Nagpal case highlights challenges for civil servants in India
(Any opinions expressed here are not of Thomson Reuters)
How does a civil servant survive India’s labyrinthine government bureaucracies? The question has come up again after the government of Uttar Pradesh suspended an employee and charged her with illegally allowing the demolition of a wall that was going to form part of a mosque.
The case of Durga Shakti Nagpal, 28, boils down to whether she was inciting religious disharmony through her order, or whether she was getting her comeuppance for trying to stop a sand mining racket in India’s most populous state. Her suspension also has highlighted the difficulties that bureaucrats face every day.
We asked current and former bureaucrats: how do young officers deal with hostile politicians and superiors? Does the IAS need changes to how it operates to make it easier for civil servants to do their jobs honestly? Should the judiciary control the IAS, not the legislature?
JM Lyngdoh (former chief election commissioner of India): In the beginning [politicians] didn’t like rules and regulations to be put up to them. Gradually, things became worse, and eventually they had nothing but contempt for rules and regulations. Officers become stenographers and nothing better than that.
Basically, if you are entering service today, you ought to enter with your eyes open. It is a very tough world, and you have to be tough to survive without being dishonest to yourself. In my time, you would at the most be sidelined for getting in their way. Today’s politicians can even get you killed if necessary. If you don’t have it in you, then you shouldn’t be here.
I do not think that the judiciary is more capable than the legislature. They are a powerful arm of the Indian constitution, but I don’t think they are any better.
Dr EAS Sarma (Former finance and power secretary of India): Not all politicians are bad. Not all superiors are bad either. In my view, any civil servant in India will be on firm ground if he/she has analyzed the pros and cons of a given problem thoroughly before confronting a politician or a senior civil servant. If he/she has no personal axe to grind, if he/she is in compliance with the law of the land and, most importantly, if he/she is sensitive to the poor who form the majority of the population, then my experience is that, except for minor irritants like transfers, the civil servants usually emerge as the winner.
I have been pleading with the Manmohan Singh government to reform the civil services by setting up independent commissions to oversee transfers, promotions, foreign assignments and post-retirement appointments. What is urgently called for is to ensure transparency in the functioning of the government at all levels through 100 percent compliance with the requirements under Section 4 of the RTI Act, public disclosure of the assets of civil servants and delinking the investigating agencies like CBI, state anti-corruption bureaus etc., from political control, and making them accountable to the legislature.
In a democratic system, the administrative services will necessarily have to be accountable to the legislature. Public accountability through structured public consultation processes will alone promote good governance.
Kiran Bedi (Once India’s highest ranking woman police officer. Now a social activist): A young civil servant should be ready to move, but keep doing his or her best wherever he or she is. Law of averages works out in the end. Shouldn’t have any obligations or Godfathers. Though he/she runs the risk of marginalization too, the officer has to be self driven and self motivated to keep going.
As for changes in rules, there should be a system of fixed tenure, removable for authentic reasons, not on whims and fancies. And let there be an appointments and transfer board, which gives you posting according to one orientations and calibre.
Administrative service can be brought under the purview of judiciary, except that it is slow and expensive. Hence, a disincentive for access.
Amitabh Thakur (Superintendent of police in Uttar Pradesh): I propose changes in conduct rules, where officers shall speak out through media as regards corruptions, impropriety and anomalies in the interest of larger justice. The second is that performance assessment shall be a 360 feedback system and not a one-way affair, so that any kind of servility existing together ends.
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