The sound and fury created by the Indian Administrative Service Officers Association and retired IAS officers, including a former Cabinet Secretary, in defence of HC Gupta, former coal secretary, signify nothing much. No one, not even the Central Bureau of Investigation which filed the charge-sheet against him, has questioned or doubted the honesty and integrity of Gupta, and by all accounts it is beyond reproach. The charge-sheet indicted him of being part of a conspiracy to confer undue favour on private parties which caused huge loss to the exchequer. Coal blocks were allotted to a select few favoured companies by the ruling party and endorsed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who held the coal portfolio at the relevant time. It is the duty of bureaucrats to pursue revenue maximisation rather than please their political masters. Unfortunately in India, bureaucrats who endorse their masters’ whims and fancies are rewarded with plum postings and even post-retirement sinecures. It may be mere coincidence that the list of entities to be allotted coal blocks recommended by the screening committee headed by Gupta was identical to the one his political masters desired. He has not been accused of deriving any monetary benefit in the selection process. But he has not been able to explain why those companies were chosen and some of the more deserving ones left out. One of the beneficiaries was a DMK minister in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government who was not in any coal-based industry. He promptly sold his allotment and made a fortune. Manmohan Singh would call it a coalition compulsion!
In the 1990s, the Tamil Nadu government wanted to disinvest its share in a successful profit-making joint sector company. Chandralekha, the IAS officer in charge of the industry, pointed out the loss it would entail to the government and refused to be party to the deal. She was promptly removed from the post. A few days later an assailant, yet to be identified or brought to book, threw acid on Chandralekha and disfigured her face. That was the reward for an upright IAS officer. Though public memory is short, people would not have forgotten what happened to Ashok Khemka, an upright IAS officer of the Haryana cadre. He paid a heavy price for challenging the wrongdoings of his political masters. Why has the IAS Officers Association not taken up their cases? Most officers know how to survive and prosper in the IAS. Now the Association wants to water down the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and do away with Section 13 (1) (d). To claim that this section envisages punishment even without mens rea and personal gain are not fully correct. Presumption of guilt of the accused contemplated here is not automatic. Honest civil servants need not fear being hauled up for transparent decisions which hold the risk of causing loss to the exchequer.