travels even further back to my days when I worked as the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts at Bangalore. It was circa 2010, and I had invited Justice Santosh Hegde, former Supreme Court judge and then the Lokayukta of Karnataka for the DAD-Day function. I had already begun the practice of uploading the note sheets containing the transfer of staff and officers under the PCDA Bangalore in the office website to ensure all stakeholders are aware of the processes and principles involved in effecting their transfers. An inveterate practitioner of honesty in public life, Justice Hegde was the embodiment of uprightness and probity, and inevitably the discussion veered around the issue of getting rid of nepotism and corruption. “To me, it appears” I said, “the answer to getting rid of these cancers lies in complete transparency. It auto-corrects wrong human impulses and as ombudsman, telegraphs clandestine motivations.” He not only agreed but also highlighted the flagrant wrongs he had seen as Lokayukta. Going back in time he narrated the case of supersession of Supreme Court judges in appointment of the Chief Justice of India in 1973. “But it will take enormous courage of conviction to put transparency and an arm’s length system in place,” he said.

As CGDA and FA(DS), I found out why (more forthcoming in my Memoir). Transparency strips authorities of their (perceived) authority, and complete transparency strips authority completely! And what’s there without authority in a feudal set up like ours – the power to help and reward, to punish and chastise with no reasons cited! As a corollary, the transparency architecture discourages subordinates to cozy up to the powers-that-be – and massaging their uncertain egos and uneasy vanities – for the spoils and favours to befall them. Is this why transparency was replaced with opacity? Transparency has a potential to write finis to the way of life the networked and street-smarts have crafted out, who through manipulation and machinations and by telling yarns, tall and magnificent, have kept going up and up the totem pole without any self-worth. So entrenched and so insidious are they that, let alone eliminating them, even a surgical strike at these networkers’ camps is harder than striking the Pak terrorists in their launch pads. I call them klepto-terrorists – they steal and ransack, they plunder and pillage the system! I’ve seen how culprits (because they are ace schemers and networked) manipulate the system to get away scot-free in typical insider trade and how innocents (because they are na├»ve and un-networked) are pilloried. The system is so infested with this networking instinct that its busting is dire.

Networkers, because of the nature of activity, breed all ills: nepotism, corruption, shenanigan and every evil that we, as common men, confront in our day to day life. Given the obstinate grip of the nepotistic past, we must shout at the deceit of it. And transparency is the way to go in a democracy. It’s time to demand transparency as one of our basic rights. A small beginning has been made in the RTI Act 2005. But it demands more, a whole lot more. It needs muscle, it needs the sun to shine brightly – to disinfect and cleanse putrefaction. Complete transparency is the GPS for fairness, equity, honesty and justice! We must download this app and switch it on – for a better tomorrow.     

On this DAD-Day 2016, as a concerned senior, I wish all members of my extended family a very happy, healthy, peaceful, and wonderful journey ahead – filled with achievements, glory, smarts and happiness – this coming year, and in the years ahead. Let the DADizens blaze a new trail and become the numero uno among all other participating organs of this proud country. Warm wishes and Godspeed! 

Monday, August 22, 2016

India's Tendulkar Syndrome

The news that cricket star and MP Sachin Tendulkar lobbied with Defence minister Manohar Parrikar to settle a dispute between his friend’s retreat in Landour and a defence institute over an ‘illegal’ construction is symptomatic of Indian psyche that believes that rules are flexible and can be tweaked if only the powers-that-be are spoken to by someone high and mighty. This syndrome typifies our national collective unconscious which believes rules are for the aam aadmi – for whom the arm’s length system is inviolate – not so for the well-placed, the well-connected and the networked.
It is a different matter that the Raksha Mantri Manohar Parrikar declined to intervene, which is indeed commendable, given the way things get done – as exception – by dubbing it as a one-off (and not to be quoted as a precedent!) with some vague reason thrown in as justification and for future record. But what’s disturbing is: why do icons like Sachin Tendulkar, a Bharat Ratna awardee, stick their necks out to invite opprobrium from their countless fans? Is it worth it when it’s ex facie wrong?
Around the time when we joined the civil service in late-1970s, the oft-heard remark was Show me the Man and I’ll show you the rule! In no time, this changed to Show me the Man and I’ll rewrite the rule! Such was – still is – the fungibility of rules! Far from being ashamed with the nature of nepotism, apologists of this model bemoan that today’s India resembles the Gilded Age of US – alluding to the second half of 19th century when, although the economy grew at the fastest, it paradoxically was the high noon of scandal and corruption with rich industrialists like Rockefeller, Carnegie, Mellon, and Vanderbilt dubbed ‘robber barons’ – an inevitability in a nation’s life, which with passage of time and maturing of democracy would be a thing of the past.
Little do we realize that history does not repeat itself in entirety but mostly in profile; and another nation needn’t go through the same processes since the inexorable forces of history throw up not only a dialectic of change based on lessons learnt but also simultaneous dialectic of change brought forth by technological changes, which in times now has leaped phenomenally. Playing catch-up is a lot faster in today’s world, and given the willingness, lessons learnt can be cloned literally in a nano-second – so connected the world is thanks to the world-wide-web! This, coupled with the fact that citizens have wised up with relentless real-time information hitherto denied them much as the increasingly strident media have, issues of nepotism, favouritism and crony-capitalism occupy public domain as never before. As citizens take up cudgels on perceived wrongs and with the rule of law resonating more and more, what we see today is a new dialectic: conventional, nepotistic norms of biradiri inclined to selective circumvention of rule versus uniform application of rule of law for all citizens.
While the old order refuses to accept the change, the new social order emboldened with hope of a better tomorrow via openness and technology refuses to go the beaten path. What we witness today is a battle of these two. The old order/mindset won’t give in easily, the new order having glimpsed the benefits they realize is rightfully theirs, won’t give up either. What’s inevitable is a battle of attrition – a seething, lacerating battle – where wrongs join hands and indulge in Orwellian shibboleth to paint the right as wrong and the wrong right and where the pot calls the snowflakes black! Yet, in today’s democracies, neither can the spoils system (read nepotism) nor the robber barons (read corruption) make a comeback without citizens raising their voice of disapproval. No right thinking government can risk such misadventure.
Yet in the interstices of this dialectic are efforts made with some getting reported. Thankfully, we’ve none of the compulsions of the American Gilded Age or the long shadows of Tammanyism that were born when the world was decidedly opaque. What though stays is human pathological greed and possessive acquisitiveness. The lack of transparency in body politic and administration in implementation of rules and regulations is a cause of concern. How else is one to explain the proclivity of an icon to make a request to bend the rule? In today’s time when with burgeoning urbanization the pressure on land is staggeringly high (remember Sukhna & Adarsh land scams!) and with the Ministry of Defence with 17.54 lakh acres under its charge the largest land bank, the need for an inviolate land policy and execution cannot be overstated.
Not just that. From time to time there have been alleged irregularities in gross mismanagement of defence land and government buildings built on them, such as Services’ messes in sundry cantonments, which far from being located in the periphery of cities they once were, are upscale today in rapidly growing urban megalopolises. To compound the issue, far from leveraging Government dues from commercial exploitation of defence lands/buildings, even legitimate government receipts are siphoned off to non-governmental funds. The haemorrhaging of such revenues is humongous and doubtless the nation cannot afford this, when it can be used for developmental activities such as Smart Cantonments, an appurtenant of Swachh Bharat, and sustainable development of Smart Green Cities. It is intriguing that such illegalities on specious grounds have persisted. How else is one to countenance diversion of rightful government receipts as license fee to Non-Public/Regimental Funds that clearly belongs to Caesar? The loss can easily tot up to hundreds of crore of rupees annually.
This, despite, the fact that the issue of irregular diversion of Government revenue to non-public funds had come under scathing criticism from Parliamentary Committees; as per media report, in 2013-14 the Public Accounts Committee had severely criticized and directed the Ministry to formulate a policy for realization of Government dues from commercial utilization of defence lands. 
The motivations are reprehensible. Such depravity must stop and the Tendulkar syndrome granted burial through robust policies and cast-iron execution, even strong declamation by the government that such impulses shall not be tolerated. Time it is to remember the words of Thomas Fuller, the 17th century English historian – Be you ever so high, still the Law is above you!
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Thursday, June 2, 2016

One Last Time – Perhaps, and Perhaps Not!

(Disclosure: This, of course, wasn’t meant to be uploaded here but on the CGDA website and written accordingly; even there is a reference first up to my last message as CGDA on September 30, 2015. Last week, I had spoken with Shri S.K. Kohli, then Additional CGDA [now CGDA-in-charge from June 1, 2016], when he had visited my office in South Block and mailed it to his personal email ID on May 31, 2016. When it wasn’t uploaded till the evening of June 1, 2016, I spoke to Shri Kohli with a request to kindly upload immediately and sent him yet another email attaching the Message. Nothing happened though. I waited and waited – for another full day and a bit, anxiously awaiting the CGDA to upload. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Having exhausted all options and not to lose any more time, coupled with the fact that I didn’t wish to leave my extended family of DAD staff and officers without one final Message conveying the contours of my thoughts after being a part of this family all my working years, the same is published here, though not without ample regret and with a stab of pain that one wouldn’t like to carry as a parting shot. I would have appreciated if I were told that the content was too disturbing to carry as a legacy and hence it wasn’t possible for the CGDA organization to upload the Message of the FA(DS) on his retirement, who incidentally also once served as the CGDA not too long ago, and had initiated the practice of communicating with the entire DAD family from time to time through his messages From the CGDA’s Desk (still available in the CGDA website). Hence this clarification, to grant the message the much needed “clarity, nostalgia and placement” – no kinship sought with the Defence Accounts Placement Board (DAPB)’s proceedings and office notes I had put out in public domain for sake of transparency and openness, which everyone is familiar with. Alas! Amen!) 

The last message I wrote was From the CGDA’s Desk, exactly eight months ago when I bid adieu to you all from the Department and joined the Ministry of Defence. Now the time has come for me to bid a final adieu on my superannuation from government service. It’s been a long journey – from Patna to Siliguri to Meerut to New Delhi to Balasore to New Delhi to Pune to New Delhi to Bangalore and finally New Delhi – almost a marathon one trotted and at times cantered along. But all the while it was one change after another that followed in interminable succession, while as years rolled by, the change became the constant. And it was this constancy of change that has stayed with me, and it is this I’m going to take it to my superannuated years.

It is difficult to convince people how happy I am – to retire! In fact, I’ve been getting happier by the day as the day of my transfer to the pension establishment has gotten closer. Now that I’ve reached the finish line I am thrilled to distraction. It will grant me time to relax and indulge my passion that I always strove for but never got in ample measure. I never harboured any ambition of a post-retirement sinecure or even a temporary employ in Committees/Commissions which most retired bureaucrats often aspire for. In point of fact, I have always abhorred any thoughts of post-retirement sinecures because I believe such favours often compromise civil servants’ role as honest advisers in the government (especially in the last years of service when they hold senior responsible positions) and have, over the past several years, placed my thoughts in the public domain in my columns in national newspapers and in my books. Even I have teased and tantalized the favour-seekers tempting them if a more permanent solution couldn’t be found in retiring retirement!

Transparency was – still is, shall always remain – too dear to divorce myself from, even in retirement. In my thinking, all scams and scandals trace their origin to opacity and secrecy. Opacity, born out of secrecy, breeds manipulations. Much hullabaloo is made of in the name of secrecy to shroud things, quite strange in today’s time, when the world thanks to technology pretty well knows what the other person is up to. Transparency is the answer to ridding wrong decisions and illegitimate moves – of corruption, nepotism and manipulation. Sunlight is the best disinfectant available freely and in plenitude. It must be invoked and leveraged. The mere openness of processes scuppers any invidious moves to perpetrate wrongs. Instead, it creates a level playing field. In India today, sadly, the distribution of opportunity has typically become an insider trade. It’s a win-win for networkers! This needs to be busted.

In my own humble way, it has always been my constant endeavour to impugn this system so rife with nepotism, and where I saw opacity ruling like a potentate. Transparency and an arm’s length system I tried to put in place all my life, fully convinced that it was the only way to take the processes of change and progress forward. Of all that I did during my short tenure as CGDA, transparency was at the top of the heap. Putting the processes in the public domain came naturally to me. I saw transparency working its own magic, empowering people all around and granting voice to the voiceless. Fairness and objectivity became the jingle. I tried to set them in stone. I came to realize how powerful a weapon transparency is. It exceeded even my wildest imagination. I carried the same baton when I moved over to the Ministry of Defence. I did whatever was possible on my part, working up a furious pace and in the roller coaster ride if the processes upset the high and the mighty I was as unfazed as ever. So be it, I told myself. And I let it be. As a card-carrying transparency (st) – a cyst that’s stayed with me all my living years – I didn’t care less when the networkers screamed and ranted before scurrying for cover. I enjoyed their disquiet, their discomfiture.

As Father Time moves on, the old order changes, the new takes over, and we must make way gracefully. But the constants of transparency, objectivity and fairness shall always remain, and only because they are a part of human verities. They have always been a part of me and shall always stay that way as lodestar, buzzing about my head and finding utterance at every available opportunity. I shall carry this with me as I begin my second innings and pursue what I always wished to but never was granted in full measure. The reason I say this, as I formally bid you adieu and officially take your leave – you the members of my extended family – is because your battle cry of fairness, honesty and transparency which I realized during our journey together shall keep me going and agog. I will resurface now in a new avatar, in my home turf, in an arena, I’ve always loved so much – my BlogSpot, Babupaedia [babupaedia.blogspot.in] – which dimmed just yet shall light up soon and hover about time and space as one (dis)interested ombudsman keeping a watchful eye over citizen’s sense of right and wrong, battling dishonesty and constantly endeavouring that the righteous have, eventually, the last laugh.

Adieu, then one last official time – perhaps, and perhaps not!


Date: May 31, 2016                                                       Sudhansu Mohanty