Vinod Rai en Tue Aug 06 15:16:15 IST 2019 make-the-impeachment-process-apolitical <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Recently, 64 members of Parliament and seven recently retired MPs from seven opposition parties moved a notice for impeachment of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, accusing him of ‘misbehaviour’ and ‘misuse of authority’. The notice levelled five charges of misbehaviour. It was moved a day after the Supreme Court rejected a bunch of petitions seeking an independent investigation into the death of judge B.H. Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. This was the first attempt in the history of India to impeach a Chief Justice of India (CJI). The notice for impeachment was moved before the chairman of the Rajya Sabha, as it was signed by its members [the minimum requirement is signatures of 50 members of the Rajya Sabha].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Article 124(4) of the Constitution mandates that in case the notice is accepted by the chairman, a three-member panel, comprising a chief justice of a High Court, a Supreme Court judge and an eminent jurist, should be constituted to investigate the charges. After investigation, if the panel finds the judge guilty, the house can take it up for discussion. The house is required to pass the motion by a special majority, with two-third members present and voting, and supported by more than half of the total members of the house. After passing, the motion goes to the second house, which is also required to pass it by a special majority. It is then presented before the President, who can pass an order for the removal of the judge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The chairman of the Rajya Sabha rejected the notice after consulting legal and constitutional experts. This decision was not accepted by the opposition parties, and they decided to file an appeal in the Supreme Court to review the chairman’s decision. It was also represented before the court that the review should not be placed before the chief justice and that it should be reviewed by a bench presided over by the second senior-most judge in the court. The court, however, decided to list it before another bench of five judges. Being aggrieved of this order and seeking a copy of the ‘administrative order’ issued by the court, the signatories to the notice decided to withdraw it. They contended that they were aware that they did not have the numbers in the Upper House to get the resolution passed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were animated discussions in the country whether the decision to issue the notice was politically motivated, since ab initio it was known that the opposition did not have the numbers to have it passed. The Constitution makers had provided for a process of impeachment to ensure the accountability of the judiciary and yet made the process stringent so that mere political considerations do not attempt to erode its credibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a 2010 interview, Kapil Sibal, then minister in the UPA government, observed that he does not accept the impeachment process if political parties in the opposition are involved and they have to vote on the basis of a whip issued by their party. However, this is the very path the opposition has adopted in the current episode.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Without going into the merits of the allegations levelled against the CJI, or the grounds for rejection of the notice by the chairman, we need to debate whether any of the three pillars of Indian democracy, which have been the bedrock of India’s development in the last 70 years, should ever be weakened at the behest of a handful of politically motivated objectives. It is natural, as has happened, that if the opposition targets a particular institution, the government will rally around it. However, in the process, especially so in the case of the judiciary, which quite often has to take strong positions against the executive, the independence of the judiciary gets impaired. A corollary of the process would imply that if the executive were to be unhappy with any particular decision of the judiciary, and since they have the numbers in Parliament, they could initiate a process for impeachment of a judge on the grounds of ‘misbehaviour’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian democracy has been a shining example of enabling rapid economic development, keeping the welfare of the citizen at its core. Its institutions have stood the test of some very testing times. We need to strengthen these institutions to ensure a bright future for our citizens by rising above political and other narrow confines. The citizen has displayed the will to do so, and in going forward we need to reinforce that commitment in him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Former comptroller and auditor general, Rai is head of the Supreme Court-appointed BCCI's committee of administrators.</b></p> Sat May 19 16:56:05 IST 2018 my-cushy-jobs <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Recently, at an event, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi was asked whether corruption was the main issue in 2014. This was her reply: “Yes, that was an issue, but it was highly exaggerated. In the case of 2G, for instance, you must have seen what happened recently. The CAG then came out with some humongous sum of money. How come the person who was in charge of that institution was given a very cushy job right after [ by the government?]”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reference in the answer was evidently to me. I wondered what is the cushy job entrusted to me? I have done four part-time assignments, post my retirement. Three of these have been entrusted to me by the Supreme Court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first was the court’s direction to do a special audit of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple and its properties. The assignment was obediently accepted, undertaken and completed by me on a totally pro bono, basis with no monetary or other benefits derived for services rendered. It was also with deep dedication and abiding faith in Lord Padmanabhaswamy, whom my family and I have worshipped, from the day I joined the Kerala cadre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, the Supreme Court appointed a three-member committee, headed by former chief justice of India R.M. Lodha, to oversee the functioning of the Medical Council of India for at least a year. I was a member of that committee which completed its tenure in May 2017. None of the members of the committee have accepted any remuneration from the MCI or government for this assignment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In January 2017, the Supreme Court directed me to chair a committee of administrators to oversee the functioning of the BCCI. I am undertaking that assignment. However, since the court has not decided on the terms of appointment as yet, and though the BCCI is a private body, none of the four administrators have drawn any remuneration or sitting fee. In fact, two have already left.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the budget speech of 2015, the finance minister had stated the government’s intention to set up a Banks Board Bureau (BBB) which will search and select heads of public sector banks, and help them with innovative financial methods and instruments. This was intended to be an interim step towards establishing a holding and investment company for banks. In due consideration of my long experience in the department of financial services, and since I had also served on the boards of the State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, ICICI Bank, IDFC, IDBI, and the Life Insurance Corporation, I was requested by the government to chair the first BBB along with some experienced financial experts and bankers as members. Members were entitled only to sitting fee for meetings. However, since I had served as CAG, I was precluded from taking up any appointment with the government after demitting office. So, to avoid any odium on the government or on myself, I offered to undertake the two-year assignment on a purely pro bono basis. This part-time assignment has no attendant perks such as housing, HRA, vehicle or any other benefits. The quantum of work put in by the bureau has been substantial and its recommendations have been submitted to government. The two-year term of the present set of members expired on March 31, 2018. I have not drawn even a rupee from the government. The assertions made by me are verifiable. The bureau, being a public body, is covered by the RTI Act, and, hence, anybody can seek clarifications on the aforementioned facts stated by me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I leave it to the readers whether this part-time, pro bono engagement can, by any stretch of imagination, be called ‘a cushy job’. I had seen the futility to voice my protestations on the post being cushy, and, felt, it was only proper for me to set the record straight. I do not fault Sonia Gandhi for this; she must have been briefed inaccurately.</p> Sat May 05 11:49:32 IST 2018 travails-of-buying-l1 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I was trying to pay my advance tax online for the assessment year 2018-19. The tax authorities have made it very simple with all the facilities to pay through portals. Being a loyalist of public sector banks [PSBs], I was attempting to transfer the money from my account in a PSB. After repeated attempts, I managed to get to the page from where the tax could be paid. I made the transfer. The usual circle appeared indicating that the payment was in process. I waited in hope. Then came the message, “Unable to connect with the bank server.” I tried again. And, yet again. After four attempts, I finally managed to get a message, “Your tax has been successfully paid.” But, I was unable to generate a receipt. I had to wait till the bank opened next morning to confirm that the amount had been debited from my account and credited to the government account. Meanwhile, for payment of my GST, I decided to access a private bank in which I have an account. I accessed my account and paid. It went through and generated the receipt duly acknowledged by the bank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My next attempt was to purchase an airline ticket. Obviously, my first choice was Air India. Foreign tickets by Air India are usually cheaper, and the added advantage of getting frequent flyer points and the bonus of 500 points by booking through its website prompted me to do so. Three attempts. All three resulted in the message, “Sorry, unable to confirm your booking at present.” I gave up and accessed a private website. The booking was immediate. However, I could not block the seat of my choice. Back to the Air India website. No luck. Finally, late at night, I called the toll-free line [of the private website] and managed to block my seat.</p> <p>The next morning, I was narrating my encounter with the public sector to my tennis foursome. They diagnosed the malady that afflicts the public sector, and, of course, as is the cross I carry post a certain assignment, was told “all because of your types”. The culprit was the famous L 1, an abbreviation for the lowest bidder and has become synonymous with our present process of evaluating bids. This process ensures that the contract is awarded to a bidder who meets the basic minimum criteria set forth by the government agency, at the least cost. The government agency does not have the option, ordinarily, to buy from [anyone] other than the lowest bidder. Thus, they end up purchasing the equipment or item which meets the bare minimum specifications. Obviously, the quality of the software and hardware in an online system would thus be the bare minimum. The net result is that the public sector loses out on being able to provide superior quality service and die hard loyalists like me are forced to route my transaction through the private sector.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Must we be so distrustful of persons who make the ‘buy/ contract decisions’ in government or public sector? Are there no other measures by which we can ensure that public sector can compete with private sector, especially in the services sector, by purchasing equipment which may be L2 or L3, and is able to provide value for money? Must we tie down the hands of officials such that they have no discretion? Can we not have a quality-cum-cost based selection process which first takes care of the technical evaluation of the equipment, and after it meets not only the necessary but desirable conditions laid down, then proceeds to an evaluation of the cost quoted. Agencies like the World Bank use such methodologies without any scandals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maybe the Air India website has alternatives, but what happens when the paratrooper jumps out of the aeroplane with a parachute bought because it satisfied the L1 criteria? What happens when the policeman pulls out his revolver, bought since it fulfilled the L1 criteria, to save himself?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Former comptroller and auditor general, Rai is head of the Supreme Court-appointed BCCI’s Committee of Administrators.</b></p> Fri Apr 20 12:21:02 IST 2018 declare-and-be-elected <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In February, the Supreme Court passed a verdict requiring those contesting elections to mandatorily reveal their sources of income. A landmark judgment, it will strengthen the pillars of democracy. Lawmakers must lead by example. When the public finds that between two elections a member of Parliament or of the legislative assembly declares his income to be manifold of what it was when he first contested elections, it raises doubts in people’s minds. This is not a healthy trend. People must have trust in the leaders they elect. Even an elected person has a right to do business and grow rich, but being in public life he must indicate how he improved his income. It adds to his credibility, and strengthens the bond between him and those who elected him. Greater transparency in a democracy is the edifice on which it can grow stronger, and this is exactly what the verdict will do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the extant situation, the contestants are required to declare and file an affidavit on behalf of self, spouse and dependents, with details of PAN, income declared in tax returns, moveable and immoveable assets. Adding the requirement to declare sources of income would be healthy as it would be a deterrent to the errant of the lot, and separately help the government or the public to assess whether their assets have increased disproportionately over the period they have been in office. Those adversely affected may demur and claim that this is unfair and gives a handle to their adversaries to raise unfair allegations against them. However, anybody seeking to be in public life has to contend with such exigencies. On the plus side, it makes them morally stronger if they declare the source of their income and, both in substance and optics, raises their stature a notch higher. This makes their case stronger with the electorate, who can make an informed choice, and with whom a clean candidate will carry greater conviction. It will help separate the wheat from the chaff, the good apples from the rotten ones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It may be recalled that there is a pending verdict of the Central Information Commission (CIC) that political parties be brought under the Right to Information Act. This order of the CIC had come after activists and members of the Association of Democratic Reforms approached the CIC to declare political parties as public bodies. They had approached six political parties to make available details of financial contributions. It was only the CPI that provided the details. As a consequence of denial by the others, they had approached the CIC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, the Supreme Court turned down a plea to make it mandatory for political parties to declare their source of funds. However, in a vibrant democracy, there is a great degree of difference between what is legal and what is ethical. While in the strict legal sense the parties need not disclose, it would enhance their stature and credibility were they to voluntarily decide to declare their source of funding. India is becoming a society in which the citizen is taking centre stage. The new generation has become very discerning and will be asking these questions of the candidates who are seeking their votes. So, the earlier the political parties and politicians take the plunge and put things out in public domain, the greater will be their public acceptability.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Supreme Court’s February verdict has left it to the Centre to set up a permanent mechanism to keep account of the wealth of lawmakers. It is now incumbent on the government to lead and display its political will, not so much to cleanse the system but more to be the facilitator in developing closer rapport and trust between the elector and the elected. Democracy is a precious gift. It is incumbent upon the people who elect and those they elect to maintain its sanctity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Former comptroller and auditor general, Rai is head of the Supreme Court-appointed BCCI’s Committee of Administrators.</b></p> Sat Apr 07 16:20:20 IST 2018 audit-our-ethics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Speaking at a function in Chennai the other day, a former minister declared that “the nation faces a deficit of ethics”. This observation is one that would make all right-thinking Indians hang their heads in shame. The country has heard of revenue deficit, fiscal deficit and current account deficit. They are mere accounting terms used in understanding the fundamentals of our budget or economic stability. However, to be termed as lacking in probity, integrity and honesty, which are essentials constituting ethics, is a very unfortunate testimonial on the state of the nation and its people. We need to introspect deeply on this aspect of our culture. One finds that the recurring media reports of ‘scams’ in every aspect of our daily life is indeed a commonplace occurrence. The government has been endeavouring to make the country move up in the ‘ease of doing business’ ranking. There was widespread applause for our performance when we moved up to the 100th position in the world, even though we have 99 countries ahead of us. Are we content with our efforts?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But then, it is indeed true of our daily chores. The only difference is that we have come to accept it as a way of life. We purchase property and register it for only part of its value to avoid registration charges. We buy products and avoid taking a bill, so that we can escape the levy of tax on that product. To procure a birth certificate or a death certificate from the municipal authorities, we part with ‘speed money’, consoling ourselves that the couple of extra hundred bucks spent was worth the time saved in making repeated visits to that office. While running an eatery, we regularly tip the sanitary inspector to ensure that he keeps a benign eye on our venture. The boiler inspector for a factory is regularly ‘taken care of’, to ensure that he does not fault the safety standards in our factory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India ranked high among the most unethical of 13 major economies in the 2016 Global Business Ethics Survey. Global investors and entrepreneurs find India a difficult place to do business in. They cannot be faulted though. As per the Ernst &amp; Young’s Asia-Pacific Fraud Survey (2017), 78 per cent of Indian respondents observed that bribery and corrupt practices occur widely, whereas 57 per cent said that senior management would ignore unethical behaviour of employees to attain revenue targets. This is indeed most unfortunate because if we resort to shortcuts to beat competition once, it becomes a habit. Sustainable business or good governance cannot be built on an edifice of unethical means. We console ourselves that what we are resorting to are not illegal means, but these will certainly not withstand the scrutiny of global business standards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a nation seeking to gain our rightful place among leading economic powers, we need to recognise that any corroding influence on the moral fabric of the citizenry, the Gen Next in particular, will deprive us of long-term sustainable growth. This will be most unfortunate for disadvantaged sections of society who have been deprived of the fruits of economic development. Going forward, we need to ensure that anything unethical is totally distanced from our DNA. Honesty, morality and integrity are qualities that no school or educational institution can inculcate. It has to be imbibed within the family and can be ingrained only by demonstrative example and not by lip service alone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our cultural and moral fabrics have to be totally impeccable and we need to aspire to be at the top of any global list of survey of business ethics and way of life. India has a rich cultural heritage that was premised on good and moral character, and we can hardly let this rich heritage erode in our times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Former comptroller and auditor general, Rai is head of the Supreme Court-appointed BCCI’s Committee of Administrators.</b></p> Sat Mar 24 15:45:42 IST 2018 copycats-could-not-cope <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The ides of March descend upon us every year in the form of examinations. Tensions and blood pressure run high among examinees and their parents. Board exams is the buzzword. All activity is directed towards preparation for the oncoming exams. Preparation takes various forms. The conventional mode of preparation is of burning the midnight oil. Examinees stay up late, forgo all other distracting activity and focus only on the exam. However, in recent times—and, I say recent times only because the breed of this group seems to be growing rapidly as is evidenced from what has been seen in the state board examinations in Uttar Pradesh—the preparation seems to be directed towards how cleverly one can arrange to copy or cheat, while taking the exams.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is reported that over 10 lakh students have skipped board exams in UP in the last four days. The dropouts are close to 15 per cent of registered examinees. The high dropout rate, as per experts, is the result of strict anti-cheating measures. Obviously then, there will be a substantial decline in the pass percentage of students. It is so intriguing that the dropout rate has been as large as 2.89 lakh on day one, 2.15 lakh on day two, 2.71 lakh on day three and 2.67 lakh on day four. It is reported to be for the first time in the history of the UP board that such a large number of examinees have failed to appear for exams.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I distinctly recall that in the early 1990s, when Kalyan Singh was UP chief minister, he had clamped down very heavily on mass copying. It was rumoured that things had come to such a pass then that students would come to classroom with a knife, stick its blade onto their desks and happily indulge in mass copying. The knife on the table was to deter invigilators from even remotely trying to challenge them. In other exam centres it was so well organised that a person would come to the exam hall and start writing the answers on the black board for the examinees to copy. The latter modus operandi was employed to ostensibly bolster the pass percentage of particular institutions! Since Kalyan Singh clamped down on such unpardonable activity, the pass percentage had come down by about 14 per cent those days. However, it rose again with the change of government, with the Samajwadi Party at the helm. It had come down during Mayawati's chief ministerial tenures, too. However, between 2012 and 2017, the percentage went up again to about 80 per cent—a very sad commentary on the administrative acumen and declared aspiration of the young chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who had taken up the reins from his father.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is most unfortunate that the administration in preparation of the state board examinations had to install CCTV cameras in all examination centres, deploy armed police to aid and support invigilators, and issue warnings of strict action against wrongdoers. This is a downright waste of resources, time and effort. This is hardly the role of an examination conducting body, as it involves so much of negative activity on their behalf.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We need to reflect that 70 years after independence, our standards of probity and honesty have declined to such levels that merely ensuring a strict vigil in the conduct of exams leads to a 15 per cent dropout rate. When, as a nation, will we inculcate the habit of learning to play the game by the rules, and, hence, build character and not seek false mark sheets? I think the responsibility devolves entirely on parents to ensure that their wards do not take to such unscrupulous means so early in life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Former comptroller and auditor general, Rai is the head of the Supreme Court-appointed BCCI’s Committee of Administrators.</b></p> Sat Mar 10 19:09:55 IST 2018 pnb-scam-breaking-the-peoples-trust <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Banks are the ultimate custodians of people’s trust. They keep the savings of the common man and provide some returns on his savings by lending it to those who can utilise the funds for a commercial venture. It is expected, in this tripartite arrangement, that the borrower will borrow for an enterprise that will provide him the returns so that he can service the loan he took from the bank. It is expected of the bank to ensure that it properly appraises and then approves the borrower’s proposal, making sure that the venture would be able to earn enough to service the loan. On the other hand, the borrower should be a credible entrepreneur. For this tripartite arrangement to function effectively, the sincerity of all concerned should be unimpeachable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what is the responsibility of each? The bank should have the capability to do proper credit appraisal. It should put in place adequate risk-management systems to ensure that it is not putting public money at risk. It should have an IT architecture in place for stringent monitoring. It has to ensure that the lent funds are never at risk, and has to closely monitor this at different levels in the bank every month and every quarter. There is then the internal control system, followed by the audit by the statutory auditor, who is well selected and competent. Beyond that is the audit committee of the bank’s board of directors. Then there is the final supervision by the board of directors. Above all, there is the annual inspection and audit done by the regulator, which is the Reserve Bank of India. The IT architecture is so devised that there are multi-layer checks in the bank and the Central bank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With all these precautions in place, there is no possibility of any default, wilful or otherwise, without the agency concerned getting a signal. So, how did the latest Punjab National Bank default take place, and who is at fault?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It needs to be recognised that the best systems are bound to fail if the man operating them has an ulterior motive. There was collusion at the operator or branch level, and there was extreme laxity/malfeasance at the bank’s supervisory level. The most surprising aspect is that the internal control and external auditors did not blow a whistle when they saw the default building up. Or, were they also complicit in the “ever-greening” of the account? (Covering the defaulted portion with an additional loan). Did the audit committee also ignore the warning signal? Ultimately, the board, with members representing the majority shareholder (government) and regulator (RBI), did not seem to have exercised its fiduciary responsibility and, thus, miserably failed the depositor, whose money it holds in trust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bank management is to blame, definitely. However, when it is a public sector bank, the depositor sees the government as the owner and trusts it more. He is let down on that score, too. But, the ultimate responsibility is of the regulator, which puts in place a hundred routine compliance instructions, allows the biggest of defaults to slip through its fingers, and penalises the poor farmer who, not having recourse to dual citizenship and resources stowed abroad, faces a cul-de-sac, leading to his suicide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When will the system be fair to the common man who borrows in the thousands, or maybe at most a few lakhs, for which he fills myriad forms, mortgages every asset and provides collateral of every kind? Who will provide him justice? When will the system treat big and small borrowers equally and penalise defaults equitably? Banking, and public sector banks in particular, have to undergo a reality check.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Former comptroller and auditor general, Rai is head of the Banks Board Bureau and BCCI’s Committee of Administrators.</b></p> Sat Feb 24 16:12:49 IST 2018 fire-disasters <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>We had recently read of the ghastly fire in a roof-top cafe in Mumbai, that took 14 lives. No sooner had public memory got over that tragic incident, the newspapers carried the screaming headline of a blaze in Bawana factory that killed another 17 people. Apparently, an explosion in a firecracker unit's basement gutted the two-storey building. It was reported that 30 people working in the unit got trapped when the fire broke out. The building had only one exit. A lone exit, in a three-storey building with a basement, that was used to pack and store firecrackers. It was later learnt that the owner had procured a licence for a plastic factory, but was running a firecracker unit instead. One of the persons who died in the blaze was a mother of six children, who had started working in the unit for Rs 200 per day to support her children. The price of a life—Rs 200! Thanks to the sheer neglect and greed of a group of people, the six children she had set out to feed were now left bereft.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When will we, as humans and those who regulate such entities, learn? Whether Mumbai or Bawana, these fires will make headlines for a couple of weeks and will soon be forgotten. It will be business as usual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Mumbai fire, the restaurant-cum-pubs—Mojo Bistro and 1 Above—had only one entrance/exit. The fire department and civic authorities, who obviously were complicit, will be punished with suspension. Such stories have become commonplace. We read about them and then forget as some other crisis overtakes us. The authorities just do not seem to care. The Fire Safety Measures Act 2006 of Maharashtra stipulates that contractors procure a fire compliance certificate before they can build a structure taller than 15 metres. In the Kamala Mills fire, there was no strict enforcement of any of the safety standards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The preliminary inquiry conducted by the municipal commissioner reports: “This tragedy took place at the intersection of greed fuelled by impunity and other contempt of rules; and the failure of various agencies to ensure compliance. We will initiate a departmental inquiry against ten of our officials, including two assistant commissioners of that ward. Those guilty will not be spared.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the one hand we do not care for rules and norms. We take short cuts. The driving factor is greed. On the other hand are the authorities who are complicit in our taking short cuts. We just do not seem to have a conscience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Enough warnings have been given by agencies such as the Comptroller and Auditor General that fire disasters are waiting to happen in high-rise buildings, petrol stations, sawmills and fire-cracker shops. The reports have pointed out that 78 per cent of the budget allocated to buy fire safety equipment and rescue vehicles went unused across the state between 2010 and 2015. Yet, corrective steps were not taken.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have thus developed respect neither for laws nor authority. When officials are repeatedly found to be complicit in such negligent acts leading to such massive loss of lives, why does not the administration take exemplary action to set a precedent? This will act as a deterrent for such officers who are negligent in the discharge of their duties. The punishment that should be meted out for such negligence is dismissal from duty. This is the only punishment which will create an awareness that cutting corners to make a fast buck can indeed be very disastrous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a need to create a culture of safety and accountability in the country.</p> Fri Feb 09 10:48:20 IST 2018