I-Day thought: where are more upright officers, leaders?

Durga Shakti Nagpal is part of a new breed of upright officers. But where are their counterparts in politics?


Ajay Singh | August 16, 2013

Sardar Patel, seen here with daughter Maniben and JB Kripalani, is the ‘patron saint’ of bureaucrats.
Sardar Patel, seen here with daughter Maniben and JB Kripalani, is the ‘patron saint’ of bureaucrats.

Just after independence, one of the questions before the young republic was what to do with the 400-odd civil servants the British rulers had bequeathed to the Indian state. When, on October 1949, KM Munshi moved a proposal in the constituent assembly to maintain their privileges and protections, there were unusually sharp reactions from a section of the members. PS Deshmukh, RK Sidhwa and Ananthasayanam Ayyangar (the first deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha, who went on to become the speaker) saw the officers as an instrument of the Raj in perpetuating actions against the political leadership. Ayyangar said, “This is an extraordinary guarantee… This guarantee asks us to forget that these persons who are still [in] services – 400 of them – committed excesses.”

Against this onslaught, then, it was the first home minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who stood up for the cause of the civil servants, and pressed for Articles 311 and 314 in the constitution to protect the civil servants. [Article 311 puts severe conditions on dismissal or removal of the officers. Article 314 protected the then ‘existing’ officers. It was repealed in 1972.]

Patel rejected the vindictive approach against the civil servants. In his memorable speech, he particularly ticked off Aiyyangar for considering the civil servants as “enemies of our country”. In his characteristic blunt manner, Patel also rebuked members of the assembly for invoking the theme of “parliamentary supremacy”. He emphasied that the government was a continuous process and “parliamentary supremacy” did not entitle it to go back on its assurances.

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No wonder Patel came to be regarded as the “patron saint” of civil servants as he also founded the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS). Significantly, Patel and Nehru were on the same page regarding the relevance of the civil servants in new India.

Rajmohan Gandhi, in his biography of the iron man, describes him as a leader who trusted civil servants for their stellar qualities like “industry, ability and independence”. “He also saw the all-India services as a protection against separatism,” Gandhi writes.

The genesis of the all-India services lay in the reasoning that such an agency would keep India a genuine union of states and guard against secessionism. Sixty-six years later, far from the ghost of secessionism being laid to rest, the fear of virulent insurrections still haunts the republic. Subversive political tendencies have gained a significant new ground, exposing the country to new challenges that are more menacing than the ones it faced in 1947.

In this context what will one make of Mulayam Singh Yadav and his brother Ram Gopal Yadav’s statements that Uttar Pradesh can do without IAS and IPS officers? Perhaps the cause of the provocation is the camaraderie shown by the IAS officers’ association against victimisation of a colleague, Durga Shakti Nagpal, an officer of 2010 batch. Nagpal was suspended ostensibly for putting brakes on the illegal construction of a wall in a Greater Noida mosque. But the reality is that she was given an exemplary punishment for taking on sand mafias patronised by political rulers of the state.

There is enough evidence to prove that Nagpal, along with Gautam Buddh Nagar (or Noida) district magistrate Kumar Ravikant Singh, launched a massive crackdown against the mafias who were illegally mining sand from riverbed.

The reckless mining has raised serious ecological and environmental concerns. Since most of these mafias allegedly owe allegiance to the Samajwadi Party, Nagpal’s actions earned the ire of local influence-peddlers in the government. There are all indications that her no-nonsense campaign alarmed a strong lobby of builders and real-estate developers who thrive on an underground economy sustained through illegal sand mining and extraction of underground water.

By all reckoning, the young IAS officer was not doing anything extraordinary but only attending to her call of duty as per the oath administered to her in the Mussorie academy. In the process Nagpal perhaps inadvertently challenged the institutionalised mafia of builders, bureaucrats and politicians that has been legitimised by the political establishment. In fact, Mulayam Singh Yadav or Akhilesh Yadav patronising these mafias is not exception but a rule.

In the Mayawati government, her bother Anand used to take care of them through proxy bureaucrats.

Apparently, the political economy of the national capital region (NCR) thrives on black money generated by real estate. And no one symbolised its impact on politics more than a gentleman called Ponty Chadha, who was killed late last year in a family fracas. A liquor trader with dubious past, Chadha emerged as a real-estate tycoon, industrialist, mid-day meal supplier and, ultimately, philanthropist – all within a span of 15 years, thanks to the patronage he received from political masters and bureaucrats. His benefactors cut across party lines. He wielded enormous clout in the Mayawati regime. And his influence did not diminish even in the Akhilesh Yadav regime.

Apparently the rather intriguing emergence of Ponty Chadha as a force to reckon with in the NCR is not the story of an individual. He symbolised a pattern as many such Ponty Chadhas have of late emerged across the NCR’s political landscape. They wield political and financial clout enormously disproportionate to their real worth. They have infinite capacity to fund political parties and leaders who are always starved of money in a highly expensive electoral politics.
There is no gainsaying the fact that a significant section of political class in UP, Haryana and Rajasthan, states whose areas fall in the NCR, is indebted to this strong nexus of real estate developers, local mafias and bureaucrats. This is why Ashok Khemka, an IAS officer of Haryana, has been consistently persecuted for taking on the real-estate major DLF, allegedly connected to Robert Vadra. Similarly, an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer, Sanjeev Chaturvedi, was tossed around the state for raising environmental concerns on a government proposal to take a canal through forest area.

There are umpteen similar stories that can be found in other states as well, with where a new breed of upright officials coming in the way of the loot of natural resources by an organised syndicate of politicians, bureaucrats and corporates are being harassed, and at times even physically attacked. Not long ago, an IPS officer was killed in Madhya Pradesh when he resisted the mining mafia.

What appears to be a silver lining in the dark clouds is the growing realisation among a group of honest officers that they owe their allegiance to the constitution, and not to an individual leader or a political party. The decision of the IAS and IPS officers’ associations to stand by Durga Shakti is indicative of this change.

On the other hand, leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, his brothers and chief minister Akhilesh Yadav are prone to see UP as an extension of their family fiefdom where they think they can make their own administrative arrangements independent of India’s governance framework.

As of now, this situation is quite similar to the tussle that existed between the political class and civil servants in 1947. But then we had a leader like Patel who can tell the constituent assembly, “If you have done with it and decided not to have this service, I will take the service with me and go. They will earn their living. They are capable people.” But is there anybody who can find such a forceful articulation in today’s context?



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