Letter to BS: PSBs not free to take decisions because of fear of three Cs

Former Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia
I refer to the interview of Montek Singh Ahluwalia (pictured) published in your paper on March 21. I disagree with three of his statements in view of the wide experience that I have in the revenue department. The revenue department is where decisions are taken involving very large amounts of duty, fine, penalty and prosecution.

The first point is about his statement (where he quotes chief economic advisor) that public sector banks are not free to take decisions because of the fear of the three Cs, that is, Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). This view unduly vilifies the three Cs. Taking the example of the revenue department dealing with direct and indirect taxes, decisions are taken on a daily basis in a routine manner so that the officer never considers the three Cs as any restraining factor. Confiscation, imposing fine or penalty or filing prosecution is done by the public servants daily and once they act in a bona-fide manner, there is nothing to fear the three Cs.

So far as the CAG is concerned, its mandate does not include the audit of PSB banks. What is not known in the public or to the pure economists is that there is an elaborate system of discussion at the lower, middle and higher-level for settling objections. In a few cases, where the two departments do not agree at the highest level, the cases are placed for discussion in the Public Accounts Committee. At the instance of the CAG, several amendments to the Customs law have taken place. I can say with authority that there is no fear of CAG amongst the public servants. CVC has also never taken disciplinary action against honest decision-makers. Even the CBI has not taken any action against honest officers. I have appeared in such cases as witness many times and I know such things authentically; no honest officer has ever been harassed by the CBI or CVC in our department. 

Secondly, Ahluwalia says that there is no definition of public interest. True, but it is not the only concept which has not been defined. The legal tenet is quite well known that where there is no definition the meaning which is accepted in common understanding is the one which is taken as a guide. Like truth or courage, this concept is not amenable to the precise definition but in a given situation, it is possible to say what is in the public interest. 

Thirdly, Ahluwalia says that anyone can make an accusation which would start an investigative process. This statement is not factually true. The procedure followed in the government is very reasonable. If it is an anonymous or pseudonymous or signed complaint, no investigation is undertaken unless there is verifiable material contained in it. If the position was actually like what Mr Ahluwalia and the Chief Economic Advisor have said, then the government would have got choked with paralysis which certainly it is not. My conclusion is that this hypothesis of hyper fear of the three Cs is highly exaggerated.

Sukumar Mukhopadhyay New Delhi

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