MY TAKE //
By Sandeep Sahu
A few months back, it was Ashok Khemka, the Haryana IAS officer, who had the ‘audacity’ to annul a fraudulent land deal by the most powerful son-in-law in the country. And now, it is the turn of Durga Shakti Nagpal, another IAS officer who, as the sub divisional magistrate of Greater Noida, had the temerity to take on the sand mafia patronised by the ruling Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.
But the more worrying part is: for every Khemka or Nagpal whose plight is brought to the national attention by an increasingly pro-active media, there are dozens of cases of honest, upright officers who are bulldozed into silence or submission by the government of the day – whether at the Centre or in the states – or shunted out from the post unceremoniously.
The phenomenon is not confined to any particular state. From Kashmir to Kerala, officers who play by the rule-book have had to contend with the might of the government and undergo untold suffering in the process.
As I followed the trials and tribulations of Nagpal in the last week or so, my mind inevitably went back a quarter century when my late father, then posted as the Executive Officer in the Steel Township Municipality in Rourkela, had to pay a heavy price for doing something that he was supposed to do as an officer. He sought to ensure that the teachers in the 20 odd schools, including eight high schools, run by the Municipality taught in the school.
Predictably, it didn’t go down well with the teachers, most of whom were politically well connected and spent the better part of the month away from Rourkela. They had got so used to having their way that the moment their ‘freedom’ was sought to be curtailed somewhat, they ganged up against my father and wanted ‘immediate’ action against him. My father had compounded his ‘folly’manifold by first refusing to appoint a relative of the then Revenue minister since she was not eligible for the post and then also refusing to contribute Rs 5,000 towards the marriage of the daughter of a deputy secretary in the department, something that was apparently accepted practice.
With the interests of the aggrieved teachers, the angry minister and the slighted deputy secretary converging, the search began in right earnest for ‘something’ in the service record of my father which could become a ground for taking action against him. After rummaging through his records, the deputy secretary finally found what he was looking for. As Executive Officer, my father had taken a decision to buy two buses, which were to be run as town buses (there were no town buses in the Steel City; auto rickshaws were the only transport available to commuters) as a public service, from the funds available in the municipality.
The idea behind the decision was unexceptionable. But there was one hitch. The head clerk unwittingly delayed ‘putting up the file’ to take possession of the buses from the dealer by a week or so, which led to the imposition of a demurrage charge of Rs 143 on the municipality. The search for the elusive ground ended and proceedings were soon drawn up for ‘causing pecuniary losses to the state exchequer’ against an officer who had an impeccable record and had been commended by the government for notching up the highest revenue collection in the state for three consecutive years while he was Tehsildar in Hemgir.
On my insistence, my father challenged the government decision to deny him promotion to Senior Class I grade on the ground that there was a proceeding against him in the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT), which ruled in favour of him – but only after a year or a half, delaying his promotion by that much. But even after the SAT verdict, the proceedings were not dropped till he retired in 1994, five years after they were initiated. As a result, he received only a ‘provisional’ pension of Rs 4, 000 instead of the regular pension till his untimely death in 1997. As per government rules, the proceedings got automatically dropped after his death. Thus ended the sorry saga of prosecution against an officer, who played by the rule book all his career.
Clearly, things have not changed much in the two decades since then. If anything, they have perhaps got worse. Politicians drunk with power and senior bureaucrats eager to curry favour with them these days stoop lower than ever before in making life miserable for the honest officer. The much vaunted ‘steel frame’ is rusting and creaking. Since politicians and their blue-eyed bureaucrats can hardly be expected to change their ways, it is the citizenry alone which can come to the rescue of the honest bureaucrat.
Otherwise, there is no hope for him or her.