IAS: Power to serve, not to show off

How could this IAS couple be so insensitive when the promotion of sports is being taken seriously by the country?

Last week a powerful IAS couple in Delhi was transferred—one to Ladakh and the other to Arunachal Pradesh. It was apparent that they were being sent out of Delhi due to their sheer arrogance of getting government-run Thyagraj stadium vacated by players earlier than usual so that the IAS couple could take a stroll there with their dog. Due to their majestic action, athletes using the multi-disciplinary sports complex were informally told to wrap up by 7 pm, earlier than the usual time of closure.

The IAS couple has been sent out of Delhi due to their sheer arrogance of getting government-run Thyagraj stadium vacated by players earlier than usual so that they could take a stroll there with their dog.

What Principal Secretary (Revenue) of the Delhi government Sanjiv Khirwar and his wife Rinku Dugga (Secretary, Lands, Buildings) did is unbecoming of such senior officers who are supposed to be examples to the juniors in the conduct of public life. How could they be so insensitive when the promotion of sports is being taken seriously by the country.

While this may be news for some who don’t know how the system works, this is the common practice where the head of administration—IAS or IPS or other such officials—claim special privileges and cock a snook at the larger society they are supposed to work with. They are getting exposed now that the media is more vigilant and uncompromised due to the proliferation of social media that has empowered people and emerged as a great event.

The symbol of the British Raj where the IAS commands a very high premium in society will take time to go. Some of the symbols such as the red or blue beacon lights on official cars of these officials and the power of attestation have gone, but they have so much power that it is difficult to dismantle their egos, clout and resultant arrogance with one stroke of a pen. It is hoped that quick action by the government would send the right message to others who indulge in similar luxuries at the cost of common people.

The service rules guiding their conduct say: “Every member of the Service shall commit himself to and uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and democratic values; not misuse his position as a civil servant and not take decisions in order to derive financial or material benefits for himself, his family or his friends; act with fairness and impartiality and not discriminate against anyone, particularly the poor and the underprivileged sections of society; refrain from doing anything which is or may be contrary to any law, rules, regulations and established practices.”

Being educated, civilised and a member of the elite civil services they are supposed to act as examples so that society feels elevated. People emulate them for their behaviour and they command very high respect on the social ladder. Some use this as a platform to make society better since they wield lots of power in whichever job they get during their service. India actually runs on their shoulders.

People, who think the politicians should be blamed, need to contemplate a little bit. A politician after years of struggle and fighting for a public cause may or may not get power. His entire life may get wasted. If he is lucky, he may get a chance to be at the helm for five years or ten years. He takes years to learn how to get work from these bureaucrats. Working in the public domain, he is scared of exposure. There are lots of checks and balances.

Most politicians as head of the administration of their respective departments have these IAS as private secretaries. This helps the system sustain. He would oblige his batchmates and seniors and the network would continue. No politician can indulge in corruption if the bureaucrats working under him are upright.

These IAS belong to permanent service and are sustained due to the cronyism of the cadre. The example of Pooja Singhal in Jharkhand, who has been caught with huge unexplained cash, is not an exception. There was a time when upright and honest officers were respected like Gods. Now, those who have money and power get both respect as well as veneration.

What the dog-loving couple did is nothing strange. These are vestiges of the Raj, where membership to the elite club brings empowerment to avail so many facilities without paying anything. If he is a badminton player, a particular time in the stadium is reserved for him whether he comes in that time slot or not. These officials do not understand the annoyance such behaviour causes to the common public. People may not say anything but they are watching and discussing everything.

John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton commonly called Lord Acton had said that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The name IAS and the status it gives have enough corrupting influence. Not only are they acutely aware of their power and status, they at times treat the common man with contempt and disdain and bring down the reputation of the political administration as well. They blissfully ignore that their salaries come from taxes paid by these people.

I have spoken to many young people with decorative engineering degrees from top universities aspiring to get into the civil services. When I ask them why they don’t say they are filled with the desire to work for the country etc. These are cliches now. They are clear and blunt that their time is an investment with very high returns no other service can give. Otherwise, they would have been happy as engineers earning a six-figure salary.

What prompts such behaviour is the feeling that nothing would happen to them. Although the situation is changing and the system is becoming more accountable, it would take years to bring a semblance of democratic values to them because the society still thrives in mai-baap culture. Rights and wrongs are subject to patronisation. Tolerance toward corruption is still very high.

It’s not that all bureaucrats are corrupt or they are part of the loot. Some are exceptional and keen to become tools of good governance. They are happy with their power and status and they really want to do something good for society. For example when Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat has launched the Swantay Sukhay scheme for officials. Under this, an official could choose any of the activities that inspired him and he would get all the support to implement that for the good of the society. They did wonders and came out with quick solutions to problems being faced by society.

Becoming a part of the bureaucracy at such a top level as IAS is a blessing that gives one the opportunity to serve the community and get their blessings. We are a country where the poor may not survive without government intervention. Most welfare schemes of the union government as well as that of the state governments reach people through this robust bureaucracy. The introduction of digital technology and JAM (Jan Dhan Yojana Bank Accounts, Aadhar Card for Identity, and Mobile Phone for information) have ensured that most loopholes are plugged.

There is no extra pressure on bureaucrats to worry about transfers and postings since the Modi dispensation believes in giving them full tenure so that they can prove their worth more meaningfully. Those who work hard are rewarded and those who just while away their time are eased out gradually. The Prime Minister knows that the delivery mechanism has to be strong and trustworthy for the task he has undertaken on faster disbursement of government welfare schemes, development initiatives and completion of work, and transparency and accountability.

Some opposition leaders have tried to politicise these transfers on very weak grounds even when people are happy. They blissfully ignore that the IAS is normally transferred within the cadre he belongs to. The IAS couple belongs to AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram, and Union Territories).

If at all the transfers have to be made this would be from these places only. And none has questioned the competence of these very senior officials. It is just that they needed to unburden themselves of the habit that smacks of the Raj. This is chastisement, not punishment.

For those who may not be aware, there is a big rush among officials of all cadres to get Delhi postings. Why? Naturally, Delhi is a capital city with amenities and challenges. You may ask why is Delhi so pampered. Well, this is too obvious! The seat of India’s power establishment, the centre of the country’s excellence in education, and the hub of all diplomatic missions has to be pampered. The Central Vista is going to add beauty to the capital city and one will ask why in Delhi. While being posted in Delhi is certainly a reward, if both couples are in the same city, it is difficult to judge if one union territory or state in the AGMUT cadre is better than the other for one to be called punishment and the other a reward. So, before trying to politicise, know what you are uttering.

The writer is the author of “Narendra Modi: the GameChanger”. A former journalist, he is a member of BJP’s media relations department and represents the party as spokesperson while participating in television debates. The views expressed are personal.