New Delhi: An RSS affiliate has complained against alleged conflict of interest displayed by civil servants in cases involving foreign players, and in the Modi government’s policy-making.
In a letter written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) has flagged a conference on 5G technology scheduled to be organised by Chinese telecom major Huawei later this week, which will be attended by Indian civil servants. The officials will be violating the Central Services Code of Conduct if they attend the event, the body has alleged.
Last year, the SJM had pointed out how food safety regulator FSSAI was partnering with Nestle, the maker of Maggi that had faced a countrywide ban in 2015.
The organisation is now planning to take up these issues with the Modi government in a fresh push against the alleged conflict of interest.
Speaking to ThePrint, SJM national co-convener Ashwani Mahajan said, “We will be taking up this (Huawei) and many other similar issues. There is an inherent conflict of interest in the current system. A number of people from the MNCs are given charge of policy-making without realising the conflict of interest.”
“There is currently no norm wherein these people should be made to declare where all are they involved in. There is a need for a clear-cut process and a law,” said Mahajan.
“We will be highlighting more such issues in the coming few days.”
The Huawei case
In its letter to PM Modi dated 31 July, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch has alleged that the operations of Huawei are a security threat to India.
“We as a country are yet not sure of relying on Huawei. The Chinese dominance in India’s telecommunication sector is very damaging. It is not only creating a security threat but are also killing opportunities for our indigenous players,” Ashwani Mahajan said in his letter.
In June, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said the Modi government was taking a serious look at Huawei’s participation in 5G networks in the wake of a global row over the alleged security threat from the Chinese telecom major. There are concerns that the Chinese government could use Huawei to spy on countries.
The Union Ministry for External Affairs had also said the government will take a call on whether to allow participation of Huawei in the 5G trials based on the country’s economic and security interests.
With Indian officials now scheduled to attend the Huawei conference in Delhi, the issue has come up again.
Asked how attending a conference amounts to flouting the Central Services Code of Conduct by civil servants, Mahajan said, “The government is yet to take a call on Huawei and bureaucrats are supposed to work for national interest. Hence, they shouldn’t attend a conference that is sponsored by the company till a decision is taken.”
However, an IAS officer who did not want to be named said, “The conduct rules do prohibit conflict of interest, but if these officers are going in a personal capacity, conduct rules can’t bar them. If they are going in the official capacity, it means it has the approval of their departments… So there doesn’t seem to be any problem.”
FSSAI, other issues
Sources in the SJM mentioned a recent meeting of a working group on nutrition, under the aegis of NITI Aayog, and said those who make artificial nutrients were also part of the group. “Right from health sector, telecom, conflict of interest has become a major problem and we need to have a better system in place. How can companies that produce artificial nutrients be part of such policy related meetings?” Ashwani Mahajan said.
On Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s objection, said the sources, that working group was later dissolved.
Last year, the SJM had also demanded a probe into the FSSAI’s partnership with Nestle and other MNCs — Abbot, Danone Nutricia, Mead Johnson Nutrition — for its ‘Diet 4 Life’ scheme aimed at addressing the challenges faced by infants suffering from Inborn Errors of Metabolism (IEM). The regulator had decided to allow import of infant specialty food in the country by these companies.
The move came only two years after the Maggi-maker had faced action from FSSAI.
This is a clear-cut case of conflict of interest, Mahajan alleged.
However, the regulator had reportedly defended itself at the time saying all legal concerns were studied before entering the partnership.
This report has been updated to correctly reflect the venue of the Huawei conference to be held later this week.