Through sands of time

R. Sundaram | Updated on March 12, 2018

PM must address Durga Shakti Nagpal episode.

Will the Prime Minister say something about working of the bureaucracy?

There is no better occasion than Independence Day to remember what Manmohan Singh said when he delivered his first Independence Day speech as Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

He stated, “Government comprises people’s representatives and civil servants. The reform of government is, therefore, a reform of the way we, the elected representatives and officials, work in government”. In the same speech, he also said, “the time has come for us to consensually evolve a code of conduct for all political parties, a code of ethics for all individuals in public life, and a code of best practices for the Government at all levels”. True to his word, he set up the second Administrative Reforms Commission under the chairmanship of Veerappa Moily which submitted voluminous reports.

Despite good intentions, the pity is that the recommendations, which impinge on Centre-State relations and, politician-civil servant interface, could not be implemented even after five years. The Durga Shakti Nagpal episode, therefore, is neither a bolt from the blue nor the only example of its kind.

On the occasion of Independence Day, can the Prime Minister promise us a measure of administrative freedom from political interference?

Largely ignored

This is not the first time that patently arbitrary treatment has been meted out to a civil servant. Even at the very top of the bureaucratic echelon, a Foreign Secretary was literally sacked by the then Prime Minister during a press conference.

If Durga Shakti Nagpal has been at the centre of discussion for courageously taking on the sand mafia, it is partly because she is young, a woman, and belongs to the IAS. In 2004, a Revenue Inspector in Tiruvellore District of Tamil Nadu was mowed down by the illegal sand mining mafia. The media largely ignored this dastardly crime against a civil servant.

Both, Durga Shakti’s action of taking on the “sand mafia” single-handedly and the hurried suspension approved by the higher bureaucracy are extraordinary events. The IAS academy at Mussoorie does not train officers to become Don Quixotes tilting at the windmills. They are taught to exercise tact in dealing with sensitive situations. Therefore, it is improbable that Durga Shakti would have ordered the demolition, unless she had strong backing of law in favour of her act. Politics then took over.

Back to business

Of course IAS officers, when they are young — that is before they complete, say, 7 to 9 years of service — are bold and tend to take on the entrenched vested interests of local character, just as Manjunath did when he sealed a fuel pump in 2005 and paid the price with his life. But considering the fact there may be over 2,000 administrative officers charged with similar duties in all the districts of India there must be many places where officers both from the IAS and other state civil services are pitted against mafia dons and goonda elements on a daily basis. It is not clear why the political bosses were so incensed in this case and how they could convince the top IAS layer to suspend the lady.

The Durga Shakti incident is now highly politicised and seems to have gone beyond the boundaries of taking action under the law and service rules. She may well be posted as OSD in the Department of Archives once the government revokes her suspension. The sand mafia will be back in business.

So much for an honest, ‘independent’ bureaucracy on Independence Day. Or is it the ‘independence’ of the sand mafia, the politician, and conniving top officials?

(The author is former Member, Ordnance Factories Board)

Published on August 14, 2013

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