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Cowardly deed

Cowardly deed

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: September 28, 2007

Officials punished for ASG's error

The unsavoury saga of the UPA Government first denying the existence of Lord Ram through an affidavit in the Supreme Court, thus unleashing outrage across the nation, and then hastening to deny its earlier denial through a fresh affidavit, has taken a new twist. It now transpires that the perverse affidavit was drafted by Additional Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam and his team of lawyers; that officials of the Archaeological Survey of India did not have a role in preparing the final document; and, that the laid down procedure for preparing responses to court notices was possibly short-circuited. According to news reports, Mr Subramaniam is believed to have admitted as much in a confidential note to Union Law Minister HR Bhardwaj; given the popular disquiet generated by the uncalled for affidavit, it would be in order for the Government to place the contents of the note in the public domain, if only to be seen as fixing responsibility for a gross error of judgement which could have far-reaching consequences. More important, by coming clean on this issue, the Government would spare officials in the Archaeological Survey of India the burden of carrying the cross for somebody else who is higher up in the pecking order of the bureaucracy and enjoys political patronage, namely Mr Subramaniam. It will be recalled that within hours of the ill-advised affidavit provoking a backlash, the Government had suspended two officials of the Archaeological Survey of India, blaming them for the mess - Mr Subramaniam's admission shows the officials were made into scapegoats by a cynical regime. Such cynicism does little to enhance the executive's authority and prestige; on the contrary, it makes the permanent bureaucracy scornful of the political leadership.

In this particular instance, the two suspended officials should immediately be reinstated and their service record expunged of any adverse comments that may have been entered. Not to do so would be a travesty of justice and only prove that the Government has more to hide than is known. Meanwhile, the Union Government and the State Governments should seriously consider reframing rules that allow summary action against officials by politicians and their appointees too cowardly to own up their own mistakes. Unless based on fairplay, punishment can have a negative impact. Witness the manner in which a Delhi school teacher was sacked from her job after a television channel broadcast a spurious story about her. Ironically, even though the channel has been held guilty of peddling untruth and the people involved have been arrested, the injustice done to the victim remains to be corrected. It is only a callous authority that is unmindful of the honour of individuals; such authority does not command respect.

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