Victimisation. Politics and corruption. The old enemies of the bureaucracy have returned. And going by the evidence of the last two years to an unusual extent. More than any time before, the civil service that Sardar Patel endearingly described as the “iron frame of India” is under threat of corrosion. And this is happening at a juncture when the country is becoming less and less governable and more strapped for cash.
In state after state, this is the story.
Take terrorist-torn Jammu and Kashmir. The civil administration has collapsed and IAS officers are facing all kinds of threatâ€¦.and allegations. Ashok Jaitley, the state’s additional chief secretary (finance), was summarily transferred to Delhi’s Kashmir House last week while the baseless innuendo did the rounds that he sympathized with the militants. It is another matter that he and the Governor, Girish Chandra Saxena, are sworn enemies.
In Punjab, there is a Police raj and administrative officers have been sidelined. Even an elected chief minister such as Beant Singh sees little scope of reversing the situation.
In Uttar Pradesh, the set-up has been subverted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. And this led to a piquant situation last month when the district magistrate, R.N. Srivastava, in collusion with Lucknow, said that he couldn’t authorize the forcible eviction of the kar sevaks in Ayodhya as this could lead to trouble. Never mind that the Allahabad High Court’s order was being flouted in the process.
Tamilnadu’s officialdom, of course, is at the mercy of the iron butterfly, Jayalalitha. And in Bihar, Laloo Yadav has absolutely terrorized the bureaucracy.
It has never been so bad. Independent India inherited the permanent civil service from the British. But under Patel, it had little reason to complain. He ensured that whatever the politicians did or thought, the bureaucracy would function without hindrance.
“The founding fathers”, explains B.G.Deshmukh, a former Cabinet secretary and retired bureaucrat, “were influenced by the British tradition and experience not only in many aspects of our Constitution but also in their approach towards the role of the bureaucracy. In turn, the senior civil servants served the founding fathers faithfully and competently.”
Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri maintained the same outlook towards civil servants. But in the late’60S, the situation changed. The Congress was routed in the north in 1967 and Indira Gandhi, who had completed just about a year in the
Office as Prime Minister was shaky. She dropped the developmental policies
of her father and concentrated to rebuilding the party and consolidated her power-base.
The Congress was unfit for this pose. Its field cadres were weak. She then
turned to the bureaucracy for help and when smaller parties saw the Congress doing this, they too followed the example. The politicisation of the bureaucracy had begun. “It was came to be used as a provider of employment or conferring patronage on the faithful,” says Deshmukh.
By 1976, the bureaucracy was pandering to all manner of political claims. Officers began to collect funds for the parties. Those who refused were subjected to vindictive transfers. And when Emergency was finally imposed, Mrs. Gandhi had a perfectly supine bureaucracy. “It was expected to last long,” recalls Yashwant Sinha, a former finance minister and bureaucrat. “So when officials were asked to go on their knees, they started crawl (a phrase incidentally used for the press of that time)”. A pattern had been established.
This carried right through the first Janata government, in Indira Gandhi’s triumphant years, and in successive regimes of Rajiv Gandhi, V.P.Singh, and Chandrasekhar. P.V.Narasimha Rao’s regime has not been immune either .S.P.Shukla was informed by Manmohan Singh around midnight, last October, that he was no more the finance secretary. His fault: he disagreed with parts of the reform package. Deepak Nayar, an economist, was also eased out for a similar reason. Now, CBI’s Madhavan is the last fall.
Of course, the bureaucrats have not all been innocent. Madhavan, however wrongly, came to be identified with the V.P.Singh regime and Bofors investigators such as Arun Jaitely, the lawyer and Bhure Lal, the former chief of the Enforcement Directorate. N.K.Singh, now in the finance ministry, was widely thought to be Chandra Shekhar’s blue-eyed boy who was being groomed for the post of Cabinet secretary. That way, V.P.Singh had Vinod Pande; Rajiv Gandhi, Gopi Arora; and Indira Gandhi, P.N. Haksar, G.Parthasarathy and, lastly, P.C.Alexander.
And yet, their association was based on a loose concept of power-sharing. “A Prime Minister does require a non-politician for advise”, said an official, “and the bureaucracy had a large pool of talent”. But at lower levels, the association of politicians and bureaucrats took worse forms. Occasionally, they became partners in questionable enterprises.
When Karnataka’s chief minister S.Bangarappa sacked his Cabinet secretary, M.Shankaranarayanan, in January 1991, he replaced him by someone who comes closer to his way of thinking: J.Alexander, who was not only raided by the income tax authorities but also investigated by the Lok Ayukta on charges of corruption.
And at the Centre, P.K. Thungon, the junior industry minister, set an example. News reports say that his sons were keen on a commercial flat in Yashwant Place, Chanakyapuri (New Delhi’s diplomatic row), being occupied by the Servants of India Society. The flat is owned by the New Delhi Municipal Committee (NDMC) whose administrator is Ramesh Chandra.
After ascertaining these facts, the minister apparently got into the act. He offered to make Chandra the managing director of Maruti Udyog Ltd (MUL) if he agreed to evict the Society. Chandra kept his part of the promise.
But before Thungon could execute his part, the story broke in the press. Observes S.W. Shiveswarker, a retired Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer: “It is a classic case of you scratch my back and I will scratch yours.”
Chandra’s colleagues in the service see it differently, though. They say he fell victim to an overweening ambition, nothing more. “It is a vicious cycle, “observed a senior official. “Promotion chances are very limited and the politician knows this. So in return for opening a slot, he gets you to commit ten other irregularities. If you don’t comply, you are damned.”
This is not to say there aren’t any upright officers left. “But there is a growing realization that it is not worth the bother to resist, “confessed a young IAS officer adding, “IAS officer is born in competition and lives in competition. Many of them feel that if they do not make money, others will.”
Such rationalization has produced shocking results. The Maharashtra cadre of the IAS obtained one of the best places of Bombay because that was the way chief ministers in a row (S.B. Chavan and then Sharad Pawar) wished to grant favours to them. And when Om Prakash Chautala was the chief minister of Haryana, he bequeathed prime land in Chandigarh and elsewhere in the state to several senior IAS officers in return for their “invaluable services”.
In many other cases, IAS officers self judged themselves. D.N.Rai, agriculture director in the Bihar State Cooperative Marketing Union, was nabbed in a case where fake and substandard inputs were purchased and several illegal private firms were given supply licenses. Again, K.Srinivasan, managing director of Orissa Mining Corporation, was charged in a deal regarding purchase of so-called Lynx machines. This apart, the CBI and vigilance departments have arrested at least a score of senior IAS Officers on charges of corruption in the last two years.
Suspicion rests on a much larger number. But the CBI can’t convict a majority of them because of the special constitutional protection given to bureaucrats. They cannot be dismissed or reduced in rank except by an enquiry where they will have to be heard. This is a fair law to protect the innocent, but the corrupt also get away.
What is to be done, then? Fear is not the key and punishment not the answer because corruption has become systematic and it involves seniors and juniors alike. In Shiveshwarker’s words: “If the top is corrupt, do not expect the lower levels not to be corrupt.” Can change in the basic training of bureaucrats make a small difference? Possibly.
When the British trained ICS officers, they followed two objectives: revenue collection and maintenance of law and order. This was the way of the imperial power and it was rejected after Independence. But it was not until the Sixties that India established a proper school for bureaucrats in Mussorie. And the course was and still is theoretical. A). Basic economics for administrators B). History and Indian culture. C).Law. D). Political concern and constitutional law. And E).Public Administration, management and behavioural sciences.
“The IAS training,” said Nirmal Mukherjee, former Punjab Governor and Cabinet secretary and an ICS officer, “is more theoretical while we had practical training.” Adds Shiveswarker : ” ICS officers were not afraid of dangerisation.” Few among them hankered a secretariat job because it attracted epithet of “sofa-snake”.
The ICS was a field service. The IAS was also conceived as one. But as power centralized in Delhi and the national capitals, priorities changed. The horse riding district collector became desk bound. And he discovered other way reaching the top than by serving his district well.
Deshmukh is confident that is still not too late. “The training system at Mussoorie, “he says, “will have to be looked in to afresh now. The training should be more tuned to what is happening than merely overemphasizing classical situation and approach”.
And the change has to come now. The country no longer has the fiscal capability to support the large civil services. Moreover, decontrol has robbed off senior officers of the justifying to stay in the national or state capitals or towns on their jobs. But at the same time restlessness is spreading to large parts of India. Said one senior Police officer “Soon, you will have only two agencies that can govern the country: The Indian Army and the paramilitary agencies”.
The bureaucracy has one last chance to prove itself.
“Patronage plays a more important role than corruption”
Union Minister Margaret Alva on the bureaucracy’s present predicament
Margaret Alva, who holds the personnel portfolio, is planning to rationalize the bureaucracy, Here she tells us how:
Sunday : The Prime Minister had around a ten percent reduction of senior government posts. What has your ministry done about it?
Margaret Alva: We will not fill all those posts, which are left vacant by deputationists from state either governments or retired officers. Each ministry has been given the task of identifying the posts at the joint secretary and additional secretary levels, which could be surrendered.
I do not have a centralized tally. But with liberalization and rationalisation of polices, certain departments have become redundant. Some of the regulatory departments have lost their teeth. We will redeploy that staff which is not required. We will also be reducing the intake in bureaucracy. For example, this year for the IAS, we have notified only 80 vacancies from 107 last year.
We have also instructed the staff selection committee to reduce the intake. Some of the state governments have also taken up the Prime Minister’s appeal.
Q: Are you facing problems implementing the 10% cut at the center?
A: There will undoubtedly be some problems. People are already there and we are talking about reduction. What do you do with them? Where do you send them? We are trying to adjust the people who have about three to 5 years to go for retirement, by redeploying them in organizations like Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR).
The committee of secretaries in consultation with the ministry of finance are trying to work out the rationale. I suppose any organized service would not like to have a sudden feeling that its strength is being reduced. I mean how would MPs find if their seats were suddenly reduced in parliament?
Q: The ten % cut has upset many bureaucrats.
A: I do not see why they should resent the decision. Why should they be upset?
Q: Some of them feel that their chances of promotion have receded. In fact, anybody who had joined the civil services after 1966 has a very small chance now of becoming a secretary a post which most of them aspire for.
A: In bureaucracy, up to a point it is promotion and beyond that, selection. Take the number of secretary level posts. They have more than doubled over the last few years. Every corporation need not be headed by a secretary. It can be looked after by a person at a lower level as well. I fail to understand why the bureaucracy should feel upset.
Q: What role do you see for the bureaucracy in the new liberalized economy?
A: In certain areas like trade, commerce or industry, their approach will have to change. But still you cannot do away with the bureaucracy. Even liberalized rules have to be implemented. Who will do it?
Q: The bureaucracy is much politicized today. Is it still possible for an upright bureaucrat to survive?
A: The allegation that the bureaucracy per se is politicized is not true. I think only those bureaucrats who want to get politicized will. A bureaucrat will have to implement the politician’s decision whether he likes it or not. We are living in a system where the politicians make the decision and the bureaucrat implements it. It is for the people to decide whether the decisions taken by a politician are right or not by voting every five years.
However, at the same time, I do not think that the bureaucracy should bend its back to implement every oral decision of the politician. At times, the bureaucrats do what the politician says because they have their own motives. It is pointless blaming the politician. And one should remember that if any bureaucrat is involved too closely with one administration, then another one knocks him out.
Q: What does an upright bureaucrat do when he does not agree with the politician? Is it possible for him to say no without getting a punitive transfer?
A: Transfers are part of bureaucracy. Differences are not just limited to bureaucracy only. They crop up in every field. Do you think that there are no cliques operating in the bureaucracy? Half the time, postings and transfers are managed by the bureaucratic leadership. The bureaucrats have their own likes and dislikes.
So many junior bureaucrats come and complain to me about how they are being discriminated by their bosses. Senior bureaucrats give plum postings to their favourites. Why blame me?
Q: Why is that in some states the bureaucracy is always at loggerheads with the political leadership? Bihar, for instance.
A: What you are talking about is the state cadre. They come under the discipline of the states. We cannot interfere. We try to help but ultimately the state’s views will prevail.
Q: What are the changes that you have seen in bureaucracy?
A: Their values have changed. Earlier, they would tour the district, meet people, and try to solve their problems locally. Today, everybody comes to Delhi. If a villager wants a small loan, then he has to come to the bank head quarters.
Q: Why has the efficiency of the civil service declined over the years?
A: If you compare today’s civil servant with the ICS, then the pressures today are much greater than before. If you compare the situation since Independence, there is a lot of difference. This has also put a lot of strain on the bureaucracy.
Ketan Narottam Tanna/ New Delhi