Transfer racket: Officials pay in lakhs for plum posts

Public officials are paying astronomical bribes to get lucrative postings. Political interference in transfers violates the rulebook.
Last Updated : 05 September 2018, 07:54 IST

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Government’s work is God’s work.” So goes the saying engraved at the entrance of the Vidhana Soudha that houses the secretariat and the state legislature. Kengal Hanumanthaiya, second chief minister of Karnataka, who built the magnificent edifice, was a man of values. He believed in providing clean administration. He wanted the government employees to be known for their integrity, honesty and public service.

But contrary to his dreams, Vidhana Soudha today has become a den of widespread corruption. The governance has degenerated because nothing moves without bribes, commission, cuts, call what you want. Government posts, many say, are virtually auctioned. All these have let down the people, their hopes and aspirations. Their belief in the government and clean administration lies shattered.

Officials are paying astronomical bribes to get lucrative postings. Political interference in transfers violate the rulebook, but the practice is rampant.

A parallel arrangement, called “the minute system” by insiders, has come into existence to ensure smooth, illegal transfer of officials.

Recommendation letters from politicians form the basis of transfers. No application for a transfer to a lucrative post is processed without such letters.

Interestingly, the authorities in most departments record these letters in their minutes, thereby according official status to a practice violative of the Karnataka Civil Service (Conduct) Rules of 1966. The rules prohibit political interference. DH has accessed copies of several recommendation letters signed by prominent politicians.

A government order, dated June 7, 2013, lays down detailed guidelines for the transfer of officials. It not only prohibits “political pressure” but also empowers the authorities to take disciplinary action against officials who produce recommendation letters from politicians.

“Transfer cannot be claimed as a matter of right by the Government servants. Bringing political pressure for transfers is prohibited,” it states. Yet, the government has not taken disciplinary action even in a single case so far.

In fact, the venal minute system has made a mockery of the rules. Those who hope to get transfers according to the rule book end up waiting endlessly. Of the total transfers in a year, (6% of the total employee strength must be transferred, according to the guidelines, but in reality close to 10% are transferred) less than 30% are done according to the rules.

How system works

An official seeking transfer to a greener pasture approaches a politician, strikes a deal, and gets a recommendation letter. The ministry concerned yields to pressure and facilitates the transfer.

Though money is key, personal equations and caste also play a role in transfers. Some influential politicians make sure that officials of their caste are posted in their constituencies.

Group A, B and C officials such as tahsildars, sub-registrars and police inspectors approach politicians, while those in the lower rungs (Group C and D) approach power brokers close to politicians. The minute system is so widespread that bundles of recommendation letters can be seen in all departments. However, IAS and IPS officers are usually not transferred in lieu of bribes.

Political interference is common in the revenue, transport, excise, public works, energy, home, urban development and social welfare departments as they have huge budget allocations. Bengaluru and other big cities are always the most sought-after for corrupt officials.

Big money changes hands for the transfer of sub-registrars, especially in Bengaluru, assistant commissioners (field work), tahsildars, surveyors, road transport officials, excise inspectors, engineers, police sub-inspectors and inspectors, and revenue officials.

Only those who are influential and ready to pay bribes get key postings in the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike and the Bengaluru Development Authority.

The bribes vary from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore, depending on the place and post. Even clerks pay up to Rs 5 lakh to get posted to sub-registrar offices in Bengaluru, according to senior officials who spoke to DH.

Corrupt officials in the Transport Department are more ‘organised’ than others in getting postings of their choice.
Officials have formed a group to take transfer decisions on their own.

They pool in their bribes (to be paid to politicians) and get the transfers done without much ado.

Members of the group even take turns at lucrative posts. Officials in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) were part of this racket in the past, it is reliably learnt.

Root cause

Illegal and reckless transfers of officials is seen as the root cause of corruption in administration. A transfer for bribe is virtually a licence to loot. Officials who get there by foul means remain unaccountable to their higher-ups. The result: they pocket taxpayers’ money and funds allocated for government schemes.

Reports of the national auditor, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, placed before the state legislature, expose this system. The transfer mafia is so powerful that legislators have on occasions revolted against their own government and threatened to bring it down.

Several governments have attempted to control the mafia and failed. A top official working in the CMO during the B S Yeddyurappa regime (2008-11) was shunted out for attempting to control the mafia.

Senior IAS officers have remained mute spectators to the racket. Those who raise a voice against it are transferred frequently and also harassed in other ways.
The helplessness expressed by Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy recently sums it up: “Transfer of officials is where corruption begins. If I try to uproot it immediately, I won’t be allowed to remain in power even for two minutes.”

Disclaimer: This article is an effort to give insights into corruption in governance. It is not targeted at any politician or official. We understand that not all politicians and officials are corrupt.

Published 01 September 2018, 17:36 IST

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