Right to Information – Master key to good governance

A file’s sweet nothings – BY WORDS

Posted by rtiact2005 on August 3, 2006

A file’s sweet nothings


On files moving up he’d write ‘For orders’, and ‘Immediate’ on those moving down

P.R. Chari

Posted online: Thursday, August 03, 2006 at 0000 hrs

The wisest decision of the UPA government is to deny public access to notings on files under the Right to Information Act. The government, no doubt, fears that the curious public is interested in discovering its secrets and compromising national security. And babudom might fear that it would lose its fierce independence if their free and frank notings are exposed to vulgar gaze. What if the curious public wants to know what happens on ordinary and routine files? Say, files efflorescing from minutes recorded by the minister? Might they give away the government’s concerns? Or, its earth-shaking, reform-generating and policy-oriented ideas?

Might these notings reveal, on the contrary, what really happens in the Central and state secretariats, and their irrelevance to the processes or business of governance or reform or policy formulation? The vast proportion of files (around 70 to 80 per cent) would be found devoted to postings, transfers, appointments and promotions of officials in the ministry or department and its outlying organisations. What about the rest? They could be devoted to contracts and to privileging a section of the community, family, village or urban area over others, apart from everything else in the charge of the ministry/department. Proceeding further it would be interesting to see how the bureaucracy reacts to the minister’s diktat. Are hukums obeyed unquestioningly? Does the file descend like a stone in a pond to the nether regions of the secretariat? Does the secretary order immediate compliance of the minister’s wishes? Are the minister’s fiats scrutinised to ensure they are permitted by law, rules and regulations and have no adverse implications? After the case is examined and issues framed by the lower echelons, what is the contribution to the file of the bureaucratic hierarchy — stretching from under and deputy secretaries to directors, additional and special secretaries to the secretary?

Experience shows that nervousness is inversely proportional to hierarchical position. The under secretary would probably be the most equivocal, and this level of evasiveness may reduce as the file moves slowly up the bureaucratic ladder. Exceptions are galore, and notings might reveal that the secretary is the most obedient and tentative, qualities that have fetched him reward.

However, all is well in the government if everyone contributes with notings, useful or otherwise. What about those who never contribute? The story is apocryphal but true that a certain IAS officer did very well for himself with only three words in his vocabulary. On files moving upwards he would write ‘For orders’, and on files moving downwards he would write ‘Immediate’. In turn, he too became a secretary. Much else is revealed about character and motives by notings. And the intrigues, tactics and strategies adopted by the bureaucratic animal to advance. The wisest thing, therefore, is to deny their notings to the people. What use, anyway, are post-mortems?


One Response to “A file’s sweet nothings – BY WORDS”

  1. Dhirendra Krishna said

    I have a point to add.

    Officers who do well in their career first dicuss with their bosses about the kind of note they want, before puting down their views in “black and white.” No one likes to have their views superceded by the superior on the file and therefore the tendancy to ascertain what the superiors want, beforehand.

    On the other hand, officers who are forthright in expressing their views on the file ( without finding out what their superiors desire) can get into problems and are regarded as “difficult persons.”

    Bureacracy does not want to reveal such “decision making process.” If noting contains false information ( to appease the superior officer or political bosses)and is revealed unced the RTI Act, the concerned officer can be penalised under Section 173 of the Indian Penal Code. The official machinery has so much to hide thaty they can not allow or encourage total transparency.

    It is in public interest that officers at all levels should feel accountable regarding their views expressed in the file noting.

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