NEW DELHI,Prabhati Nayak Mishra(DNA): Hoping to plug the yawning gap between intention and implementation and get moving on stalled projects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is believed to have assured secretary-level officials this week that they would not be penalised under the much feared prevention of corruption Act for clearing files quickly and decisively.
The fear of getting booked under the anti-corruption law has put several pet projects of the prime minister, including those under the much vaunted Make In India plan and initiatives in the urban development project, on hold. Sources say that some 20 secretaries are sitting on different projects at a time when the government is trying to boost growth and lift the overall mood in the country.
The prime minister's forceful campaign against corruption and tabs on their moves has virtually paralysed the bureaucracy, resulting in slow decision making and the piling of files in various departments.
On Wednesday, 40 secretaries of the government of India gathered at the lawns of the prime minister's 7, Race Course Road residence to explain their predicament and seeking a 'shield' mechanism so they could go on with the job of decision making.
"PM and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley assured the officials that they would be provided protection. A fresh look was required at the Section 13 of the PC Act dealing with the criminal misconduct of a public servant, as it constrained decision-making at multiple levels," a senior government source privy to the proceedings told dna on condition of anonymity.
The senior bureaucrats raised the issue of former coal secretary P C Parakh, who has been booked along with former prime minister Manmohan Singh for abusing his official position in granting coal blocks in Odisha to Aditya Birla Group's flagship company Hindalco.
Assuring them, Modi, flanked by Jaitley and NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Arvind Panagariya, said they should work without fear as a mechanism would soon be in place to shield honest officers from "frivolous" complaints of corruption and abuse of power, the source said.
The prime minister said that the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill would be tabled in parliament in the next half of budget session after the recess. However, he didn't specify the nature of the amendments.
"Honest officers are victimised at times for their acts as public servants. Some element of culpability should be there. We were told that the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT) is working on it," a senior officer who attended the meeting said.
The bureaucrats – hopeful of a guarantee that they would not be victimised by future governments for decisions taken – also reminded the prime minister that his government had taken the decision not to file an appeal against a Bombay High Court ruling that Vodafone was not liable to pay tax demand of Rs 3,200 crore in a transfer pricing case.
The prime minister, it is learnt, asked officers to work without fear and carry on their works and said the 14th Finance Commission had backed a number of activities aiming at development in the country.
Prabhati should also name the other two heads of institutions
An instance of the panic in the bureaucratic ranks can be seen in the human resource development (HRD) ministry. In the past few months, at least four joint secretaries have got themselves transferred after falling out with minister Smriti Irani while three heads of institutions resigned as they disagreed with her diktats. They didn't pull out due to fear of anti-corruption legislation, but excessive interference from RSS affiliated bodies and the minister's behaviour, known to be close to Modi.
Nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar resigned as the chairman of the Board of Governors of IIT-Bombay in March because of differences with Irani on selection of some IIT directors, though he agreed to complete the tenure that ends in May. He, however, did not attend meeting of the selection committee chaired by Irani on March 23 when it recommended names of three to be the directors of IIT.
I IT Delhi Director RK Shevgaonkar whose tenure was up to mid 2016.
NCERT Director Praveen Sinclair her tenure was up to January 2017.
Anju Banerjee, the educational consultant India Consultant CMD, one year ahead of her tenure.
Among the joint secretaries, the first to pull out of the ministry and return to his parent Tamil Nadu cadre in June last year was Jagmohan Singh Raju, though his extended tenure was till March 2015.
Radha Chauhan, a 1988 batch UP cadre officer, posted as a joint secretary in the HRD Ministry since 2011, is the latest to join the list of those leaving. She moved to the Unique Identification Authority of India as deputy director-general on Wednesday, one year before completing her tenure.
The two other joint secretaries getting out of the HRD ministry were Veena Ish, who went back to her parent cadre of Andhra Padesh, in August last year, and Praveen Prakash, who moved to the urban development ministry in September.