Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Snippets/ Mail Today, November 30, 2009

WAJAHAT Habibullah’s reputation as an efficient and upright officer precedes him, as does his proximity to the current ruling dispensation. You wouldn’t expect a man like him to do anything that would leave the establishment squirming. But his decision to resign as the Chief Information Commissioner has put the UPA government in a quandary and in conflict with the main opposition party over the appointment of his successor. Though two months have gone by, the government has not zeroed in on a successor and the battle, initially political, has been joined by the likes of Aamir Khan, Anna Hazare, Arvind Khejriwal and other “ social activists” who are rooting for Kiran Bedi while the most powerful lobby, the bureaucracy is hyperactive. Currently, the nine member commission is stuffed with former bureaucrats, the exceptions being MM Ansari, an educationist and Annapurna Dixit, wife of the late National Security Advisor Mani Dixit.

The Chief Information Commissioner is chosen by a panel comprising the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the Union Law Minister. The trio met twice in the recent past but were unable to break the deadlock simply because of the many lobbies at work. I understand that the government was inclined to promote Ansari, currently information commissioner, as the CIC, but LK Advani put his foot down and demanded a panel to choose from. The “ activists” say there is no candidate more suitable than Bedi who “ has demonstrated her sensitivity, commitment and passion for public service. But Bedi is also the kind who can tick off the government, so it is understandably wary. Babudom has a lot to gain if it can ensure that the post doesn’t slip out of its hands. After all it is in their interest to conceal what the CIC is otherwise obliged to reveal to public spirited citizens who invoke the Right to Information Act to seek accountability from the government.

Who will finally win- — the politicians, the bureaucracy or social activists — we will wait and see.

High command in control in Andhra
WHY DID it take the Congress high command three months to hold the meeting of the 199- member Andhra Pradesh legislature Party? To correct a constitutional impropriety that was committed when governor N. D. Tiwari used his discretionary powers to appoint K. Rosaiah as successor to late Y. S. Rajsekhara Reddy.

Under the Constitution, the governor can appoint someone only after he or she has been formally elected by the legislative party. In this case, this was not done and legal questions were being raised about the legitimacy of the government. The CLP was put off for three months because of the fear that Jaganmohan Reddy, YSR’s son, would ride the sympathy wave to get himself elected. All this while, Congress leaders from New Delhi worked quietly on him and other potential candidates.

Last week, the high command sent its two most powerful emissaries, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and law minister Veerappa Moily to Hyderabad to resolve the issue.
On Saturday, when the CLP met, it passed a resolution authorising Sonia Gandhi to choose its leader.

Curiously, Congress MPs were special invitees to the CLP and even more curiously, the resolution was moved not by an MLA but by Jagan who is an MP. Within 24 hours, chief minsiter Rosaiah’s name was formally announced. But the crisis will be fully resolved only when the Congress honours the second part of the deal with YSR’s son. After the party lost a few local civic elections recently, the Jagan group launched a fresh offensive to “ save the party” and demanded Rosaiah’s head on the ground that he doesn’t have a mass base and is not aggressive enough, as YSR was. So Rosaiah’s election doesn’t in anyway ensure that he will continue in office for long.

The majority of the Congress leaders in the state feel that unless the party has a firm and decisive leadership, the state will slowly slip away from its hand. Chandrababu Naidu, the Telugu Desam Party ( TDP) cheif, must surely be licking his chops in anticipation

FOR A bureaucrat, Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrashekhar is quite net savvy, even an ardent votary of e- governance. Recently, he sent memos to secretaries of all departments about the quality of the government websites that left a lot to be desired in terms of design, accessibility, quality and currency of content, all of which were compounded by the obsolete technology that was used. “ Today, websites are considered the virtual face of the Department in cyber space… and must accurately reflect the Department's activities and initiatives in the real world as well as offer more and more services online,” his note said. And so he asked all department Secretaries to nominate senior officers at Additional Secretary or Joint Secretary level who would take upon themselves the task of ensuring up- to- date and high quality content on the websites as well as ensure timely response on queries received through websites.

The secretaries were also asked to review the overall quality of the websites on a periodic basis. But of the 700 odd IAS officers of the rank of secretaries, additional secretaries, joint secretaries and other heads of departments, a majority still leave the job of logging on and off their computers to their personal staff. Last heard, the response from the departments has been disappointing as few officers have volunteered to take up the responsibility. Chandrashekhar’s dream of encouraging e- governance through citizen centric and visitor friendly government websites may remain just that — a dream.

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