Monday, 30th October 2017

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Babus give babus the blushes

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By CHARU SUDAN KASTURI in Delhi
  • Published 17.12.06
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New Delhi, Dec. 17: A bored, retired bureaucrat sits down at his desk every third day to file a fresh application under the Right to Information Act.

His purpose — to use his experience in various ministries to try and expose current babus who spend copious amounts of public funds on foreign visits he believes are often unnecessary.

Another current bureaucrat has taken it upon himself to embarrass officials in the external affairs ministry who spend public money on — well, private affairs.

It is a crisis babus opposing the RTI for fear of public scrutiny had probably never anticipated. It is the attack of the babu disgruntled with the system.

The Central Information Commission is being flooded with RTI applications from former bureaucrats seeking potentially embarrassing information about other senior bureaucrats.

“At least five applications of this nature come before us every day, asking much more appropriate and incisive questions than an ordinary citizen ever could,” an information commissioner told The Telegraph.

Take for instance, a recent application asking for details of the foreign trips of bureaucrats from the department of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries.

And voila — from Brussels to Brisbane, Copenhagen to Cairo, the money spent on official trips in the past three years all come spilling out.

The secretary, four joint secretaries and the commissioner of the department together ran up a whopping bill of over Rs 37 lakh in 2003 for foreign visits.

Mind you, most of these are official visits to international conferences.

The figure for the next couple of years hovers around Rs 35 lakh per annum.

This year, till May, the department had spent close to Rs 15 lakh on financing these trips.

“This is just an attempt to malign honest, efficient officials,” alleged one of the joint secretaries in question, when presented with the figures.

He pointed out that all the visits made by him have been to international conferences.

Senior officials in the department, however, admit that not all bureaucrats travel for any “worthwhile” purpose.

“Officials can claim they’re going to Pattaya, Bangkok to study fishing, but we all know the real reasons for their travel,” is how one bureaucrat in the department put it.

At least one joint secretary-in-charge of the fisheries section has been denied all foreign visits since 2005 after he spent Rs 20 lakh in the two previous years on trips ranging from the beaches of Seychelles and Hobart to the Alps in Switzerland, officials said.

Switch to the external affairs ministry, and embarrassing figures appear — over Rs 30 lakh in 2005 under a category labelled “co-companions”.

“From wives to mistresses, many in the list of co-comp- anions obtained by the RTI have little reason to be on a trip,” said another information commissioner, himself a former additional secretary in the ministry of external affairs.

CIC officials argue that though some of the applications may be motivated by past grievances, “there’s nothing wrong in bureaucrats using their skills at working the system, to help sieve out corrupt babus”.

After all, the information watchdog argues, who would know how to bring out wrongdoing on the part of babus better than babus themselves?