Civil Service Activism In India – Paper II

Civil Service Activism

The civil service, like the society, is in turmoil. It finds itself in a deep crisis of values. The social turmoil will persist and the churning process continues till democracy; secularism, integrity and such values strike roots and proper civil service reforms between democracy and bureaucracy are a workout. While bureaucrats and politicians have to identify their respective roles and work in tandem towards goal realisation. The legally dominant partner is likely to use bureaucracy as an instrument of oppression or exploitation or to promote hidden political agendas. The situation 15 worse with the growth of manipulative politics and the downslide of the political system. Read more to know all things about civil service activism, civil service activism examples, etc. 

These are. not just the days of politician-bureaucrat nexus but linkages or alliances fostered with criminals, mafia outfits and business-houses making for the sleaze sector of the economy. At a time when statesmanship in politics is replaced by petty politicking and the politician has found an ally in the ‘service politician’, does this not amount to a total negation of the concept of civil service neutrality?

Fortunately, there have been civil servants who have had the courage of conviction to stand up and fight for the values they cherish and the principles they uphold. To mention a few, there is A.K. Chatterjee, an IAS officer in Patna, who in 1992 sought voluntary retirement after exposing how the entire politico-. the administrative system had been perverted in Bihar because greedy and power-hungry politicians and corrupt and self-seeking civil servants had both become ‘expensive parasites’ on the system. Then there is P.S. ‘Appu, who resigned from the Directorship of the Mussoorie Institute.

There have been civil servants who have courageously gone public when faced with dishonest decisions. There is GR.Khairnar, who stated in categorical terms: “I am a public servant. My duty is to serve the people. I have seen so much corruption that I have no alternative but to shout against it from the rooftops.” He sought to expose the stranglehold of criminalised politicians and politicised crimimals in the building construction activity. For this, he paid the price of his job. He was suspended from office but reinstated on High Court’s orders in July 1997. There is Arun Bhatia, whose actions over the years against builders grabbing fraudulen7PSI, corrupt district officials and giant transnational companies violating drug manufacturing laws, earned him arbitrary transfers. Sanjay Pandey, a Mumbai DCP, fearlessly threw a coterie of criminal municipal corporators in jail and was threatened with the transfer.

The following are the examples of few honest officers who signify civil service activism:

Arun Bhatia, Pune Municipal Commissioner (March 7-13; 1999)

He demolished illegal structures belonging to the rich and famous, including a leading politician. He has relieved of his post by the then Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government. The citizens protected and moved the court. The court reinstated him in April 1999. But in June, a nonconfidence motion was passed against him by the PMC, after which he was shunted to the state archives. He prefered to stay home, until October when he went on a UN assignment to Malaysia. Bhatia has been transferred 27 times in 30 years. He believes: “Fighting corruption in India is like committing suicide. The establishment is powerful. The threat of physical harm and being framed by the police is very real for the few who dare to fight”.

T. Chandrashekar, Thane Municipal Commissioner (1997-2000)

He took on the challenge of getting Thane in order on the very first day. Within months, the satellite town was transformed. Hawkers were removed from streets and rehabilitated, roads widened and traffic regulated. The biggest opposition to him came from his corporators, with a no-confidence motion passed against him by them. : Arvind Inamdar, Director Genera Of Police; Maharashtra (1998-2000); He was unceremoniously removed as state DGP and posted as advisor-cum-director general of police (systems improvement), a virtual demotion. Later the government also ordered an inquiry against him to probe alleged corruption in purchasing riot control jackets during his tenure.

Khairnar, Mumbai Deputy Municipal Commissioner (1988-1994)

He revealed serious charges of corruption against the then Maharashtra chief minister Sharad Fawar in 1994. Targeted illegal constructions, including those that belonged to underworld dons and influential politicians. Was beaten with sticks: pelted with stones, threatened with swords and even shot at once in 1985 for his ‘daredevilry. Remained suspended for six years before he was reinstated in April 2000 only eight months before his retirement.

Javed Choudhary, Secretary (Ministry of Food, Revenue)

As secretary, sugar and edible oils in the ministry of food, he refused to accede to many of the demands of the powerful sugar lobby who wanted the import duty of sugar to be raised. He was then shifted to the revenue department where he refused to bow down to the pressures of a corporate house not to reduce the import duty on certain items. He was then transferred.

RK Handa, deputy commissioner port division Kolkata police, joint commissioner of police, traffic

As deputy commissioner, he was asked to curb criminal activities but fell out will a minister and was transferred. Later, he was accused by the state government of sharing a public platform with an allegedly dishonest builder.

Bhure Lal, Enforcement Directorate chief (1985-87)

Was transferred to the post of joint secretary, coins and currency, when the government found some of his actions to be ‘inconvenient. Bhure Lal was investigating many politically sensitive cases during his tenure in the ED. His transfer orders were served at his residence around 10:30 PM on March 11, 1987, even as the budget session of Parliament was in progress. He was escorted to his new office the next morning to prevent him from going to the Enforcement Directorate so that he does not have access to the files’.

Vinay Mohal Lal, transport commissioner, Maharashtra (1999-2001)

Taking note of a Public Interest Litigation filed against vehicular pollution in Mumbai, Lal single-handedly cracked down on transporters, taxi-operators, and private vehicle owners for spreading pollution. He also took ( the powerful car manufacturers and the oil industry in the growing fuel adulteration cases.

RP Meena, Vishakhapatnam police commissioner (1995-1997)

He investigated the Vishakhapatnam Port land scam – that saved at least Rs. 20 crore for the state exchequer – and detected that more than the actual worth of the land was being paid by the Vishakhapatnam Port Trust’ to private people. Problems of Meena began after he pointed out the possible involvement of at least three IAS officers in the scam. He was transferred to an insignificant post.

Nand Lal, principal secretary, Maharashtra (1991-1999)

As principal secretary (urban development) he exposed corruption in the Nagpur, Ulhasnagar, Pimpri Chinchwad and Thane municipal corporations. As revenue secretary, he paid the price for exposing illegal, allotment of land. When he was in the state forest department, he filed FIRs against 27 senior forest officials and 13 private landowners, developers and builders for allegedly transferring reserve forest land.

MM Rajendran, Chief Secretary, Tamil Nadu

While he was principal secretary, he was deputed Chairman of SPIC (a joint venture between the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation and the MA Chidambaram Group). At this time, he reportedly protested against the large scale corruption in the organisation. Jayalalitha was known to have dealings with SPIC, which came under judicial scrutiny. His allegations were proved right. Later, when he was due for promotion as cabinet secretary under the tenure of the then finance minister, he was demoted. He was transferred to Delhi as secretary, youth and sports affairs.”

Trinath Mishra, Acting Director CBI (1997-1999)

He ordered raids on a leading corporate house. He was subsequently reported to have received a dressing down by the PMO for having ordered these raids. He was then transferred to the post of director-general of the Central Industrial Security Force.

S.S. Sandhu, Ludhiana Municipal Commissioner

He demolished an encroachment wall of a temple in the city. This attracted the ire of the Bharatiya Janata Party which is a Junior partner in the ruling coalition there. The Issue became politicized as the election to the state assembly were less than six months away.’ Soon Sandhu was transferred.

Sanjay Pandey, Mumbai deputy commissioner of police (1993-2000)

Was instrumental in unearthing various financial scams during his stint in the economic offences wing. His reward was a slew of transfers to inconsequential postings like the police training school in Jalna Subsequently, he quit.

Pros And Cons Of Activism

The pros and cons of civil service activism have been highly debated. Some believe that men like Khairnar and Pandey were simply disgusted with the criminalisation of the polity and the doings of their political masters and in conscience felt that they had to speak out even if thereby they violated their service conduct code. Nani Falkhivala commented: “Khairnar has done the right thing in the wrong way. God forbid that he should learn to do the wrong thing in the right way like our shrewd and unscrupulous politicians”. After all, what alternative did they have? Conduct rules can stifle an upright official and as one official expressed ‘service rules only teach one to support your superiors and how to suppress your subordinates’.

Civil service activism has been hailed by many. J.B. D’Souza is convinced that if you keep to the traditional rule book, you almost confine yourself to a passive observer role. You may state your case for propriety or the course that in your view best serves the public interest and then let your political boss run over you. One has to be an activist which means one has to improvise. According to him, it could take the form of court intervention like Public Interest Litigation, legislative interpellation, press exposure or whatever. For such action, one will have to be ready to. stand up and be counted, but then one has the satisfaction that one has served the public interest. Activism is dictated by the need to circumvent the conduct rules which cloak the abuse of power with the garb of legality and unwittingly make civil servants “partners in a political game by conniving with the wrong-doings of their irresponsible masters. Trying to work within the system only gets the harassed Civil servant punitive transfers and other forms of victimization. So it is best to break out and work for a groundswell of public opinion. Once politicians are criminalised and are seen as doing wrong, bureaucrats can no longer remain neutral or side with their political masters, but seek the support of the people.

However, some feel that no organisation can tolerate -disloyalty and indiscipline in its ranks. When rules are violated in letter’ and ‘spirit’, the civil servant must pay the price. Besides, coming out in the open makes the issue personalised and politicised, An honest and well meaning civil servant could soon become a political pawn in a power game. Another senior civil servant was firm of the opinion that a on who is an art of government cannot turn around and condemn government and extract mileage out of it that he can hope to get is media coverage and the status of a hero, all of which are short-lived.

The point is that civil servants can be neutral and yet an activist within the system for the larger cause and the public good. This is the position taken by men like D.T Joseph and D.S. Soman. If conduct rules are faulty and stifling; they’ll need to be rectified. Otherwise, the only way out is to use internal channels to influence government decisions in the public interest rather than mount a public platform. If one feels very strongly, then the honourable thing to do is to resign and work as a missionary or a public crusader.

Future Of Activism

Civil Service Activism is a sign of the times. How it will operate in the Indian milieu and what are its possible repercussions for democratic governance is not easy to say. But one thing is certain! that an activist is no longer a backroom boy but one who forsakes anonymity for a larger cause, thus making a dent in the traditional concept of civil service neutrality.

Bureaucracy in an over-arching democratic system assumes critical salience. It is expected to be under the control of political masters and, therefore, answerable to the political executive. Yet, it cannot escape responsibility for its actions. It must contribute to policy-making, yet be politically neutral. It is like involving fully in politics of decision-making and yet not getting politicised at the same time. This would mean that a civil servant should take into account, not just the personality factor, but be attuned to factionalism within the ruling party and its’ equation with opposition parties as also the tensions of coalition governments as the case may be. The federal dimension cannot be ignored as also the regional angle which brings in considerations of the ethnic polity. There are the added dimensions of caste, class and religion. There is also the institutional angle represented, for instance, by the Cabinet Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office. All these diverse, lateral and vertical inter-connections represent factors that make for push and pull in the minister civil servant relationship. Hence, a civil servant cannot afford to be depoliticized but he certainly cannot be fully politicised i.e., his involvement must be in ‘policy politics’ and not ‘party politics’. It is because of contradictions and ambiguities built into the role definition of bureaucracy in a democracy that frictions and conflicts arise and senior bureaucrats stray into the grey area of relationships, giving rise to an equation tilted ‘most often in favour of the minister.

Interesting insights in respect of this grey area of work relationships have been provided by men from the field. B.G. Deshmukh, a former Cabinet Secretary, believes that bureaucrats should not play politics but understand how politics works. They should be guided by a self-imposed code of conduct or by some broad principles enforced by a committee of peers. He like others would like a civil service Ombudsman to attend to in-service grievances. Alternatively, the Lok Ayuktas office could be strengthened. S.S. Gadkan suggests that the topmost civil servant be given special powers and position and a constitutionally defined council with final powers to resolve conflicts between the four wheels of government namely political executive bureaucracy, legislature and judiciary be appointed. Hence, quite a few civil servants would still stand b the doctrine of neutrality, vouch of its relevance and find ways and means to strengthen it. Recently, the IAS officers association of Maharashtra passed a resolution that disciplinary action should be initiated against top bureaucrats who don the bidding of political power centres and exert pressure on officers.

Given the fact that there is bound to be some degree of politicization, scholars have offered suggestions on how best to minimize it by restructuring the bureaucracy. While Kuldip Mathur suggested that “key posts in the services should be manned by political appointees’, C.P. Bhambhri would want these men to constitute a ‘Mini Secretariat’ for the minister to serve him when in office. R.D. Pradhan, a top civil servant talks of interposing a political bureaucracy’ as seen in America.

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