It would be travesty of justice if diligent and upright bureaucrats are caught in a crossfire of political battles for which they are not responsible. An administrative culture that is not systems-based but largely governed by individual discretions is bound to be exploited by vested interests to meet their narrow political interests. The recent letter addressed to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi by a group of 71 retired bureaucrats rightly highlights the consequences of selective targeting of officials, both serving and retired, for gaining narrow political advantages. The government must address the concerns raised in the letter with sincerity because the signatories include prominent names like former cabinet secretary K M Chandrasekhar, former foreign secretary and national security advisor Shivshankar Menon, former foreign secretary Sujatha Singh and former DGP of Punjab Julio Riberio. The prosecution of four former officials of the Finance Ministry in the INX Media case, involving former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, provides the context for the ex-bureaucrats to flag concerns over the impact of such actions on the functioning of the bureaucracy in the country. There should be sufficient protection for civil servants for their bona fide acts while discharging their duties. Otherwise, no officer will be willing to take any risk and offer out-of-the-box solutions, leading to stagnancy in administration. The indiscriminate orders prosecuting the serving and retired officials in cases that are transparently of political nature will demotivate the honest officers from taking important decisions. There is a strong case for fixing a reasonable time period beyond which the files should not be reopened.
Unfortunately, all the regimes, irrespective of their political affiliations, have been guilty of such transgressions. As a result, the serving officials will be demotivated if diligent and honest officers are selectively targeted for punishment for no fault of theirs other than that they were implementing the policy decisions of the government of the day. A clear set of rules must be framed to make the legal principle of estoppel apply on reopening decisions based on information provided at the time the decision was taken. If files are allowed to be exhumed and dissected on the basis of hindsight and that too with no bar on the time that has elapsed, no decisions will be made at all in the top echelons of the government. The civil servants will then procrastinate before examining every proposal of importance because there is no guarantee that they would not be implicated in criminal proceedings later. It is a travesty when governance systems spare no effort in ensuring that political elements charged with or prosecuted for very serious offences are given latitude while officers who have faithfully served for decades are arraigned on flimsy technical grounds.