Meet Bulbul Sen, a bubbly retired young Indian Revenue Service (IRS) Officer of 1977 lore. The year 1977 was the year when than Prime Minister Indira Gandhi chose to end for a variety of reasons the state of emergency in the country and announce schedule for the general election. Mrs. Sen can be identified with the post-emergency ethos which included triumph of freedom of expression and expansion of space for several sections including that of the Indian women. The ladders Mrs. Sen has managed to navigate since than in this men dominated world should be a source of inspiration, envy and pride for the multitude of Indian women fighting against all odds. Mrs. Sen is MA, MBA (Slovenia), Post Graduate Diploma in Public Administration (Paris) who has been trained at premier national and international institutions in Public Administration, Management, Tax Administration & Tax Policy and WTO-related commercial law, like the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, National Academy of Direct Taxes, Nagpur, Institute International Administration Publique, Paris, the E.U. Secretariat, Brussels (Internship) and the International Centre for Public Enterprises, Ljubljana, Slovenia (for MBA, with specialisation in WTO issues).
She has varied experience in Tax Planning, Tax Management, WTO issues, Human Resource Management, administration while working in various technical & administrative posts in the Income tax Department and on deputation as Joint Secretary (Tax Planning & Legislation) in the Department of Revenue, Director in the Ministries of Commerce (International Trade Policy Division) and Food, Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs. She also has experience in monitoring the performance of PSUs and handling consumer affairs, while Deputy Secretary/Director in the Ministry of Food, Civil Supplies & 7 Consumer Affairs. Her international experience includes representing India at various international conferences, including the Geneva and Seattle Ministerial Conferences of the WTO (1998 &1999 respectively), the Conference of SAARC Commerce Ministers, Male, the Maldives (1999), the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-Safety, Colombia (1999), the South Summit of the Group of 77 Commerce Ministers, Havana, Cuba (2000) as part of the Indian delegation headed by the then Commerce & Industries Minister ; the annual meeting of Commonwealth Tax Administrators, London, 2005, as head of the delegation; as also the Expert Group Meeting on Transparency, Competition and Objectivity in Public Procurement t, Luxemburg, Austria, 2012, as a member of the UNODC, South Asia Office’s team of Indian experts on Government Procurement. She has published articles on Tax Policy and Public Procurement Policy in several newspapers and journals. Her published books include one on the implications of joining the WTO for the developing and developed countries and the major chapters of a study on public procurement in India. Ms. Bulbul Sen is also a director on the Board of Heavy Engineering Corporation Ltd.
A chance meeting of the scribe with her over two weeks ago left him wondering if she has actually been so long in the public eye for so long. Going by the long list of her accomplishments and the yearning to do more like any other fresher, she is more than a match in enthusiasm to any new entrant to the field of revenue services.
This scribe came into telephone contact with her on the evening of October 4 rather accidentally. Mrs. Sen’s husband is a former Secretary in the Union Water Resource Development Ministry who presided over the February 2013 notification of the Cauvery Tribunal water sharing award mainly between Tamil and Karnataka with the Kerala thrown in. The acrimonious discourse between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on the sharing of waters of Cauvery in this year rainfall deficit prompted the old fashioned All India Radio rooted in the tradition of facts are sacred but opinion is free to get Dr. Shyam Kumar Sarkar, to notify the original award in 2013 to its studio for a firsthand account of what actually happened.
The onerous but joyous moment to talk to Dr. Sarkar at one of the multitude of studios of the AIR headquarters on the Parliament Street fell into the hands of this scribe. Mr. Sarkar graciously agreed to be interviewed by a novice on the subject and that is how a bond emerged with the veteran bureaucrat that led this scribe to Mrs. Sarkar.
Days after the interview, the apex court had modified its own order taking into account the difficulties put forth by the Karnataka government in translating the order into reality. This scribe had called on the mobile number of Mr. Sarkar for a low down on what it meant. The phone was picked up by Mrs. Sarkar who wanted to know if this scribe would care to listen to her for a few sentences before she passed it on to her husband.
Her voice was so gentle and persuasive that it would have been difficult for anyone to say no and this scribe did not even entertain such a thought. A few sentences later Mrs. Sarkar introduced her as an ex-IRS officer currently engaged in a project that no one has attempted in the post-independent history of India. It was about procurement of goods and services through various means and sources by the mighty government of India and how she along with her another colleague friend was in the process was actually engaged in an exercise to draft a policy which does not exist till date!
This was getting rich. Look at her credentials. She until a few years ago was a former Chief Commissioner of Income Tax, Delhi. Currently Mrs. Sarkar is a Consultant, Global Compact Network India which is a 13 year plus registered non-profit society functioning as the Indian Local Network of the UN Global Compact, New York. It is the first Local Network in the world to be established with full legal recognition. The India Network ranks among the top 10, out of more than 90 Local Networks in the world. It has also emerged as the largest corporate sustainability initiative in India and globally with a pan India membership of 230 leading business and non-business participants and 341 signatories, strengthening their commitment to the UN Global Compact Principles by becoming proud members of the Local Network in India.
Minutes into the talking Mrs. Sarkar wanted to know about possibilities of a wider audience for her novel project on public procurement in general and procurement policies in India in particular. A meeting was fixed up the next day. Madam Sarkar turned up with one of the books on public procurement she had penned during her bureaucratic career and an abstract of project she was working on for months now along with another colleague in the Global Compact Network India. Sooner than later it would be a full-fledged book, a ready reference on matters pertaining to public procurement.
According to Mrs. Sarkar India’s maturity as a democracy and an economy lies that even as it faces external challenges through increased belligerence of Pakistan, cross border terrorism, slowing down of global economic growth and so on, it is steadily carrying on with its own economic reforms program. The quiet progress on General Sales Tax, the passage of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016, recent interest rate cut by the RBI are but some of the manifestations of the phenomenon.
Yet there remains one area in which government needs to take an important initiative. That is in the area of public procurement, or the system of government contracting being followed by India. This is still governed largely by the dated General Financial Rules (GFR), last consolidated in 2005. Businesses today feel that these rules are not able to encompass the complex needs of a modernizing Indian economy, especially in its tendering modes; its transparency rules which should be especially helpful to promote the small scale sector, the backbone of our industry; in its lack of provisions to encourage sustainable public procurement, in its lacuna in having an adequate mechanism for redressing the grievances of bidders and suppliers; in its market access provisions to balance the competing needs of maintaining openness and promotion of domestic industry and so on. They also feel that there are a plethora of public contracts rules, which are often not in harmony with each other, and therefore create confusion, which gives opportunity for both inefficiency, on the one hand and corruption, on the otherâ€.
She bemoans that these rules, like the General Finance Rules, are binding only on the government procuring authorities, and not on the suppliers, and, therefore, are inadequate to ensure a level playing field for all players engaged in the procurement process. The need of the hour for the Business and Industry is an updated single, overarching Public Procurement legislation to clear the uncertainty and confusion on public procurement in India, which have led to so many avoidable of procurement scams.
Mrs. Sarkar says the Manmohan Singh Government attempted in vain a policy on public procurement through the Public Procurement Bill, 2012. Businesses, including the major central PSEs, private sector majors and the SMEs, in a consultation on an appropriate public procurement regime for India held in June 2016, by the UN Global Compact India (of which these enterprises are members) have expressed the need for a government contracting law which, while treating the Bill of 2012 as a baseline document, will be more angled towards enhancing ease of doing business.
Incidentally, just a few days ago the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s online citizen engagement mygov.in platform has sought public views by November 15 on modifications needed for `The Manuals on Policies and Procedures for Purchase of Goods, Works and Consultancy, 2015. On October 21 in response to a mail from this scribe bringing this announcement to her notice Mrs. Sarkar responded with a cool “Thanks, I am aware of this public consultation by the Procurement Division, Deptt. of Expenditure, GOI.
A posting on the website says that Ministry of Finance had prepared these manuals in conformity with the General Financial Rules, 2005 and contained broad generic Guidelines. It has been now decided to revise these Manuals. Changes are sought to be made in consultation with all the stakeholders and individuals, Industries Bodies and all other stakeholders are free to send their views on MyGov. Separately, ministries/departments have been asked to send their contributions.
The initiative is significant as Government organization procures a wide variety of goods and services and executes works to perform the duties and responsibilities assigned to it. In 2006 to reduce scope for subjectivity and to improve objectivity and transparency in decision making, the Government had prepared a set of three Manuals on Policies and Procedure for Procurement of Goods, Works and hiring of Consultants in conformity with the applicable directives contained in the new General Financial Rules, 2005.
These Manuals deal with clear guidelines for Public Procurement in tune with the imperatives of a growing and liberalized economy introduce quality in public procurement. A separate Chapter at covers the Outsourcing/ Procurement of Other (non-consultancy) Services, and points out areas where Manual of Policies and Procedures for Procurement of Consultancy and Other Services ii policies and procedures are different for such outsourcing/ procurements.
Similarly, this Manual of Policies and Principles for Procurement of Consultancy and Other Services owes debt to many preceding documents of Ministries and Departments of Central and State Governments, The World Bank Group, Public Sector Undertakings and Autonomous bodies and would welcome use of new ideas and materials developed here in a similar spirit.