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Friday, June 22, 2018

Nailing the Files



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That some crucial files relating to the ‘Coalgate’ case are missing is undisputed. These are files that the CBI wants to peruse to investigate and fix culpability in the scam. The government and the opposition are now engaged in an elaborate posturing dance over the issue. Obviously, the probe would be as good as finished without these files, another occupant in the great graveyard of government scams.

The disappearance itself is not surprising. It is not the first time or the first probe in which inconvenient evidence has been conveniently removed. What is surprising is the blasé methodology of removal. The least that could have been done was to have a face saving fire accident, like the one at the Maharashtra Mantralya building which destroyed the Adarsh scam files. Doing away with even the thin veneer of plausibility provided by an accidental destruction shows the government complacence in the belief that it can subvert and compromise every single institution in this country with impunity.

What is also surprising is that neither the CBI, nor the opposition are asking the obvious questions. Simple questions that can fix the accountability for loss of the files – and possibly even help miraculously find them. To the uninitiated, a government office would be the epitome of chaos and disorder – where losing a few dozen files would be the easiest task, and ever locating them next to impossible. One only has to see the ‘Central Secretariat Manual of Office Procedure’ to dismiss this fallacy. There is a high degree of method in the apparent madness. In 250 pages of pure bureaucratese, the manual gives out detailed instructions on how every scrap of document is created, circulated, preserved, and accounted for in the ministries. Are the CBI and the opposition unaware of the existence of this bible of babudom?

Tracing the files, or fixing accountability for their disappearance is a matter of carrying out a simple audit. Beginning with finding out who the custodian of the files in question was, their movement within and outside the ministry can be traced using the entries in the diaries and registers maintained by each section, as amply explained in the manual. The files are government property, so their loss, by acts of omission or commission, is an offence. The offence gets compounded as they are also evidence in an ongoing investigation. Therefore, fixing accountability and vigorously prosecuting the officials responsible for safe custody of the files is easy enough. It will have the following effects.

The files might suddenly and miraculously be found. Or the officials concerned may start singing to save their own skin, and reveal the actual people behind their disappearance. Besides, it will serve as a deterrent to similar disappearances in the future.

Is the Supreme Court listening?

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