Durga Shakti row opens rift among old, new officers

What stops senior IAS officers, including UP chief secretary Javed Usmani, from coming out openly in support of former Greater Noida SDM, wonder young officers


Brajesh Kumar | August 3, 2013

Durga Shakti Nagpal: suspended for doing her work properly?
Durga Shakti Nagpal: suspended for doing her work properly?

There used to be a joke doing the rounds among new recruits of civil services undergoing training at the Mussoorie academy or Hyderbad police academy in the 1970s and ’80s. It described the various stages of a civil servants' career, of course jokingly: beginning like an "energetic carefree stud", metamorphosing into a "weight-carrying mule" in the middle and towards the end, bureaucrats act like "donkey", given to obey instructions of their political masters.

It is quite likely that the joke has died down over the years, as the metaphors describing the various stages of a civil servant’s career have mutated, rendering officers into more servile creatures.

A new breed of civil servants caught on camera touching the feet of their political bosses has now become an enduring imagery of the Indian bureaucracy, once described as the ‘steel frame’. Over the last two decades, civil servants acquired supine characteristics in the face of a "bullying” political class.

But Durga Shakti Nagpal, till recently the sub-divisional magistrate of Greater Noida and an IAS officer of 2010 batch, is an exception by all reckoning. Having taken on the sand mafia that has links with the powers that be in Uttar Pradesh, her exceptional courage in refusing to give in before unscrupulous politicians has given a semblance of spine to the bureaucracy, which is seething in silent anger.

“This is not the way young officers doing their jobs should be dealt with,” said an IAS officer posted as a district magistrate in Uttar Pradesh who did not want to be named. 

“What has happened with her is commonplace in the state – any bureaucrat who rubs the local politician the wrong way is transferred. The difference in Nagpal’s episode is that this case has got highlighted (by the media); others don’t,” said the officer, who has frequently borne the brunt of the political class.
The UP government suspended Nagpal on the ground that she took unilateral decision to demolish the wall of a mosque, which could have led to communal trouble in the area.

But the government’s justification for the suspension has not cut ice with the officers and public at large, as the district magistrate has categorically stated in his report that there was no anticipation of any communal disturbance. It is alleged that the young officer was suspended since she had taken on the sand mafia in the district and seized truckloads of sand mined illegally from the banks of the Yamuna and the Hindon. 

“You can’t suspend an official over a phone call,” said another IAS officer from the state cadre. “There is a due process for suspension: you need to serve a show-cause notice and give him/her an opportunity to respond. Since this did not happen, it is clear that something else was at work and now the government is trying to put forward an explanation for her suspension.”

Split among the old guard and young babus

The episode has also brought to fore the schism between the old guard, which has failed to locate its spine and support Nagpal, and the younger officers who are idealistic and raring to work hard in accordance with the law of the land.

“It is shameful the way senior officers have failed to come out in the open and support Nagpal,” said another IAS officer. “If Nagpal’s boss, the Greater Noida DM, could muster the courage and support her in his report, what stopped chief secretary Javed Usmani (from doing the same)?”

According to a 2007-batch IAS officer, Nagpal’s suspension has come as a rude reality check for young officers who joined the state cadre over the last three or four years. “As we are posted as SDMs and DMs and are entrusted with the power to make a difference in the lives of people, we genuinely try to live up to the oath we take during our training at the IAS academy in Mussoorie. But then episodes like these are huge setbacks,” the officer said. “From here on, many of us would then try to play safe and not brush any politician the wrong way.”

Agreeing that the Akhilesh Yadav government’s move would make young officer “cynics”, retired IAS officer Mukesh Kacker said, “From the very beginning they will try to emulate seniors who hardly question the politicians.”

What is particularly shocking for Kacker is the way the Centre has refused to intervene: “They (young officers doing their job without looking for political favour) must be feeling like orphans. There is a provision in the service rules that empowers the cabinet secretary to intervene in such cases. But then we all know why the government won’t do it.”

Ashok Khemka, the IAS officer who was victimised by the Congress government in Haryana in the Robert Vadra land purchase case, said such misuse of power by politicians demoralises all bureaucrats who work in public interest. “She (Durga Nagpal) was taking a lawful action and her suspension should be immediately revoked,” Khemka said.

The only silver lining in this episode has been the outrage it has created across the country. “After the kind of bad publicity the UP government is getting, politicians will think twice before taking such drastic actions,” Kacker said.



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