The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Panel check on false complaints

New Delhi, July 11: Beware, malice could soon backfire on you!

If the suggestions of a committee find favour with the Prime Minister’s Office, false complaints to scuttle a bureaucrat’s chances of promotion might invite penal provisions.

The Arvind Pande committee — set up after the Central Vigilance Commission told the PMO last year about instances of ministries milking public sector undertakings — has asked the government to make it obligatory for PSUs to press charges against people who make false complaints.

If the United Progressive Alliance regime accepts the recommendation, it will be a matter of time before it is applicable to complaints against other government officials, too.

In an example of how such malicious complaints can affect a career, a secretary-rank official lost out in the race for a posting in a sensitive ministry this year.

In February, then cabinet secretary Kamal Pande had ordered a “discreet inquiry” against the official on the basis of anonymous complaints forwarded by two members of Parliament. Ordinarily, Pande would have ignored the complaints. But as two MPs had forwarded them, he wrote to the CBI director to conduct an inquiry.

The CBI probed the charges but found that the dirt did not stick. But by the time it gave its verdict, the official was already out of the race for the posting.

However, the next time a similar story plays out, it might end differently. Even MPs could find themselves in trouble.

The practice of getting MPs and MLAs to forward anonymous complaints started in the nineties when the government barred vigilance authorities from entertaining anonymous complaints. The way around this rule was to approach MPs and MLAs to forward such complaints. There have also been instances when letterheads and signatures of MPs have been forged.

A CBI official who has probed some of these dummy complaints said since their purpose was to delay promotions and postings, investigators would receive very little co-operation from the MPs concerned once the inquiry began. “Which is understandable since the objective has been achieved,” he said.

The government has now been asked to plug this loophole.

One way could be to ask MPs to identify the complainant or, in the absence of this information, ask the elected representatives to authenticate the complaint before vigilance authorities step in. If the complaint is found to be false, malicious and unfounded, there might be a case to invoke penal provisions against the MP.

The Pande committee has gone a step further. It has asked the government to make it obligatory for vigilance authorities to start criminal proceedings for providing false information.

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