Monday, September 6, 2010

A failed state?

It has become necessary to disclose my identity and record some of my recent experiences. I take blog as a personal space/diary where one is true to oneself. I am an Indian Railway Store Service (IRSS) Officer. The service is meant for material management over Indian Railways. That includes procurement worth Rs. 30000 crore a year as a major function. Based on my experiences and those of my colleagues, I wrote to Hon’ble Minister of Railways and top railway functionaries in end March, 2010. It was a well meaning letter bringing out how leakage of minimum Rs. 5000 crore per year was taking place through cartels bred and nurtured by the organisation itself. Repeat ~ Rs 5000 crore (Rs 50 billion) per year, to increase as total volume of purchases would increase in coming years. Not a small sum of money by any means. I took risk of catching the bull by horn as I felt billions of public money weighed much more than an individual’s safety/well being.

It would appear surprising to people in developed countries but not to those who know Indian bureaucracy and democracy that no cognizance was given to this letter either by the Minister and her coterie or the top Railway bureaucracy. No one batted an eyelid. Three months thence, in end June, 2010, Sh. Shiv Karan Singh of ‘The Statesman’, a national English daily- circulation mainly confined to Eastern India, brought out a series of reports under banner headlines in the Newspaper that confirmed what I had brought out, with authentic facts and figures. The Minister now became wiser and ordered vigilance enquiry and mentioned for public consumption that Railways had learnt from these reports. That was the end of it as far as Minister was concerned. A Minister who had been crying from roof tops about corruption in Railway procurement. When told of where the actual malaise lay and what was really needed to arrest and correct it, she had nothing better to offer than to coolly oversee victimization of one who had dared to speak out the truth. While the vigilance investigations still continue (we all know the effectiveness of anti corruption unit of ICC), the leakage continues with even greater impunity (there are records and documents to show that) as the basic and necessary issues remain unaddressed ~ no vigilance enquiry was required to address the same in the first place. This is so when there was a consensus among Railway officers across departments that the reports contained nothing but absolute truth. Still no thought, leave alone action, to make any correction. Whatever you may call it, I see it as symptoms of a failed state, where respect for public money and public accountability cease to exist. Only hypocrisy and self interests prevail. This is not the end of story, though. Please read on.

While the Minister publicly said the reports had been educative for the organisation, I was kicked 2000 miles away through an unceremonious transfer order in the land of vendors who had been implicated in the reports. Message was open and clear, “who are you bloodifool to bother about public money and professionally correct working? Society and the nation don’t need fools like you.” One would think that the IRSS officers, whose cause was getting addressed to, would at least now have come out in support. On the contrary, my colleagues who gained to be liberated from bonded and unprofessional working they have been forced to and accustomed to, through my letter, continue to look the other way under leadership of our departmental chief. Are they feeling quite comfortable in their chains out of deep rooted habit or/and the kickbacks emanating from status quo, contrary to what I had thought about them? And mind you, they are no ordinary citizens. They and other Railway officers are the cream among intelligentsia, having been selected by UPSC through an all India competition.

The poet Sabir Dutt was not farther from truth when he said, “…. sab se behtar kabhi na ban na, jag ke rahbar kabhi na ban na..chup rah kar hi waqt guzaro, sach kahne pe jaan mat waro, kuch to seekho mujh se yaro…” . So, much isolated and unwanted in the organisation, I see no option but to quit and have applied for voluntary retirement.

Coming back to issue of saving more than Rs 50 billion a year and apathy all around for same. Recently there was a movie ‘ peepli (live)’ that ridiculed media, specially electronic media, and the establishment. Whatever it conveyed about electronic media was an understatement. Reality is much worse. All the while the loot of Rs. 50000 crore or 500 billion over last decade in Railway procurement alone was being reported in a newspaper and even two months after, the alert media of the country, both print and electronic, hasn’t found it worthwhile to take note. They all shout hoarse for action when some petty corruption cases get thrown up, but a systemic loot of Rs 50 billion a year and ever rising shouldn’t concern them. What a farce this whole country is!

After my punitive transfer, The Statesman came out with an interview with me that caught many an eye in the society except that of Hon’ble Minister and the Railway administration. While the interview was acclaimed as being exceptionally courageous, still people and the society didn’t bother much about the real issue- the drainage of astronomical sums of public money. However, a prime national news channel approached me for bringing the issue to the larger audience through their good offices. I shall rather not name the channel now. Though of great personal risk to me, I agreed to their request and gave them the necessary bites to bring up the issue most effectively. Then the dilly-dallying started on their side. Somehow one fine day they conveyed their decision that the story would go to air the next day. The day came and went. They said then that it would be aired after another couple of days. That also was not to be. It was decided at some top level in the channel that story was not to be aired at all, God knows for what reasons. So it was not Railways alone that rotted at the head ~ as had been mentioned by the statesman editor of The Statesman ~ but many an organisation in the country. Had the powerful channel struck a deal with the powerful Railway establishment or the filthily rich implicated vendors? Or did they find the matter of drainage of hundreds of billions of public money too trivial to be reported? I don’t know. But the episode goes to show that peepli (live) was an understatement, whatever I have been saying about media is gospel and that if not already one, India is not far from becoming a failed state.

I consider it necessary to write above now as I do perceive more and more danger to my honourable and healthy existence, hoping all the time that I am wrong. Kal ho na ho. Through the channel, the adversaries know I am a potentially greater threat, potential having remained unrealised with the last moment decision of the channel of not going to air with the story after having developed it to the finest points. I remain an isolated individual with might of Railway administration and powerful cartel lobbies as adversaries. There is no agency I can look to for help. This exactly is the characteristic of a failed state. You act in larger public interest, get murdered as many RTI activists have been in recent past, or get persecuted by the powerful administration itself whom you have challenged or if you are luckier, die a lonely old man. The world around goes on singing and dancing, heaping praises on the murderers and plunderers.

I hope the above just remains on record for the time being, away from public-eye.

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