Over 1000 officers have been sacked by the ministry of home affairs during the last five years on the basis of performance, character and corruption. Since June 2019 alone, 85 officers have been removed from service. Of these, 64 were high ranking officials and 12 of them were from the income tax department.
These officers were forced to retire pursuant to Rule 56(j) of the Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules 1972 which allows compulsory retirement of government officials in public interest.
More recently, in a rare move, the Railways prematurely retired 32 of its officers who were above the age of 50 years in ‘public interest’ on grounds of inefficiency, doubtful integrity and conduct unbecoming of a railway servant.
Disconcertingly, the corrupt officers were not only spread across the length and breadth of the country but the malaise seems to be all pervasive: Income tax, Railways, Central Board of Indirect Taxes: all are afflicted. Many of these officers were removed on charges of misuse of official position to seek and receive bribes, with many even being caught by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
But is this exercise making any material impact? Apparently not. A senior income tax commissioner was sacked by the government earlier this year. Undeterred, he passed 104 back dated orders to obtain undue benefits. It is only now that he has been arrested by CBI.
The above case gives out an important message: This laudable cleansing drive is a good beginning but cannot be seen as the end. Much more needs to be done.
Firstly, mere dismissal from service is not sufficient. This can send out a wrong message. Losing a few years of service will not deter those who want to make hay while the sun shines. Those found corrupt must face immediate arrest and impounding of their ill-gotten assets. Criminal cases against them should be fast tracked to send out a strong signal.
Recently, Lee Sang Hoon, Chairman of the Samsung Electronics Board was sentenced to 1.5 years in person. His offence would seem harmless by our standards: he was found guilty of obstructing the formation of the company’s labor union in 2013!
Secondly, our “performance appraisal” systems need a hard review. Why did it take so long to detect these corrupt/inefficient officers? Some had reached the level of commissioner of income tax, many were over 50. Seniors who could not detect the incompetence of their juniors should be held equally accountable. Appropriate enhancements should be made in the systems to weed out the incompetent and corrupt at any early stage.
Thirdly, the role and complicity of the “peers” also needs to be investigated. It is unlikely that the corrupt officers would have operated in a vacuum. One fish can dirty the whole pool. It is well known that many criminals continue to operate even when they are behind bars. The proverbial umbilical cord must be severed completely to ensure that those dismissed from service cannot curry any favors from friends within the system.
It is most important that a few examples of exemplary punishment to the corrupt are demonstrated quickly to set a deterrent for the others.