Millennium Post

Conceded ground

The practice of certain civil servants bowing down to extra-constitutional authorities is not only unethical but damaging to the reputation of the services

I was in college when the Emergency was imposed in 1975. One was not fully conversant with how the Government functioned and, hence, one couldn't fully fathom the implications of the commitment that was being sought from the civil servant even though I was aspiring to become one. Those were the days when one of the politicians proudly proclaimed, "India was Indira and Indira was India". As one pondered incredulously at such slogans, what finally became of the Emergency was even worse. Sanjay Gandhi emerged as an extra-constitutional authority whose 'fiats' and orders were treated with awe and respect and obeyed by all who were a part of the Government. No one dared to contest the legality of his position. The commitment to the extra-constitutional authority was almost complete. Sanjay Gandhi was indeed supreme but there were also the likes of Dhirendra Brahmachari who enjoyed enormous extra-legal authority. These were different from the 'middle-men' or 'wheeler-dealer' that operated on the sly. This breed of extra-constitutional authority was visible as they threw their weight around and imposed their 'fiat'.

However, within a few years, the Congress Government fell and the dark days of the Emergency were soon forgotten. The power enjoyed by the extra-constitutional authorities was questioned and some of those that complied or colluded with them in carrying out the illegal orders of extra-legal authorities were brought to book. The Central Government was, by and large, spared of these extra-legal authorities for the next decade and a half.

However, some states took over where the Centre had left off. Having worked in the State of Uttar Pradesh (UP), I was witness to the blatant display and impact of such extra-constitutional authorities. What was worse was that some civil servants holding high office didn't find it improper to do their bidding beyond their call of duty. I was aghast when in 2006, the Chief Secretary of the State went over not only to attend a meeting of workers belonging to the ruling party at the headquarters of the party. He even addressed them. He was later appointed by the same party as the Deputy Chairman of the State Planning Commission after his retirement. I distinctly recall my reluctance to visit the ruling party office in 1991. I was then the Director of Information and Public Relations in a Government headed by Kalyan Singh. Appreciating my reservations regarding the visit to the party headquarters in the state, the Chief Minister didn't push for it. I am not sure about my reaction had he insisted. I would have certainly not volunteered such a visit.

Amar Singh became an MP much later but he rose from the ranks to become one of the most powerful outsiders who could influence Government decisions. He became an epitome of extra-constitutional authority. He would seldom take no for an answer. During my stint as the Managing Director, Pradeshiya Industrial Development Corporation (PICUP), the state financial corporation, as I was attempting a turn-around of this 'sick' entity, he made attempts to influence certain decisions but I didn't relent. He was livid but I was myself surprised why he wasn't able to get me transferred out despite his close proximity to the Chief Minister. Every time Amar Singh complained against me, I was summoned by the CM. He heard me out. I could barely make out what the CM told me (his garbled diction made it extremely difficult) but I didn't get transferred perhaps because the organisation was actually turning around. It took a civil servant to get me 'kicked upwards' when I failed to do her bidding. However, what was worrisome was the manner in which some civil servants followed Amar Singh's orders without even fully understanding their implications. In fact, some of them sought his concurrence informally before issuing orders. His influence in the decisions relating to NOIDA's real estate became legendary. He became the real decision-maker in terms of posting of civil servants to what were considered sensitive and lucrative posts. They knew that without his blessings they could neither get such a posting nor if they somehow got it, could they survive. A number of civil servants queued up to seek his personal favours. There was obviously a 'quid-pro-quo' while granting such favours, and some civil servants had to pay the price. They were prepared to make such 'sacrifices', little realising that it included the loss of their own reputations and that it brought indignity and disrepute to the civil service. They were willing to bend over backwards for their own survival.

The pattern continued when Mayawati became the Chief Minister. Her brother became the extra-constitutional authority who 'managed' the lucrative affairs in NOIDA. Calling on him and seeking his 'guidance' became an accepted norm. Quite surprisingly, even officers who were considered to be honest and efficient followed this weird protocol. They, however, were careful enough not to comply with anything that was illegal but perhaps used their discretionary powers to keep this extra-constitutional authority pleased. There was apparently nothing illegal about what these officers were indulging in but was it ethical for them to do so?

Such civil servants perhaps didn't realise that in doing so they were sending a wrong signal all around. Was it essential for their survival? Did they survive despite pursuing such unethical practices? Was there a need to survive? Was it ethical for an officer to be available on call and periodically call on such extra-constitutional authorities to keep them in good humour? Answers to these questions will probably emerge over a period of time. Or perhaps they will never emerge.

Views expressed are personal

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