Expert View: Our ‘steel frame’ is crumbling!

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, our first Home Minister envisioned our civil services to be the ‘steel frame’ of good governance of the country. Inefficiencies and corruption have eroded the framework, but all is not lost

Four months before India attained independence, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Home Minister of the country, spoke to the first batch of IAS officers, encapsulating the vision of a civil service for independent India and laying the foundation for ‘Swarajya’ or good governance. Patel said, “Your predecessors were brought up in traditions which kept them aloof from the common run of the people. It will be your bounden duty to treat the common man as your own.”

Steel frame of India

Since then there has been notable success and the Indian growth story owes a great deal to the passion, competence and commitment of our civil servants, though some unfortunate cases of rotten apple in the basket also keep on surfacing, belying Sardar Patel’s vision who called civil servants the ‘steel frame’ of independent India.

There are some guiding principles that form the bedrock of civil services in the country. They may be outlined as ‘empathy’, ‘efficiency’, ‘impartiality’ and ‘incorruptibility’.

Timeless principles

Mahatma Gandhi held the view that ‘empathy’ was to put oneself in the situation of the poorest of the poor in the country and see how a particular policy and program will impact him or her. This is a timeless formula which can be a useful thinking tool when civil servants weigh the pros and cons of taking decisions.

The second principle of ‘efficiency’ is pivotal for our development work. We often see that despite the fact that a policy is good, the implementation is so poor that there is time and cost overrun which retards our progress. Civil servants need to be alert and efficient enough to complete a project undertaken in due time while giving a qualitative finish. There are many good examples of civil servants who have made remarkable innovations and transformed sleepy institutions into vibrant hubs of efficient activity. With changing times, civil servants need to update their knowledge and use technology for efficient implementation of the work undertaken.

Civil servants are always required to follow the third principle of ‘impartiality’ in the strictest possible manner as they are the binding force that is expected to bridge the many divides. A civil servant cannot, and must not take part in politics nor involve himself in communal wrangles, as advised by Sardar Patel. The administration should be passionate about services being provided, ignoring the profile of the people receiving the services. Serving all citizens without any bias and discrimination makes a civil servant impartial.

Integrity above all

The principle of ‘incorruptibility’ is the highest desired virtue for a civil servant. Civil servants have an onerous responsibility to demonstrate impeccable integrity. A corrupt system erodes the vitality of a robust country. Civil servants should avoid all actions that will sully their image and also that of the country. Common citizens should never be allowed to feel that the much avowed ‘steel frame’ has got rusted or bent.

Flaws in policing

Competent policing is an integral part of a sound administrative system and here the leadership role is played by senior IPS officers who head the state police and also our central police organisations like the CBI, IB, BSF, CISF, RAW, CRPF, etc. Investigation in most sensitive cases and also in the central anti-corruption cases is done by the CBI, which is our premier investigation agency. It also does international investigation for the country and is a member of Interpol. Sadly, this important wing of our criminal administration is in the headlines today for all the wrong reasons.

The principle of ‘incorruptibility’ is not the principle being followed by this apex agency as its topmost officers, the director and special director are seen fighting in the court, blaming each other for being corrupt. The irony of the fact is that each is blaming the other of taking bribe in crores of rupees, from the same one accused. Complaints of corruption were earlier sent by the special director against his director and the director in his turn filed an FIR against the special director.

"The Indian growth story owes a great deal to the passion, competence and commitment of our civil servants, though some unfortunate cases of rotten apple in the basket also keep on surfacing"

Charges and counter charges

The Chief Vigilance Commissioner was brought into the loop for making a vigilance enquiry against the director on the basis of the complaint filed against him. Pending enquiry, the government sent the director and special director on forced leave. As on date of writing this column, the matter is sub judice before the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court, as both the officers have approached the courts against the government action of sending them on leave and also against filing of FIR against the special director. These officers have engaged the topmost advocates of the country.

Cases have also been filed by some other parties against the government’s action of sending the director on leave, on the ground that the tenure of the CBI director is fixed for two years and also because the selection committee for appointing the CBI director was not consulted before sending him on leave.

How can citizens have confidence in the CBI after seeing this ugly fight with dirty linen being washed in public? A few years back while hearing of the coal scam cases, the Supreme Court had termed the CBI as a ‘caged parrot’ for working as per the directions of the then government. Already, fugitives are blaming our criminal justice system before foreign courts that our criminal justice system is not just and fair.

Good work too

However, it is not that everything is bad about the CBI, as just a few days back, Christian Michel, the middleman in the AugustaWestland Chopper deal was extradited from Dubai, after good work done by the various investigating agencies including the CBI. Again, extremely good work has been done by the benched special director of CBI who personally worked very hard for the extradition of Vijay Mallya and now the British Court has ordered in India’s favour. It can be inferred that the CBI has many bright officers but due to some unfortunate happenings, the image of the great organisation is getting tarnished. The call today is to revamp the organisation and weed out the dead wood while infusing the best and the brightest with impeccable integrity.

Admin bedrock

The administrative system overall has to be competent and honest for the growth of the country. All the wings of governance, be it general administration, policing, judicial or financial have to perform at the optimum level. It has to be our endeavour that our administrative institutions function for the good of the country without any fear or favour. They should never get affected by politics of the political parties whether in the government or in the opposition. It is factually true that at the entry level in the higher administrative services, the cream of the country is selected. The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) conducts the most difficult recruitment examination in which more than ten lakh students participate for about one thousand jobs in various services at higher grades.

What happens when such a talented pool of manpower does not perform well or performs dishonestly?

Whose servant?

The answer lies with both the officers and the establishment. The establishment while selecting officers for postings does not follow the rule of merit and suitability for a particular job but pliability becomes the consideration. The jargon of ‘committed bureaucracy’ evolves from this selection process where the senior officers chosen for important positions are more loyal to their political masters than to the people and the country. The so called ‘public servant’ becomes ‘his master’s servant’. The process of selection is not one sided as it is not only the establishment that goes about choosing pliable officers, there are officers too who offer their ‘loyal’ services.

The spirit behind the selection for the top jobs is the symbiotic relationship of mutual personal benefit for both the officer and his master. The end result is that while both the officer and his master prosper, the organisation suffers. One vivid illustration is that when political masters change, there is a beeline of pliable officers offering their services to the new masters. In fact, officers these days sense the change and accordingly run after the new masters who are likely to come to power. The parrots are too willing to be caged for continuous eating of fruits.

Many impartial and honest

A big proportion of officers are impartial and honest, but they are not pliable. Such officers sometimes face roadblocks created by both unscrupulous people and vindictive masters. Recently, officers of some investigating agency dealing with sensitive political cases were indirectly threatened by the political leaders in a press conference. Good officers consider such threats and punishment postings as occupational hazard and continue doing good work despite personal hardship. The administrative machinery of the country has survived because of such officers.

The bureaucracy is important and its good functioning is pivotal for the country’s development. It has to be kept away from politics and politicians. It should stand firm on unbiased and honest policy implementation.

by S K Jha