The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Eureka! Something rotten in Delhi

New Delhi, Feb. 25: Cabinet secretary Kamal Pande has dropped a bombshell that has shaken the bureaucracy and left some shrapnel-marks on the Vajpayee regime’s claims about the quality of its governance.

In a note written to all the secretaries of the government of India, the country’s seniormost civil servant has said he feels “ashamed that things have come to such a pass” that even retired senior bureaucrats “have to use influence or some other kind of inducement to get their work done” in government offices.

“More seriously, if this is the treatment meted out to retired senior civil servants, one would shudder to think of the fate of the common man,” the cabinet secretary laments in his letter.

Pande has instructed all the secretaries to accord “top priority” to the issue so that “serious corrective action” can be taken to make the interface with the government “smooth and obstruction-free for the common man”.

He has highlighted the need for “a paradigm shift in the nature and quality of interaction at the grassroots of the administration”.

Pande has set a one-month deadline for all the ministries to identify at least four or five major areas of public interface of the departments and organisations under their control and suggest steps to improve the functioning of the system.

The proposals are expected to be submitted by mid-March, after which they will be examined by the core group on administrative reforms to evolve a well-defined enforceable strategy to be implemented by each department.

Pande even strikes a sentimental note with his colleagues by saying that while working out these measures, “please remember that very soon we shall be at the receiving end of the government machinery and as helpless as our present retired brethren”.

A senior bureaucrat told The Telegraph that, perhaps, never before has the callousness and corruption that has crept into government departments over the years been acknowledged at the highest level in such a “frank and heartfelt manner”.

Pande wrote the note after receiving feedback about the functioning of the system from “a number of retired senior civil servants who have complained that they find it increasingly difficult to get their work done in government offices in a normal, hassle-free manner”.

These retired civil servants also acknowledge that during their service years “they were wrong in not fully appreciating the gravity of public complaints against the harassment by field-level government functionaries”.

The bitter truth has been driven home to them only in their post-retirement years when they have to personally deal with these officials. At least, they have to live with this only after retirement, unlike the “common man” for whom it is a lifelong torment.

It’s a surprise the government has realised there is a problem with the system. An even bigger surprise will be if something is done to set it right.

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