Tuesday, March 20, 2007

On committee-giri

In her Outlook column, Laila Tyabji describes the dynamics of government committees. Tyabji's credentials in committee-giri ("My diary reveals I spend an average of 45 to 50 days a year on government committees, commissions, and consultations ...") allow her to distill the key features of being a part of sarkari panels:

The one common factor of all these disparate, diverse appointments is the effusive ritual dance of initiation and the correspondingly brusque termination. When one is first invited to join each committee or board, one is wooed, feted and fussed over. The secretary of the relevant ministry calls to beg one's "invaluable" guidance, followed by a formal, hand-delivered letter, one's name is listed in the official gazetteer, at least one flunkey escorts one inside the ministry. Sometimes, there are garlands and five-star lunches.

But when one's usefulness is over, or a change in government results in the inevitable "reconstitution" of the committee, it all ends with neither a cheer nor a whimper—just silence. Gone are the notices in triplicate (fax, e-mail, and hard copy), the urgent phone calls to ensure one's presence, the obsequious PAs desperate to get a quorum, lying through their teeth that the minister has expressly asked for one's presence, the compliments on the sagacity of one's insights, or the beauty of one's sarees...

The silence is so complete that, until, somewhere, sometime, there is casual mention of such and such meeting, one actually doesn't realise one is no longer a member! No thank-you letters, no telephonic intimation, not even a handshake acknowledging one's services, to break the news that one is no longer required! Every government department behaves in exactly the same way. [...]