By our Staff Reporter
GUWAHATI, Aug 12: Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal's stern directive to the administration recently to speed up file clearance hardly seems to have made any impression on thick-skinned babus. Office files are still moving at snail’s pace or not at all.
So how come the State administration still remains hidebound and somnolent? Observers say it is lack of accountability on the part of officials who find it comfortable, and in most cases profitable, to sit upon files interminably.
Some 12 years back, the powers-be in Dispur did set up an administrative reforms commission with Jatindra Nath Hazarika as chairman. Along with other recommendations, this commission made specific suggestions as to how file movement can be speeded up. It spelt out in no uncertain terms that unless the number of days a file can stay on a particular table is fixed, things will not improve.
The commission made it clear that if a file is seen to have remained more than the stipulated time on a particular table, the official concerned should be asked to furnish the reason. “And if the clarification is not satisfactory, the official should face disciplinary action,” the commission said.
The government of the day accepted this and other recommendations of the JN Hazarika Commission, but there the matter ended. Ever since, there has been no move whatsoever by Dispur to implement the commission’s report.
And people of the State continue to bear the brunt of Dispur’s tardiness to this day. Whether it is the State Secretariat, a DC’s office or any other government office, the same scene prevails. It is members of the public who have to keep track of their files, pushing these from table to table, mostly by greasing palms.
The scene at the heart of the State administration, the Secretariat at Dispur begins with a file being received in the log book of the department concerned. From there it goes to the dealing assistant, superintendent, under secretary, deputy secretary, joint secretary, commissioner, and if necessary, to the additional chief secretary. In this torturous journey, if a particular file gets delayed, the higher-ups never ask subordinates the reason. There is not a single precedent of any employee facing disciplinary action for sitting on files.
The same scene plays out in DC’s offices and circle offices where members of the public have to be hot on the trail of their own files.
And whenever any member of the public wants to get something done at these government offices, there is no help forthcoming from any official as to how to proceed.
An official of Assam Secretariat, wishing not to be named, pointed out: “You can’t ask anybody why a particular file is so late in reaching a particular table. Officials are always armed with a whole lot of ready pretexts. We can’t take immediate action against such officials because that too is a long drawn out process. One has to go through ‘proper channel’! The biggest problem in the administrative system is files going around for months together in Dispur in the name of ‘queries’.”
So, if Chief Minister Sonowal really wants to ensure office files moving fast, he could make an effective beginning by stipulating time limits for clearing files vis-à-vis tables, along with fixing accountability on errant officials. But will he?