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

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chief Vigilance Commissioner of India

Continuing media obsession with CWG not withstanding, the breaking news is that our Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), who was administered the oath by the President of India the other day, having been appointed by our own Prime Minister and Home Minister, is an accused in a corruption case since 1992. What is so big about it? Was he not a Secretary to Govt Of India prior to this? Was not the husband of our President an accused in a court case? Didn't our Prime Minister once survive by bribing the Members of Parliament? Is not our Home Minister known to be linked to mining mafias? Have not number of Central Ministers and Chief Ministers in states been distinguishing themselves in amassing astronomical wealth through public service and then getting majority support to win elections again? Is not ICC (International Cricket Council) chief, a body managing the biggest corruption on earth, a key Central Minister in India? If so, shouldn't one of the most corrupt perceived bureaucrats qualify to be the Chief Vigilance Commissioner to oversee the functioning of largely corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy. On this account, our great Govt has not failed us, though leading and governing a failed state. It hopes people should now become wise enough to stop sending complaints to CVC. Let us take the cue and at least help the Green cause by saving stationery.

More on Common Wealth Games

Something more for us Indians to rejoice at. We have a Prime Minister with a magical band or touch. He just used it and everything with CWG became alright, the mess just disappeared. This is the message coming through the electronic channels (what I had predicted a day back and what any body would have predicted). Why to bother if it was same PM who had appointed and till date supported the very people who had created the mess. It was same PM who had intervened a few weeks back to appoint a Group of Ministers to arrest the mess and still mess had become so big as to attract international ridicule. Magic is not for day to day affairs, should be used only when absolutely necessary. So our beloved and reverred PM did and lo! country's prestige is back on rail. Hail the PM! Hail the media whose efforts made PM wield his magic band! Hail ourselves for belonging to such a great country!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Common Wealth Games 2010

Time about I also said something about Commonwealth Games, the media are so obsessed with. Few days back I read Chetan Bhagat's article in Times of India on the subject and I couldn't agree more. I don't know how many would act on his advice and boycott the games but as expected, public, specially young generation is being befooled by greater fools in believing and making them do their best to make games a success. All for the prestige of the country. As luck would have it, things have already come to a pass that country's prestige has suffered badly even before start of the games. Now the outcome of games is immaterial, it may only give some solace to the media-mauled organisers, if hailed as successful which in all probability these will be. Media, in the meantime takes pride in continuing to highlight CWG scams, closing its eyes to obvious and known much much bigger scams. When it comes to sense of proportions, our reverred media doesn't have any.

While fingers are being pointed out at a few individuals for the mess, fundamental question remains who gave them this responsibility? It is I and you as a result of our democratic set up, and we are now criticising. When there is total anarchy around, blaming or fixing a few won't help. Over exposure of CWG mess by media with no resulting corrective or punitive action at any level has now made people, even die-hard optimists like me, to realise that anarchy in India is total and here to stay. It has signalled death of public accountability in India that had started taking last breaths with cash for vote scam, and will need a miracle for revival. The other day I was asking if India had become a failed state, the answer has come a bit too soon.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Out of Box solution for J&K

Yesterday evening I was watching discussion on J&K on a news channel wherein a question posed was " Can there be an out of box solution for J&K problem?" J&K continues to be a problem since independence and collectively as a nation we are far from any solution, as we have been even for all other basic problems concerning nation as a whole. Because as I must have said earlier also, our purpose has only been to talk and befool others, but not to find a solution. Simple solutions, any effective solution has to be simple, exist for all problems but not will to find them. Coming back to J&K, I don't know of the problem in depth and have never thought much about it. Watching the TV yesterday, I gave it a try and an 'out of box' solution did come to my mind.

A large number of Kashmiris and leaders talk of independence and self determination which India will never allow as the anchor was correctly pointing out. But are they not already independent as a federal unit? Why do they want to secede from the Union? They should elect a state government that works for them. desire for secession should come only if Centre doesn't give state its due and neglects it. I don't know but I feel that should haven't happened given the special status for J&K.
Then what is the problem? Atrocities by army? Army should be pulled up if so. Development and fair and just administration will assuage the feelings of any people. These require just will, will of those who have the power.

Nothing out of box in above. Kashmiris are cut up with India and a large number wants to secede - this also is fact and something out of ordinary will have to be done to make them feel more wanted and a part of India. What that could be? It occured to me J&K must be sending very few MP's , based on population there, to the Union. I checked up and found it is 6 against 10 from a tiny state of Haryana. Could this number be increased to, say, 12 as a clear message to people of J&K that India cares for them. A larger participation being allowed in the matters of Union will be a strong political action and message, separatists and secessionists will find hard to counter. This has to be coupled with good governance and development etc. Foolish? Out of box solutions have to be like that.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A delayed post

A few months back there was an accident, said to be result of sabotage, of Gyaneshwari Express near Jhargram. Many innocent lives were lost, child twins being among them. Moved that time, I had written a poem that I reproduce below now.

Accident at Jhargram

We were alive, the little twins,

Healthy and kicking

Dreaming the sweet dreams

Embraced in bliss

A few moments ago

Now hovering over the accident site at Jhargram

We see our deflated bodies

Entangled in the mangled wreckage

Of Steel

Crushed under wheels of another train

Wheel of Fate!

the nears and dears so inconsolable

Not so near, neither dear

the babus, the cameramen, the netas

shedding Crocodile Tear

Soon they will forget all

Will remain

only political gain

Some obscure poet will lament somewhere

Over here

We are not alone

Have 26/11 victims for company

They console

For them there were candle light processions

Much public outcry

Governments claimed in no uncertain terms

Culprits will be brought to book

but now look

Master mind of their massacre

Roams free in alien land

And here with a smiling face

some top babu expresses government's disappointment

and back they all go to their partying ways

" We were born we died

Did we ever belong to a country, a nation

For which we sang the national anthem?"

The 26/11 victims do wonder

Our rotting bodies below

gift from our own countrymen

machinations of the disgruntled

slippage of the babus

Greed of the politicians

" Did we ever belong to a country, a nation?"

We little twins also wonder.

A bit childish, but here it is.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wrong or right?

I was proved wrong and then proved right about our all pervasive media? How much I would love to be proved wrong, outright wrong? A channel, a prime one (whether same I mentioned about in last blog or a different one, I leave for readers to guess), one fine evening brought out the news on 5000 crore yearly Railway Scam with great fanfare, as an Exclusive Story. I don't know whether they ran it during night for owls to watch but next day morning not only video of the news but even captions were off air as if yearly scam had happened and vanished overnight. But then they did continue with the news on their website. Probably scam was for only elite to know and they didn't want to burden the 'aam aadmi' with overdose of scams. Yes, they know best how to run their channel but as a common man I am entitled to my reactions.

What follows makes this channel still venerable. Because even now no one else in the media except one Hindi newspaper considers loss of 5000 crore or more annually worth bothering. So my dear countrymen, rejoice and celebrate. We are a very very rich nation. While you do that, I shall coolly await my execution for having bothered about professional correctness and astronomically big sums of public money. Since I am now 'the villain' for the Minister who till other day was so concerned about the poor, public money and the corruption. Oh! what a farce? What a farce!

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.