Murky land deal strikes the IAS at its core

Murky land deal strikes the IAS at its core

The media reports about certain land-related issues involving a close family member of Karnataka’s senior-most bureaucrat has brought the entire state bureaucracy, particularly the IAS, to ridicule. Developments on the issue, reported so far, have also further eroded the image of the government. How on earth can one justify the action of the government in asking any subordinate officer to enquire into the matter in which his/her super boss may have direct or indirect interest? 

It is not the first time that a senior bureaucrat’s role is under scanner; nor is it going to be the last. Let us not pre-judge the issue. We must wait for the facts to come out in public domain. However, what is most disturbing is that damage to the image of the government and the bureaucracy, particularly the IAS, is already done.

In a democracy, the ultimate authority as well as responsibility to run the government lies with the elected political executive. The role of bureaucracy is to assist the political executive in discharging latter’s duties. They also assist the political executive in policy formulation.

However, they play a much greater role in the implementation of the policies and programmes of the government. It is in this role that they act as the main instruments of the government and are largely responsible for the success or failure of the government policies and programmes.

Unfortunately, over the years, the elected representatives found out that the business of law making was not as lucrative as implementation of government programmes, as it was there that money had to be spent and also to be made. Therefore, they wanted a direct role in the running of the government. Over time, they have succeeded in having greater say in the affairs of the government, particularly in their constituencies. In fact, today nothing moves in their constituencies without their approval. They even decide the transfers and postings of local officers and their tenures. And all these powers are enjoyed by them, without much responsibility.

This arrangement has become so entrenched that most officers now directly approach the politicians for all their administrative matters. This has eroded the hierarchical command and control of bureaucracy. There is a direct nexus between the politicians and the bureaucrats, including senior bureaucrats. This short-circuiting has considerably reduced discipline as well as respect for rules and regulations among the bureaucracy. It has also made the bureaucrats more corrupt. People frequently tell me that Karnataka is now one of the leading states in corruption. I only hope it is not true.

The political executive has the absolute authority to select the state’s chief secretary. They have every right to overlook the senior most officer(s) and select the candidate of their choice. And sometimes, senior most officers have been superseded in the past, though not for the best reasons. The state politicians have complete information about all its senior bureaucrats, including their personal lives and their political connections. Their reputation for honesty, competence and integrity is also known to them. But would they like honest officers, particularly when so much money can be and has to be made in various deals? One should not be an idealist and hope that we will have an honest government in the near future.

And now let us look at the country’s most prestigious and sought after civil service - the IAS. The All India Services owe their very existence to Sardar Patel, who strongly argued in the Constituent Assembly for the retention, adaptation and expansion of the civil services: “I wish to place on record in this House that if, during the last two or three years, most of the members of the services had not behaved patriotically and with loyalty, the Union would have collapsed.”

Adhering to objectives

Let us also not forget the important objectives with which All India Services were created. These are: (a) preserving national unity and integrity and uniform standards of administration; (b) neutrality and objectivity: non-political, secular and non-sectarian outlook; (c) competence, efficiency and professionalism – at entry by attracting the best and brightest and throughout the career; (d) integrity; and, e) idealism. 

Members of the IAS must reflect and see whether they can claim that they have come up to the standards expected of them by the framers of the Constitution, Government of India and the people of India. The IAS was once called the steel frame of Indian administration. With time, steel seems to have been replaced by bamboo! No wonder, it is under attack from all quarters and knives are out from its critics.

The service has an uphill task to win back public support and to retain its primacy among the civil services. While introduction of some of the reforms, like setting up of the Civil Services Board, may help matters to some extent, the real improvement is possible only if its members act as trustees of public interest and safeguard these interests. And in doing so, they must be willing to go through hardships associated with transfers, enquiries and even suspensions.

The officers alone will have to find solutions to their problems. They need to make their service associations more active. They need to put pressure on their corrupt members to behave. They must also expose such elements and even boycott them socially.

Fortunately, there are still many honest IAS officers. They must be encouraged and their associations must stand by them when they are harassed by the corrupt. I am sure they can find many more effective ways to improve the conduct of their
members. The time is running out for them and they must act fast.

(The writer, a retired IAS officer, was Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Karnataka)
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