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Anti-graft body sparks babu fears
- Officers apprehend they may be targeted by govt

Calcutta, July 20: The Mamata Banerjee government’s decision to set up an anti-corruption branch has triggered murmurs of dissent in the state secretariat with some top-ranking IAS officers questioning the need for such a body even after the strengthening of the vigilance commission a few months ago.

Senior officials at Writers’ Buildings said the state vigilance commission was the “most competent authority” to handle cases of financial irregularities. The proposed anti-corruption branch will also probe such crimes by bureaucrats and will be headed by an officer of the rank of inspector-general.

“There is no clear justification behind the need for the new body,” an IAS officer said, expressing his reservations about the plan to set up the branch under the direct control of the state government.

The state cabinet approved the decision on July 5.

According to the officer, the purpose of curbing corruption may get lost if the agency works directly under the government.

On the other hand, the vigilance commission — a constitutional body that can investigate graft cases against public servants, from the chief secretary to a local body employee — does investigations independently.

“Many of us fear that the government may use the new body to armtwist officers,” the senior IAS officer said.

After coming to power, Mamata had said she was determined to weed out corruption from the administration. Former Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) secretary K.S. Ramasubban was made the chief vigilance commissioner (CVO). The one-member commission has now been converted into a three-member one.

“The state commission has already been strengthened. So what’s the need for another body?” an official asked, giving words to a view resonating across various state government offices in Calcutta and the districts.

Sources in the personnel and administrative reforms (PAR) department, which will supervise the branch, said they were receiving numerous calls from officers who were not sure about the role and powers of the proposed body.

“The vigilance commission cannot take suo motu action. This is one of the main reasons for setting up the anti-corruption branch,” an official of the department said.

This explanation has sparked fears among a section of officers who have had “problems” with the ministers they work under.

One of such officer said the government could use the proposed body to “target” those who had not fallen in line with the Trinamul government. “I can’t understand what’s the need of initiating suo motu action as there are provisions of lodging complaints against officers,” the officer said.

The apprehension that the new body would be used as a tool against bureaucrats has been fuelled by the government’s decision to keep elected members of all organisations outside the branch’s purview.

“If the state wants to prevent corruption in local bodies (municipalities and panchayats) or societies, elected members should have been brought under the purview of the branch. It appears that the branch is being set up to take action against officers who are trying to do their jobs impartially,” an IPS officer said.

PAR department officials, however, said people’s representatives or elected members were kept out because they were under the purview of the Lokayukt.

They said that states like Andhra Pradesh and Goa had anti-corruption branches under the direct supervision of the state governments but did not rule out the possibility of its misuse.

“We are under tremendous pressure as senior officers are being regularly insulted in front of juniors in meetings. If more pressure is put by introducing the new body, the number of IAS officers opting for central deputation will increase,” an official said.