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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Annaphobia hits decision-makers

NEW DELHI: The Anna Hazare-induced fear in decision-making burst out in the open when a senior minister told the Union Cabinet that mandatory approvals be sought from Central Vigilance Commission, CBI and CAG for acquisitions or purchases by government to assure apprehensive officials.

The comment came during a discussion in the Cabinet on acquisition of raw material assets abroad on Thursday. Sources said home minister P Chidambaram remarked in passing that a provision in the proposal would add another layer in decision-making.

While the Cabinet note was approved, a senior minister took up Chidambaram's concern over multiple layers in deciding issues to argue completely on the contrary.

He said while the need to cut red tape was understood, an advance green signal from investigating agencies would encourage officials to take decisions. He said fear of being called to account for judgment calls in risky situations like strategic acquisitions was deterring bureaucracy and should be institutionalised even at the cost of delay. "Anyway, nobody is ready to take decisions," he reportedly argued.

The minister's comment -- which sources said was made in half jest in view of investigating agencies emerging as Centre's bugbears -- drew smirks all around with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the head of the table.

But according to those at the meeting, it also reflected the exasperation in various echelons of government about the implications of policies yielding losses. The apprehensions have only deepened since the Anna Hazare campaign and spate of scams like 2G, and have halted decision-making.

CAG Vinod Rai fuelled speculation about paralysis of governance when he told a gathering at the National Police Academy that the Centre was facing its worst crisis since independence. The comment drew sharp reaction from a smarting Congress which said no constitutional authority had the mandate to speak on policy-making or merits of policies.

But 2G scam and Hazare's anti-graft campaign, with guns trained on Congress government, has led to a veritable freeze. Officials and ministers concede that nobody is ready to take decision because of the fear of financial implications or losses being dubbed a scam. While irregularities have surfaced on many fronts including telecom, many feel there are worries that "anything and everything could be dubbed a scam".

The worst-hit are defence purchases which are usual targets of allegations of kickbacks or strategic acquisitions like mining or iron ore which can lead to losses on account of errors in estimating the output.


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