I hope the tea is hot - One


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All the credits for this article goes to the Bombay Chartered Accountant Journal, a reputed financial and taxation journal. The article has been published by them and the citation for the same is 646(2013) 44-B BCAJ.

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I hope the tea is hot - One

  1. 1. I hope the tea is hot- I By Prof. Hardayal Singh, Interim Dean, School of Inspired Leadership (SOIL) This story is of an extraordinary person, the best that I have come across in my thirty nine years in public life. Since he has always been low key and shunned publicity, I would not like to mention his name. I also have to camouflage the identity of the other actors involved in this episode.About fifteen years ago, we were in the midst of the aftermath of the Harshad Mehta scam. The timeswere in one respect very similar to, but in one respect very different, from the present. The media wasscreaming that the corrupt be punished severely and quickly, but there was no 24x7 news coverage, andoutside the Government very few people had heard of the Central Vigilance Commission. Vigilance workcould thus be carried on the way it was supposed to. Systems, when allowed to function, could stilldeliver. There is an important lesson in this story for those who are looking for instant solutions to theproblem of corruption.I had joined the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) as its Additional Secretary just two months earlier.My room was flooded with voluminous files, and I returned home quite late in the evening every day.Even so, I woke up one fine December morning feeling very relaxed. The sun was shining brightly andthe air was very crisp. It had rained the previous night, but when I opened my bedroom windowoverlooking Delhi Haat, a clear blue sky greeted me. I had got through all the pending files the nightbefore; for a change, I had a little time to myself, and I decided to wear my new suit. When I reached myoffice at Bikaner house, near India Gate, all hopes of being complimented on how smart I was lookingquickly vanished.“The CVC wants you immediately, Sir. The meeting he was to take in the afternoon has been advanced.He wants HA as well. I have already informed him; he’ll be with you in a few minutes.” My Secretary toldme breathlessly.“Thanks a lot, S--- sahib.” I said. “ Do I have time for quick cup of tea or not?” I asked.“No Sir. K, his secretary, said you should see the CVC as soon as you arrive.In a few minutes my colleague HA, entered my room. He was looking after the All India services andthe Home Ministry. He asked me “ Sir, did you get time to read the case?”“Yes; I did. I’ve already recorded my note and sent it to the CVC.”“I’m sure you’re aware of the complexities involved.”HA told me as we were travelling from BikanerHouse to Jaisalmer House, a distance of about a kilometre. ”The man we’re dealing with is honest. Doyou know Sir, he has topped in every examination that he has taken. He has all the right credentials andmany important people, including some of the CVC’s batch mates have spoken to him. So do be careful.”
  2. 2. I thanked HA for this briefing, but before we could carry on the conversation any further we reached ourdestination. In the anteroom we were greeted by a stout middle aged man who gave the impression ofbeing very competent and in total charge of his little office. The moment he saw us he spoke on theintercom and smiled.“The CVC is expecting both of you, ” he said.The CVC was a short, spectacled, fair complexioned person. He looked detached, austere and gentle,but when warranted could be hard as nails. He was also decisive and quick and brooked no nonsensefrom his subordinates. Every word he spoke was carefully measured. He never promised anything easily,but if he did, he made sure he delivered. Despite an enormous workload he always had time at his handsand complete control over the organization that he headed with so much distinction.He looked at both of us. “Good morning. Do come in and sit down. Hardayal, I have been through yournote and gather that that both of you are familiar with the facts.”“Yes, Sir, “I replied.“So what is the case that the State Vigilance Department has made out?”“They have argued that the officer caused an undue loss to the Government, and an undue gain to atrust in which the then Chief Minister had an interest . He sold a plot of land at a very low rate. Theorganization he headed sold the adjacent plot at about the same time at a much higher rate. So I guessa case under the Prevention of Corruption Act has been made out . The State Government is seekingpermission to prosecute him.”“Do you see anything going in his favour?” he asked looking as detached as ever.“HA has more knowledge than I do, Sir; but I do sympathise with him. To be very honest, I don’t think hehad much choice. He had to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea. “ I said. “Given thecircumstances very few people would have been able to say no. The present Government is prosecutingthe Chief Minister separately. They feel that this person also played a part in furthering his criminaldesign.”HA then pointed out,” But for this case, we have nothing against him. As an officer he is rated highly andis reputed for his integrity.” I nodded my head in agreement.I knew the CVC had read the file thoroughly himself. He was making me speak to test out how much Ihad learnt in the last two months and get some inputs which he needed. But he had such a pleasant wayof doing things that I was totally at ease.Then came the inevitable question: “What advice should we give.”
  3. 3. “I am afraid we don’t have much choice in the matter. We have to act according to policy. If we don’tadvise prosecution in this case, we’ll not be able to recommend it in other cases, where power ismisused to cause a gain to a private person and loss to the government. It will also be unfair to others inwhose case we have already advised prosecution on more or less similar facts.”As I said these words, Iwondered whether I had spoken too much.“What about the extenuating circumstances in this case?”“Those will have to be taken into account by the court, if it convicts him. I gather this has always beenour policy, Sir.”He gave me piercing look. “ It’s easy for us to sit in judgement and use the benefit of hindsight to judgehis conduct. Can you imagine what he must have gone through?”I nodded in agreement.He went through certain portions of the file; he was only refreshing his memory to see if any vital aspecthad been lost sight of. He looked up again and said, “ But I totally agree with you. There can be norelaxation of policy. These are professional hazards of being a civil servant, but we have to act correctly.Hardayal, the file will come back to you within an hour, please advise the Ministry today itself tosanction prosecution at the earliest.”Before I got up, I realised how difficult it must have been for him to come to this decision. He may nothave spoken much, but I could see that he could empathise with the plight of the officer- his excellenttrack record must have reminded of his own career. Whether he knew him at all, I’ll never know. Onedoesn’t ask these questions. What weighed with him, in the ultimate analysis, was an importantprinciple which he had sworn to uphold: the Commission can’t decide cases on the basis of its likes anddislikes. It has at all times to be fair, objective and consistent in its approach.When we stepped out of his office, we found the weather had changed. The sky was overcast and it hadbegun raining again. Since my staff car was going to take few minutes, we got tempted into acceptingK.’s offer for a quick cup of tea. I was in the midst of sipping it, when the CVC opened the door and gavea few instructions to K. I immediately got up in respect as he was talking. Seeing my unease, he smiledand said: “ I am glad K. is looking after you. I hope the tea is hot.”Postscript: the officer was prosecuted and later sentenced to a term in prison. He took bail and thenappealed to the High Court. The latter reviewed the evidence on record and came to the conclusion thatthe adjacent plot of land which was sold at a much higher price was qualitatively different from the plotunder consideration; in other words, it could not form the basis for valuing the latter. He washonourably acquitted. His subsequent career was quite uneventful. He retired from a respectableposition and rose as much in his service as he would have, had the incident not occurred. In other hedid in the end get some justice.
  4. 4. The beauty of this case lies in the fact at every stage every functionary who dealt with it performed hisduty efficiently and quickly. Contrary to what happens often with disastrous consequences, dueprocesses were not short-circuited. As a consequence, the system delivered. Here is a lesson of allthose who want a quick fix solution for dealing with the problem of corruption: there is none.