Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, May 24, 2010

Cleaning up the civil services
WITH CORRUPTION rising and babudom showing scant regard for ethics, the government has decided to crack the whip. Earlier this year, the cabinet secretary had sent notes to secretaries of all ministries at the Centre and chief secretaries in the states to take strict action against officers charged with corruption, indiscipline or actions that tarnished the image of the civil services. The CabSec’s missive was timely. Vigilance cases were registered against 54 all- India service officers in 2009, of whom 35 were from the IAS, 10 from the IPS and nine from the IFS. The corresponding figures for the previous year was 38, eight and four respectively.

Now the government plans to get tougher. Last week, the government set up a committee headed by P. C. Hota, former chairman of the UPSC, to suggest measures to expedite punishment in cases involving corruption and disciplinary proceedings.

One of the recommendations that will be considered is dropping compulsory retirement as a major penalty for errant civil servants and instead handing down the penalty of demotion or dismissal from service. The Department of Personnel and Training ( DoPT) feels that an officer who is penalised with compulsory retirement will continue to get all his retirement benefits.

Noting that compulsory retirement does not actually work as a deterrent, the DoPT says: “ In this way, such government servants may feel a sense of comfort even while indulging in wrongdoings because they know that even if they are compulsorily retired from service, they would get full pension benefits.” Instead, demotion or dismissal from service would send a clear message to all government servants of the severe consequence of wrongdoing, the note said. The DoPT has sought comments from all secretaries and state chief secretaries by June 5 after which the Hota Committee will review and fix new and tougher punishments.

Kashmir’s date with a high- profile visitor
KASHMIR has always occupied a special place in Sonia Gandhi’s heart and the Congress President will keep her date with the Valley later this month. Though it's a purely private visit, she is expected to check on efforts being made by the state government to clean up the Dal Lake on seeing which she is reported to have been “ shocked” when she took a shikhara ride last October while on an official visit.

The lake cleansing plan, being personally looked after by deputy chief minister Tara Chand, includes shifting some 11,000 families living around the lake and rehabilitating them on the outskirts of Srinagar.

Sonia Gandhi will lay the foundation stone of the new colony for the Dal dwellers. The Centre has been quite liberal in funding the clean- up operations and last year, at Sonia’s request, the Prime Minister sanctioned Rs 356 crore for the project. Only last month, Priyanka Gandhi, Robert Vadra and their two children flew away from the dirt and grime of New Delhi to celebrate the birthday of her husband at a five star hotel that overlooks the world famous lake. It was a private visit and even state Congress leaders were not given access to the family whose only social engagement was a lunch hosted by chief minister Omar Abdullah at the Dachigam National Park.

Priyanka’s was the first private visit by a Gandhi family member in almost a quarter century. Indira Gandhi was a frequent visitor to Kashmir as was Jawaharlal Nehru, a Kashmiri, who grew up in Allahabad, but went back as often as he could. Rajiv had made a couple of visits in an official capacity or to campaign during elections as has Rahul who campaigned during the last elections. Now that Sonia is on her way, Omar Abdullah should take a leaf out of Narendra Modi’s book. If Amitabh Bachchan can be persuaded to become brand ambassador for Gujarat Tourism, why not Sonia for Kashmir?

AS A community, Sindhis account for less than 0.3 per cent of India’s population. It is, thus, surprising to see everyone from President Pratibha Patil to the UPA chairperson lining up to woo such a negligible vote bank. Late April, Patil released a postal stamp to honour Kanwar Ram Sahiba, a leader of the Sindhi community, at a function at the Rashtrapati Bhavan where L. K. Advani was also present.

The function was held at the Durbar Hall, usually reserved for major events such as cabinet swearing in. In a break from protocol, the President also asked Advani to speak. Advani sought hard to make some connection between Ram Sahiba and the Lotus, which of course is the symbol of the BJP. Today, Sonia Gandhi is being felicitated by a delegation of Sindhis after which she will host a dinner for them. Sonia is, of course, a politician and needs to keep everyone on her side. But what explains President Patil’s overdrive to woo the community? Someone in the know tells me that in Maharashtra’s Amravati constituency which Patil once represented and is now held by her son Rajendra Shekhawat, Sindhis account for over 60,000 voters.

Considering that Shekhawat won the last election only after a recount, the President’s eagerness to keep Sindhis happy is understandable.

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