With former coal secretary H C Gupta telling a special CBI court that he will not hire a lawyer since he cannot pay the legal fees, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) fraternity went into a huddle Thursday. The officers decided to intervene and also approach the government for a lasting solution to the issue of retired officers being hauled up before courts for action taken by them in good faith while in service.
After a two-hour closed-door meeting that was attended by 60-odd officers — both serving and retired — it was decided that the IAS Association would reach out to Gupta and try to persuade him to withdraw his application filed in court.
It was also decided that the association’s executive body would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to communicate the duress officers are under if “honest decisions” are construed as mala fide, sources present at the meeting said.
“IAS officers take numerous decisions on files every day. There can be errors of judgement in the course of work. But that does not mean there is any criminal intent or quid pro quo. In the larger interest of governance this needs to be understood,” Sanjay Bhoosreddy, secretary of the IAS Association, told The Indian Express.
“Mr Gupta has always been a known and respected officer. For him it seems to be a principled stand. But considering his age and his stature, we would urge him to reconsider,” he said.
Among suggestions from various members, a number of strategy options were placed. Forming a corpus fund to afford Gupta’s legal fee was one of them. Officer-bearers said the association already has a corpus fund for the purpose of helping members of the fraternity.
A serving officer, who attended the meeting, said that with the new government repeatedly asking officers to speed up the decision-making process, a demoralised IAS cadre can actually lead to policy paralysis.
“On Civil Services Day, the PM himself urged all officers to think out of the box and take decisions without fear. But the legal environment and what is happening may not be compatible with that. That is what we want to address,” he said.
Amitabha Pande, former secretary to the Government of India, said, “There was a tremendous outpouring of support for H C Gupta. That apart, if officers fear taking decisions on files, there will be a complete policy paralysis.”
One of the major points that came up for discussion was the amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act. The association has already given its representation to the Select Committee of Parliament expressing reservations about Section 13 (1) D, which they say is draconian.
“To paraphrase, it says even if there is no quid pro quo or criminal intent, if the result of a decision benefits someone, the officer is liable. This kind of law can be an impediment in decision-making,” Bhoosreddy said.