Millennium Post

Beleaguered Bureaucracy

It was once described as the ‘steel frame’ of the country. This steel frame, however, is now rusty, corroded and increasingly under peril. The scholar administrator NC Saxena in a monograph writes, “the bureaucracy is a troubled institution plagued by a lack of professionalism, the creation of redundant posts, unsatisfactory structures of reward and punishment, and an inability to deliver services adequately”. Given this reality it is deeply saddening that one of the few bright spots left in the bureaucracy got extinguished today. DK Ravi, a 2009 batch IAS officer of the Karnataka cadre, who had earned a reputation for being upright by fearlessly taking on the powerful sand mafia, was found dead on Monday at his residence at Madiwala in Bengaluru. He allegedly committed suicide. Ravi had been hailed as a hero by the people of Kolar for his work in the region. He had locked horns with local politicians and even the superintendent of police for taking on the sand mafia. When Ravi was transferred -such was his reputation and popularity-there were protests in Kolar district.

If Ravi had indeed taken his own life; then he would not be the first civil servant to do so. On 26 October 2012, H Kujur, additional collector of Narayanpur in Chattisgarh, was found hanging at his residence. The police found a suicide note, in which Kujur had written that he was under considerable stress. In the same year, the Bilaspur superintendent of police (SP) Rahul Sharma, a 2002-batch IPS officer, shot himself with his service revolver. His wife Gayatri Sharma alleged that Sharma was not being allowed to work in an independent manner.

Civil servants, especially the upright and honest ones, often have to deal with harsh working conditions, pressure from vested interests, frequent transfers and worst of all they are not allowed to speak up in case they want to point out a lacuna in the system of governance. Service rules explicitly bar civil servants from speaking out on public policy matters. The most frequent mode of harassment of civil servants are the dreaded transfers. As soon an honest civil servant begins to find his feet in a new posting, he/she is abruptly transferred and promptly replaced by a more supine and willing civil servant. Ashok Khemka, who has an impeccable reputation for uprightness and probity, has been transferred a record 45 times in his 21 year odd career as a bureaucrat. Despite these occupational hazards scores of civil servants toil away in anonymity with nary a good word coming their way.

Whatever be the extenuating circumstances of Ravi’s death, it remains a fact that IAS officers who decide to take on vested interests are met with the sharp end of the stick. Durga Shakti Nagpal’s case comes to mind. Nagpal had the ignominy of being the first IAS officer suspended for doing her job and following the rules both in letter and in spirit. While local politicians in Bengaluru have ironically demanded a probe into Ravi’s death, it remains to be seen what the real reasons for his premature demise were.  Karnataka has by now earned a dangerous place to work for a government servant. Ravi’s death raises disturbing questions. Were the land or sand mafia behind his death? Were any of the real estate firms whose black market dealings he curbed responsible for his death? Did the pressure of the job force Ravi to take the extreme step? The truth will be revealed only once the local police does complete its investigation.
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