RTI: Exposing the traitors among public servants - V
by P M Ravindran on 31 Mar 2018 4 Comments

Shortly after independence, a one man commission was appointed to assess the extent of corruption in government offices. On submitting the report the author reportedly exclaimed that the experience made him believe in God. Questioned how, he had said ‘there is so much corruption but still the people seem to be happy. It has to be the hand of God.’


In a democracy, citizens are the sovereign entities. But the way our institutions of governance were set up and nurtured, our claim to being a democratic society looks preposterous. Nowhere are citizens of a democratic society treated so shabbily as in this nation. So it was that in the 1970s Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan gave a call for a second freedom struggle, even asking soldiers in uniform not to obey illegal orders of their superiors. What followed was Emergency. But the citizens rose to the occasion and at the first opportunity gave Prime Minister Indira Gandhi the punishment she deserved.


Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, a silent revolution took place. When corruption had hit an all time high, the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) was established in 1974. Gradually, the ICAC gained momentum and power. It adopted a three-pronged strategy of effective law enforcement, prevention and education in the fight against corruption, undertaken by the Operations Department, the Corruption Prevention Department and the Community Relations Department. Corruption took a nose dive there, though not completely eliminated.


In India the greatest disaster has been the judiciary. Even judges can be heard admitting the huge backlog of cases. But instead of trying to do anything about it (like reducing their holidays or denying unwarranted adjournments) they are seen simply passing the parcel by demanding more judges, more infrastructure and more resources. They can be heard quoting an irrelevant judge to population ratio to justify their demands. This is blasphemy. Any judge who quotes such a ratio should be immediately considered unfit for the job he is tasked to perform.


The US which has only 25 percent of our population has many more times cases filed than in our country where a large percentage of population is still illiterate and the majority are concerned only with their next meal. Of the remaining, many cannot even think of approaching a court for justice not only because of denial of justice through preposterous delays but also due to the high cost involved. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, talking on the need for a simpler judicial system, said ‘Not even 1 % get justice in present system’. This 1% is only 1% of those who approach the judiciary hoping to get justice.

(See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udJjDwGDREA&feature=youtu.be)


I attended the valedictory function of a seminar on Access to Justice organised by the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association some years ago. Ravi Shankar Prasad, then Union Law Minister, painted the right picture when he said that at the beginning of litigation proceedings the litigant went by car and the advocate by cycle and by the time the litigation was over, the litigant was on cycle and the advocate was driving a car. Recently, media reported that Senior Advocate Ram Jethmalani claimed a fee of Rs one crore, only for conferencing.


Speaking of Ram Jethmalani, an interesting incident was reported when he was Union Minister in the Vajpayee cabinet. He had directed that all documents in his ministry be made available for scrutiny to members of the public and if they required it they could take copies also at a nominal fee. This was long before the RTI Act was enacted, and its predecessor the Freedom of Information Act, was being debated. The report said that the Secretary in the Ministry took up the matter with the Cabinet Secretary who told him he could hold on to the proposal as the FoI Act was in the offing. This shows the stranglehold of our bureaucracy on government.

(See ‘Survival by blackmail or art of governance’



We have been freely blaming politicians for everything, but there is need to appreciate their handicaps also. First is the short term for which they are elected, about which nothing can be done. But what can be done is that certain qualifications and experience be prescribed for candidates aspiring to be people’s representatives. Next, the accountability of bureaucrats has to be defined and all such protective armour like prior permission for prosecution has to be done away with. When being prosecuted or prosecuting they should go through the litigation process in their personal capacities, investing their own time and resources and being rewarded only if there is material savings to the state.


R.K. Raghavan (‘Dealing with the deadwood’, The Hindu, Jan. 23, 2017) stated, ‘The only obstacle in the way of drastic civil service reform - like the one pursued by the present government at the Centre - is the judiciary that overturns or stays every administrative action against an erring senior officer. Courts would earn the admiration of a harassed public if they stopped interfering in disciplinary matters once they are satisfied that prescribed procedures had been followed in a case coming up before them and there is no malice writ large on a decision. Judicial overstepping, while correcting unjust action against a few honest civil servants, unwittingly promotes the cause of many unscrupulous elements. The track record of administrative tribunals in the country is a matter of great concern to those looking for a balanced and objective bureaucracy.’



Having said that, there are many important and urgent changes required in the way we elect and compensate our elected representatives themselves. Some of the existing practices are an insult to the very concept of democracy. Among these are permitting candidates to contest from more than one constituency and allowing candidates rejected by the electorate to be a representative for six months and then getting him elected to the Rajya Sabha or getting an elected member to resign and make way for this ‘exalted’ candidate.


Then, the way elected representatives are seen doing things, one is left wondering whether we elect them to go about inaugurating various functions in their constituencies or to be our representatives in law making bodies? Should they not be expected to hold consultations and consolidate their constituency’s opinion on various issues being taken up in law making bodies and project them appropriately? (See



Then there is the matter of compensation. While ministers may be considered full time employees, other elected representatives are not. Anyone with above average knowledge of the environment in which he is living and can effectively take up issues that needed attention and legislation should be able to represent his constituency on pro bono basis. He may also be provided ex gratia payment on completion of tenure. But what we find is that they are made eligible for pension for themselves and their spouses, in varying degrees, from the moment they take oath, complete one term, and for every year of additional service as elected representative. Even short service commissioned officers of the armed forces who do up to 10 years of service are not eligible for any pension whatsoever.


As per information gathered under the RTI Act, the pension disbursed to 3857 ex-MPs/family pensioners of MPs, during the three months Jan-Mar 2013 were Rs 3.86, 4.67 and 4.36 crore respectively. That is an average of Rs 11,150/- per month. But that is peanuts compared to an amount of Rs 2,545/- crore paid by the Lok Sabha Secretariat to the railways towards travel expenses of these ex MPs/family pensioners for the same quarter. And that works out to Rs 22/- lakh per ex-MP/family pensioner per month.


Taming the bureaucracy is easily done provided there is political will. Today bureaucrats are made to toe the line by threat of transfer to places or appointments that are not generally coveted. In one instance the people of Kasargod in north Kerala openly opposed the tendency to transfer employees from southern districts to their district as punishment posting. There is need to provide fixed tenures for bureaucrats to perform effectively.


If they have to be transferred before completion of prescribed tenure, a detailed explanation should be made mandatory. But it should also be ensured that they deliver their services to the satisfaction of the public. Technology can be used to collect feedback from citizens on their satisfaction level in the matter of ease of doing business with public servants and this should be a parameter for their career progress.


Making the judiciary transparent, accountable, effective and efficient will remain a challenge as things are now. Not only judgments but also docket sheets should be published on court websites so that the public can study how effectively and judiciously the judges are performing their duties. Since the judiciary has unwarrantedly kept these out of purview of the RTI Act, let me quote an example of a consumer dispute decided by the District Forum at Palakkad. The Consumer Protection Act has prescribed a period of three months to dispose of a dispute.


In OP 282/1999 (OP No 85/1995 transferred from Malappuram), the opposite party produced interim stay order on Oct. 28, 1999 and the stay was vacated only on June 8, 2005 during which period the case was listed 58 times and adjourned. It was finally posted for orders on July 6, 2007 but was opened for re-hearing suo moto on Feb. 15, 2008 and went on an adjournment spree (17 times) from March 3, 2008 to May 31, 2010. It was dismissed when an application was submitted under the RTI Act to find out the status.


Similarly, on a particular day, while all disputes listed had been adjourned en masse due to absence of staff, the attendance register showed the complete staff as present.


Suggestions to the CM, Kerala to set up a cell to monitor the performance of all quasi-judicial bodies have fallen on deaf ears.


In the case of the judiciary, it is shocking that provisions like contempt of court still exist in the statute. The only justification for its existance could be the need to ensure compliance with orders of courts. But you can hardly find it being used for that purpose, while it is used freely to supress scrutiny and criticism. The recent conviction of a high court judge, C.S. Karnan, for contempt of court after he made specific allegations of judicial corruption, and the compromise reached in the matter of four judges who cast aspersions on the Chief Justice of India, speak for itself.



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