Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bureaucrats Revenge

First, apologies for the silence.

Second, a disclosure. I voted for the BJP in the last general election. My candidate was Poonam Mahajan. The Congress candidate was Priya Dutt. I also voted BJP in the hope that with the BJP securing the most candidates, Modi would become our Prime minister. I was thoroughly disillusioned by the Congress, and, except for the inaction, I believe, Priya Dutt was an embodiment of all that the Congress had been blamed of – corruption, nepotism, underhand deals, crony’s getting huge advantages etc etc. Today I am disappointed with the lack of performance by the BJP. Agreed, there is no denying that Modi, like Obama is a mesmerising orator, full of vision, but, alas, not much has changed on the ground. By the same token, there is a greater degree of so called orthodoxy, right wing religious sentiment today than ever before. This post is not about this rise in fundamentalism/orthodoxy etc.

Third, a theory. This is not a defence of the BJP [absolutists please note] but, my attempt, at an explanation to a lot of what has gone wrong so far.

My theory, in two words is, `Bureaucrats Revenge.’ The Congress had pointed out some months ago what they termed as U Turns by the BJP. They were partly correct, yes that are U turns, but I believe in many cases it is simply `Bureaucrats Revenge’ that has caused this.

Let me give you but a few examples.

Last week the Government published the draft National Encryption Policy. Suggestions were invited. In probably less than a week, responding, or being badly stung by the reaction, the Government has withdrawn the Policy. The Policy was absolutely ridiculous. I honestly believe the Government was a victim of `Bureaucrats Revenge’. Let me tell you why I think so. The Information & Technology Minister must have been receiving, as is the norm, representation from persons asking for some sort of regulation of/on the Internet and messaging services. This representation would have been serious and required to be addressed. Naturally, being the Minister, he must have believed that this is serious and asked his secretariat, ministry to prepare a policy. The Ministry being full of Bureaucrats must have in their usual pompous, arrogant and high handed manner prepared this Policy and had it published. The Minister had to have relied on his Bureaucrats to prepare this policy. The Policy turned out to be hideous and should never have been made in its present form. The problem is that some guidelines or instructions by the Minister were trampled on by the overzealous Bureaucrats. The Government has had to withdraw this policy with their tails between their legs.

Staying with the same Ministry, you will no doubt recall the banning of some 800 odd websites. These were supposed to be paedophilic porn sites. There were howls of protest. It turned out that many of the sites were far from porn. Once again the Government withdrew the ban. I am sure that the Minister did not check the 800 sites. Jokes apart it is simply not his job. He relied on his Bureaucrats. And what did they do? Go overboard. `Bureaucrats Revenge’. Government with tail between legs.

OROP. Remember that? I must confess it was fun seeing the fairly pickled General Saabs and Admiral Saabs frothing every night on TV asking, or rather, thundering, if this was how the country treated them? Frankly, I believe that Modi would have had no problem granting the OROP in its full extent. However, I believe that he too would have asked his Bureaucrats to give him answers. Frankly, if I was a Bureaucrat I would raise all sorts of objections to ensure that OROP is not given. Why would I want the army to get a share of the pie and deprive me? You see what I mean? `Bureaucrats Revenge’. OROP granted with conditions. Howls of protest. OROP granted, in full [almost]. `Bureaucrats Revenge’.

`Bureaucrats Revenge’ does not exist only in the BJPs time. I am sure you recall the body blow that Pranab Mukherjee inflicted on us. He introduced a slew of retrospective taxation measures when he was the Finance Minister. This sent a chill down everybody’s spine. The huge tax burden that befell Vodafone was just one of the examples. Once again, I am sure that there would have been representations made to the Finance Minister that taxes have to be levied, collected, imposed [choose your verb]. The Finance Minister would have told the Bureaucrats to get this organised. What did you get - `Bureaucrats Revenge’ – overzealous, fawning, self-righteous Bureaucrats going overboard and drafting a draconian law?

Once again staying with the same ministry, Finance, but with a new Minister Arun Jetley, you had the Bureaucrats suddenly passing orders claiming MAT from foreigners, and that too retrospectively. I can certainly imagine representations being made as to how entities are escaping tax. Matter passed by Minister to Bureaucrat. What do you get? `Bureaucrats Revenge’.

Remember the brilliant new Income Tax Return form that was suddenly brought in. You had to give all manner of information on your foreign travels. Once again howls of protest. Once again a withdrawal by the Ministry and tail between legs. Can you not picture the representation and the typically high handed impractical response by the Babus? I can.

Let’s turn to the case of Nestle and Maggi. No, not the ban. I am talking about the 640 crore claim for damages filed by the Government. By the way 640 crores is USD 100 million at that rate of exchange. Today it would be about 670 crores. This brilliant move was by the Food and Consumer Affairs Ministry. Ram Vilas Paswan is the Minister. `Bureaucrats Revenge’, I believe so. Paswan must have received representation to penalise Nestle. I am sure he passed them on. And what was the result? Mind you, according to me the fact that this is `Bureaucrats Revenge’ is borne out by the Food Processing Minister being rather disturbed by this move. According to me, the theories that there is often a difference in opinions between two ministries are simply on account of `Bureaucrats Revenge’.

The last example I have to tell you is the recent tail between legs that our Chief Minister Devendra Fa(t)dnavis did. Remember the ban on slaughter of goats and poultry in Mumbai for the Jain festival?. This was for 4 days. Who passed the order? It was the Municipal Commissioner – a Bureaucrat. Obviously, at the behest of the Minister who received several representation from MLA, MPs etc.

I could go on, the mess that is the much amended Companies Act 2013, the backwards and forwards on Corporate Audit/accounting standards, the overwhelming disclosures and compliances by SEBI, but, the point is the same so there is no need to bore you.

Okay, I agree that it is the Minister in charge who is also responsible for this having to eat humble pie or making U Turns. But, having said so, I honestly believe that the Ministers are falling into the clutches of the overzealous, oleaginous fawning all powerful bureaucracy. I think this is sad as we need Ministers who are erudite and wise and are capable of actually understanding the repercussions of a proposal by the bureaucrats and when necessary having the gumption to reign them in.

I do not know if you agree with my theory. It is unfortunate that this `Bureaucrats Revenge’ is adding fuel to the fire that seems to be rising every day, the fire of disappointment at the performance of the BJP.

No comments:

Post a Comment