NEW DELHI: Anguished over the two-year jail term to ex-coal secretary H C Gupta in a coal block case, former bureaucrats today warned of "policy paralysis" and demanded that bona-fide mistakes by the civil servants need to be protected.
Gupta's colleagues and some serving bureaucrats regard him as an upright officer who never kept any file pending. R Sri Kumar, former Vigilance Commissioner in the Central Vigilance Commission, said bona fide mistakes and decisions taken in good faith need to be protected. "I cannot comment on this (sentencing to Gupta) matter as it is a court case. I need to see evidence on record before commenting on this. But bona fide mistakes surely need to be protected.
At the same time decisions taken in good faith and in public interest by the officers also need to be protected," he told PTI. Sri Kumar, who is also a former IPS officer, remembered working with Gupta in Uttar Pradesh's Azamgarh district. "I worked with him when he was the District Magistrate (DM) and I was Additional Superintendent of Police in Azamgarh. He is very honest and no non-sense officer," he said. Former Finance and Power Secretary E A S Sarma demanded rules to protect officers for their honest decisions. "While I am not familiar with the facts of the case against Gupta, I feel that there should be protection to civil servants taking decisions in good faith. Law can take its course and officers penalised only when mala fides are clearly established.
Otherwise, civil servants will hesitate to take decisions," he said. Sarma said the genesis of the coalgate case arose from the regressive clause that existed in the mineral development law which provided for the highly non-transparent 'first- come-first-serve' approach, not the more transparent competitive bidding format.
At the time of launching economic liberalisation measures in 1991, had the government moved in the direction of greater transparency, competition and public accountability as the three pillars of reform, they would have brought in the necessary changes, including an amendment to the mineral development and regulation Act, he said. "In a way, the flawed approach to reforms in 1991 led to the coalgate scam of the subsequent years. Even after one coal secretary (P C Parakh) pointed out the flaw, the government took its own time to bring in the necessary amendment," Sarma said.
Gupta and two serving senior officials -- K S Kropha and and K C Samaria -- were sentenced to two year imprisonment by a special CBI court in Delhi for irregularities in the allocation of a coal block in Madhya Pradesh to a private firm. They became the first public servants to be convicted and sentenced for the multi-crore coal block allocation scam, unearthed during the previous UPA regime.
Gupta, a 1971-batch officer of Indian Administrative Service (IAS), was the Coal Secretary between January 1, 2006 to November 30, 2008. Some serving bureaucrats also expressed feeling of angst over the court's order. "It is discouraging for honest civil servants and may lead to policy paralysis. I don't mean to comment anything against the court's order as it is supreme. But honest decisions by the civil servants need to be respected," a senior IAS officer said requesting anonymity. It is pertinent to mention that Gupta had refused to take legal aid to contest the coal scam case in the court.
IAS officers' association to study the judgement before commenting.
When contacted Sanjay Bhoosreddy, Secretary of central IAS officers' association, said, the association would not like to make any comment before going through the court's order. "We may call a meeting of the executive council to discuss the matter. I cannot make any specific comment as of now as I have not read the order yet," he told PTI. There are about 5,000 IAS officers working across the country.