Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Open Letter

I reproduce below an open letter I had drafted about month and a half back, much before my first posting of this month but I didn't make use of, as other developments were simultaneously taking place. Now the issue having been covered by prime electronic media and having been forgotten or not ever taken any cognizance of by the nation at large, I post below this letter as it was drafted at that time.
As things stand on date as would be clear from earlier posts, I am a confirmed fool in the eyes of my wife, may be children as well, and my colleagues. I accept. But my example, an unprecedented one if not in the history of independent India, definitely in Indian Railways, has proved some important points.

1. The hypocrisy of media- it projects itself as holier than thou but is simply not bothered about any corrections or real issues.

2. While so many armchair moralists and reformers talk so much about evils and required corrections, they don't mean anything as corrections won't come just by wishing and talking. Real sacrifices and efforts will be necessary. Firstly no one would stick one's neck out for same. Secondly if someone does that at great risk to his very existence- taking on single-handedly the powerful money-bags and the whole establishment, specially the top-most bureaucracy--- those great moralists decide not to give any cognizance. Still they will go on criticizing society.

3. Rot has gone to all pillars of democracy.

4. There still may be well-meaning people and organizations they act in isolation while need is for them to join forces with like-minded people/organizations. Pl see my post 'Good guys, bad guys.'

An Open Letter Dt. Mid August, 2010
(In my capacity as an Indian Citizen and a Public Servant)

The Indian Public

( Special attention: Arnab Goswamis, Rajdeep Sardesais, Barkha Dutts, Rajat Sharmas, Prannoy Roys.........)

Sub: Leakage of Rs 5000 crores or above year after year through faulty Railway Procurement

“Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.” - Mahatma Gandhi

“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.” - Mahatma Gandhi

I wrote a letter to Hon'ble MR dt. 24th March, 2010 detailing how leakage of public revenue worth approx Rs. 5000 crores per year was taking place in Railway Procurement and systemic corrections called for to arrest such a huge leakage were mentioned and implied therein. The copy of letter was also sent to all Railway Board Members (except MT), AM(RS) and the Minister's Adviser (on Stores matters), Sh. Amitabha Datta. I haven't heard anything in response from anyone till date. It did look strange against MR's proclaimed public stance of being against corruption and leakage of public money at numerous platforms in and outside Railways.

What followed, however, was just the opposite. Towards end of April, in a sudden move, the senior most officer heading the Stores Department as AM(RS), an officer having served a good no. of years as CTE in CVC, an officer of known impeccable integrity, was relieved of his post in an unprecedented manner. The things/reasons do unfold in the organization. What unfolded was even more shocking. He was sacked( virtually) because he had taken a professionally correct position in the multi-crore Rly Bd tender for procurement of wagons, contrary to MR's wishes conveyed to him through her advisers. What a shame! But no shame. Such things are accepted in our great country as a matter of routine and so was this (Unceremonious exit of Sh. M. P. Juneja as AM(RS)) without even a murmur of protest from any quarter whatsoever. The people duty bound to protest, the Indian Railway Stores Service(IRSS) cadre, chose to look the other way, ably led by the President and Genl Secy of their association. I am telling it to make a point that the so called educated and intelligentsia are the cowards of worse than the worst order and we owe ills of the society to them more than anyone else.

Probably without Hon'ble MR realizing (I give her benefit of doubt, but her advisers ought to have realized), this act of hers weakened beyond redemption the very department that needed to be strengthened to arrest systemic leakage of public revenue worth thousands of crores of Rs. per year as detailed in my letter. It laid the foundation/ cleared the path for this leakage to multiply easily and become, say, Rs. 10000 crores per year. This from a person, i.e. MR, shouting hoarse against corruption and leakage of public money in newspapers’ headlines. What hypocrisy! What a farce!

Then there was a series of articles in end June in The Statesman. Some conscientious journalist had probably got hold of my letter and did his own verifications and research based on that. This series laid bare the systemic wrongs in the Railways procurement system alleging leakage of Rs 50000 crores to cartels in a decade. The facts quoted were so strong and true that till date, no refusal from the Railways has come, meaning thereby that the published reports in essence have been accepted. This is further confirmed through MR's reported reaction that she encouraged such reports as these reports had helped Rlys in knowing their shortcomings and taking corrective action. How amusing! The reports in the articles only elaborated what contained in my letter. For months my letter was with the top Rly bureaucracy but no one including MR herself bothered to give it any cognizance. When same contents make a news item, suddenly eyes are opened, investigations initiated, politically correct public stance is taken and then? Then nothing done to correct systemic flaws causing wastage/leakage of thousands and thousands of crores of precious public money. Further while the Newspaper is patted by MR for her to be politically correct, the bureaucracy working under her (was it with her consent as well?) targets the officer whose letter formed the basis for the news articles. Nothing strange in a country where whistle-blowers are murdered in broad daylight and everyone remains happy singing the national anthem.. Why should top bureaucracy (with blessings of political bosses?) not murder bureaucratically those as a result of whose actions their wrong doings/mistakes come to light, come to public domain? Who is there to stop them? What worth is Rs 5000 or 50000 crores of public money to those whose only concern is their own career (read postings and promotions), may be kickbacks for some, and well being of their families? Self-preservation and vested interests must rein supreme.

While MR promotes herself as being saviour of public money and the poor, I request her to introspect in what way she has been able to achieve beyond having done only lip-service. Going by above, in journalist’s words- she has only inflicted self goals. Whether she is to blame or the counsel she has chosen, she should know better. But even if later is the case, responsibility lies with her. There is another instance. Acting on her counsel, she had overnight changed ED/RRB and all heads of RRB’s even though they had not completed their tenures. It was understood that this action was necessitated as it was considered that having been installed in the regime of the previous Minister, all existing officers didn’t have the impeccable integrity she cherished and had therefore to be replaced. Though a ridiculous action in the first place, it proved to be a big joke through subsequent developments.What followed must have left MR red in the face. An unprecedented recruitment scam got unearthed, one of her appointees being a party to it. Luckily for her , the media, perhaps too busy with Sharukhs and Kaitrinas, didn't take much notice of these facts.

No doubt, MR is a great leader and I am nobody to belittle her. My purpose is only to make her realize (if she has an open mind) that the counsel she is keeping for administration of Railways is neither doing any good to Railways, nor to her, or to public at large.

The bureaucracy and its working in the Railways remains feudal and archaic. More feudal than archaic. From its feudal character stems the root cause of all scams that surface now and then- a totally opaque and nepotic system of postings and transfers. What becomes visible to public and media now and then as scams are just a few leaves of a big tree, the root of which, the posting, promotion and transfer system, remains hidden from their eyes. The tree of scams will continue to flourish until and unless the root is attacked. Most of the officers find themselves at the wrong end of this feudal system sometime or other in their long careers, but sadly they chose to keep quite and bide their time. Rare like me chose to react wishing corrections in the system and suffer more and more. There is no dearth of good officers and officials in the Railways, most of them must be better than me. But these good people are doing more harm than good to the system by choosing to keep quite. Edmund Burke, the philosopher rightly said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Recently there was a super-hit Hindi film ‘Three idiots”. The Government will do well to screen it for its bureaucracy in an attempt to make it learn a simple lesson from it, ‘the issues and solutions remain predominantly simple and it is only we that complicate the things to satisfy our egos or serve our vested interests.’

I belong to Indian Railways Stores Service, a professional service responsible for materials management over Railways. A major part of this responsibility is procurement of material for Railways’ requirements. Even when a child is asked to buy something, it generally would buy a thing worth five rupees for five rupees as a result of the forces acting in the process. But as paid professionals for doing the job, we do majority of our purchases (value wise) day in and day out for value much (30% to ten times or so, by an intelligent guess) in excess of the cost price and reasonable margin of profit. We have tons of procedures, rules and instructions to carry our job and we feel satisfied that we are doing our job as per laid down rules but look where we end up. Causing leakage of Rs 5000 crores or more of public money per year. We allow procurement of same items at even much higher costs through works contracts in the same organization. We, the cream of the intelligentsia, selected through UPSC, allow ourselves to become slaves to self defeating rules and procedures and leave our thinking cap home while coming to work. Why? Because it suits us. We get our salaries, choice postings, may be the cuts as well, our children study in good schools, wives enjoy the shopping and we enjoy ourselves. Why to bother about professional competence or incompetence? Yet when our child is sick and we take it to a doctor, we expect him/her to be professionally most competent!

Hold on! Don’t think that I am confused as to who is responsible for the mess that is current Railway Procurement System. Where else on earth you will find a massive and powerful organization like Indian Railways first approving sources to do business with it, very survival of most such sources depending on that business alone, and then readily and gleefully getting exploited by those very sources? It is said not for nothing that reality is stranger than fiction. Responsibility lies simply and obviously both with the Board and us, the IRSS officers. With Rly Board for creating the mess and with us for accepting and allowing this mess to continue.

Neither it is that we are totally helpless under the existing rules and procedures. It is that we allow ourselves to become slaves of the rules and continuing flawed working rather than becoming masters of the procedures and rules. All supply contracts over Rlys are governed by IRS conditions of contract. In these contracts, there is a very potent clause- Book Examination Clause. Hardly ever we have used it. Sadly such a clause is not there in works contracts. Through use of this clause, beyond manipulation of their books by the suppliers, not only we can find out the extent of unreasonable profit made by the suppliers, we can also recover the same from them and prevent recurrence of it if the suppliers are regular ones. If someone has some doubt, he/she can consult me for free.

While I am drafting this letter, scam after scam concerning Common Wealth Games is coming to light. The cost overrun has already been 17 times than the originally estimated cost with leakage of thousands of crores of public money. Though there is so much hue and cry in the electronic media about this, the sums involved pale in comparison to leakage taking place year after year in Railways procurement system as brought out in my letter and the reports of the Statesman. Yet till date, our alert and responsible electronic media has either not found it or not found it worth mentioning. And yet they have the license to take everyone else to the task. Coming back to CWG, some cosmetic investigations will be done, a few unfortunate ones without connections taken to task and thousands of crores of public money would have gone down the drain, nay, down the throat of the powerful ones and those in power. The same applies to all such scams media reports with such vigour and then forgets. The percentage of those below poverty line and mal-nourished children ever continues to increase. Who bothers?

Here I would like to share a thought. It was about 20-25 years back that Rajiv Gandhi, the Hon'ble PM of India publicly told that out of Re one spent by the Govt only paisa 14 reached the intended beneficiary. We have simply accepted it and allowed that 14 paisa to become, may be, 11 paisa . Many of us have done wonders in our personal lives- as politicians, as bureaucrats, as film producers, actors, sports stars, tycoons, businessmen, singers, journalists, industrialists, professors, scientists, writers, poets- the list is endless. But what worth is that? Howsoever great we may be- we have failed collectively and as a nation, miserably. The day we realize this hard fact ( whether we accept or not, it is always there from the perspective of the Almighty), probably we shall begin to succeed.

Who am I to say all this and why should I say all this? As my nears and dears complain, “Why could I not be like my colleagues, keep my mind and mouth shut, butter the bosses and get choice postings and promotions and enjoy materially?” I don’t know. Probably I am just doing God's bidding and who am I to interfere in His designs?

The abo

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