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Durga Shakti Nagpal And The Problems Of Higher Bureaucracy

By Vidyadhar Date

10 August, 2013

The suspension of young IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal has deservedly evoked nationwide protests. But not enough notice is taken of employees in humbler positions doing their job, questioning wrong doers. The higher bureaucracy has done little, or not done enough to enforce rules and laws and resist pressure from politicians. It is not difficult to resist politicians as is seen from the career of former Maharashtra bureaucrat Arun Bhatia.

In Mumbai assistant police inspector Sachin Suryavanshi stopped and fined an MLA Khshitij Thakur for overspeeding on the Bandra Worli Sea link on March 18 this year. This enraged Thakur and some other politicians. The policeman was subsequently manhandled by four MLAS right inside the Vidhan Bhavan, the state legislature, when it was in session. Then he was suspended and he has just been reinstated but transferred to a relatively unimportant post in a police training institute in Sangli.

The two incidents raise several questions. One is of severe problems within the bureaucracy itself, especially within the police. A severe critique of the bureaucracy has been written by Suresh Khopade, a former special inspector general of police of Maharashtra in a book. He says the biggest problem is with the higher cadres, the IAS and the IPS, where attitudes are highly elitist, status qauoist and even regressive. He has not been taken sufficiently seriously in the hierarchy-ridden establishment because he was promoted to the IPS, was not a direct recruit to the service. Yet, he has been a major innovator and has won acclaim for what has come to be known as the Bhiwandi pattern. His setting up mohalla committees to provide regular interaction between ordinary people and the administration prevented rioting in Bhiwandi during the height of the communal riots in the wake of the Babri disaster. That was remarkable considering that Bhiwandi had for many years a notorious record of communal clashes. But his seniors did not like his innovation.

The higher bureaucracy perceives problems in a different way. This perception was voiced in Mumbai by Mr U.K. Siknha, chairman of SEBI, the Securities and Exchange Board of India , earlier this month while delivering a lecture in memory of Mr Lalit Doshi, a former industries secretary of Maharashtra.

Mr Sinha is from the IAS cadre in Bihar and was for many years a senior bureaucrat in the union finance ministry and is credited with doing good work in SEBI. He complained that the bureaucracy was under too much pressure from too many quarters. One of his complaints was about the Right to Information , the RTI Act. He said one of the queries his office faced was about some hotels and other venues of meetings and accommodation of officials of SEBI. But then what is wrong with a mere query like that ? SEBI officials may be good but the problem is that the whole culture of a good section of the bureaucracy and the political class has changed in favour of a five star culture over the years. They are completely alienated from ordinary people and see themselves as lords and masters of all they survey. Some of them do not like to attend meetings or seminars unless these are held in five star comfort .

Mr Sinha complained that people are becoming very irreverent, even rude. We get emails with questions like - is the chairman sleeping or are you guys in league with so and so, he said. People are showing hatred, not just anger.

He said good work by officers was not being appreciated. The example he gave was surprising.. He gave credit to the cops for arresting the rapists of the girl in the Delhi bus within three days. This claim of Delhi police has already drawn so much flak especially because the authorities had failed so miserably on so many fronts earlier and this had , the first place, caused the incident to take place .

He said with so many questions being raised now, bureaucrats were in no position to take decisions for fear of being accused of incurring faulty expenditure. Bureaucrats are not equipped to deal with issues arising out of complex technology and the economy. He said people the world over were becoming more impatient as was seen in protests the world over including in Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey and the Arab countries. These were spontaneous uprisings without preparations. The world was changing. At meetings youngsters with laptops can instantly challenge figures

The Maharashtra government’s chief secretary J.K. Banthia complained that bureaucrats now faced too many bosses, they had to face tribunals, legislature and Parliamentary committees courts, the media and so on. This was eating away their time.

Fair enough. But then is any soul searching going on within the bureaucracy of the terrible drop in integrity, the soaring cases of corruption and other ills ? There is little evidence of this. The Indian Institute of Public Administration is one body where such scrutiny can take place at the professional level. But one hardly hears of anything worthwhile going on on this score. Younger bureaucrats show much more zeal in serving the public and taking on vested interests like the sand mafia as recent incidents in U.P. and Himachal show. But many seniors seem to serve the interests of corporate, multinational corporations and politicians rather than the masses. And of course there is the craving for plush foreign postings and U.N. assignments. Integrity is the first casualty in such pursuits.

(Viyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffic in the era of climate change. Walking, cycling, public transport need priority)





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