By TT Ram Mohan

H C Gupta, the former coal secretary, has drawn enormous support from the IAS association, assorted bureaucrats and the media in connection with the many CBI cases he’s facing. He’s an upright man, everybody says, the last person to use his position to make money for himself. His is a case of how the Prevention of Corruption Act can be used to harass an honest, retired bureaucrat.

As this article in Scroll.in points out, the issue is not just whether Mr Gupta made money out of the allocations are not. The issue is whether he was party to a seriously flawed process, whether he abetted wrong decisions on the part of higher-ups:

From all accounts, Gupta is an honest and upright officer. But when the coal scam was underway, what was needed from him was more than personal incorruptibility.

He needed to hold his responsibility to the country higher than what the functionaries in the Congress seemed to have been telling him to do. The Screening Committee that Gupta headed disregarded its own internal comparisons of all the applicants, as a Central Bureau of India official had pointed out. Subsequently, as we know, several of the files pertaining to the allocations went missing as well.

In other words, Gupta is not in the dock because he made recommendations that benefitted some companies. He is in the dock because he cannot explain why those companies were chosen.

In other words, Gupta is not in the dock because he made recommendations that benefitted some companies. He is in the dock because he cannot explain why those companies were chosen.

He cannot explain those decisions because he is not the one who made those decisions to begin with. Politicians, especially from the ruling Congress Party, influenced the allocations, this reporter was repeatedly told while covering the coal scam. The charge against Mr Gupta, then, appears to be that he looked the other way. Bureaucrats are riled because that’s precisely what many of them are required to do- in order to move up the ladder, if not to keep their jobs. It frightens them that something that’s considered routine now in the bureaucracy- looking the other way- can bring retribution down the line.

A 1971 IAS officer, Gupta resigned from the Competition Commission of India in 2013 after CBI started investigating him for various coal scam cases.

During the Coal scam, Gupta needed to hold his responsibility to the country higher than what the Congress seemed to have been telling him to do. | Photo Courtesy: Pexels

And why single out bureaucrats? In PSUs, in private sector companies, indeed, in every organisation, safety, comfort and prosperity lie in looking the other way, not raising the voice of dissent. People know that wrongs are being perpetrated but they rationalise their silence by telling themselves that they are not profiting directly from questionable decisions. (They do profit indirectly because the reward for keeping silent is that you get your promotions and bonuses). The amendment that bureaucrats want now in the law against corruption is that they can prosecuted only if they are shown to have derived a personal benefit.

The amendment that bureaucrats want now in the law against corruption is that they can prosecuted only if they are shown to have derived a personal benefit.

If they did not uphold or defend the public interest, that’s fine. Politicians may well be inclined to oblige them because otherwise the basis of the neta-babu nexus gets broken. Without pliant bureaucrats who will not stand in their way, the netas cannot make hay.

It will be interesting to see how Mr Gupta’s case plays out- and whether the amendment sought by the bureaucracy will be forthcoming.


TT Ram Mohan is the Professor of Finance and Accounting Area, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad.

The article was originally published in The Big Picture.

Featured Image Credits: India Today

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Posted by The Indian Economist