The Union government can and must protect upright All India Service officers from harassment by unscrupulous political forces in the States

Naval Kishore Ram, a 2008 batch IAS officer, was still under training in Nanded, when he was hit on the skull with iron rods for objecting to a bust of Buddha installed on public land grabbed by a Councillor. Two of his IAS batchmates, Keshvendra Kumar (Kerala cadre) and Ranjit Kumar (Maharashtra cadre), had oil poured on them in separate incidents that were attempts to set them afire.

Sanjeev Chaturvedi, an outstandingly, courageous IFS officer, took on the might of the forest mafia when he tried upholding a Supreme Court judgment to protect the Saraswati Wildlife Sanctuary, and was brutally harassed and suspended by the Hooda government. His suspension was revoked after he appealed to the President of India and the government of India intervened.

Rajesh Pradhan, a 2003 batch IPS officer, is still facing a bizarre breach of privilege notice in Maharashtra, after his constable tried to ascertain the identity of an MLA who was in a private vehicle before allowing him to go to a helipad to receive the Home Minister, during a security alert after Kasab was hanged.

U. Sagayam, IAS, who took on the might of M.K. Alagiri in his stronghold Madurai and exposed a Rs.16,000-crore loss to the exchequer due to illegal quarrying, was rewarded with his 20th transfer in 21 years.

Kumar Ravikant Singh, IAS showed enormous spine by not bending to pressure and protecting Durga by stating facts and not creating fiction.

M. Balaji, Ashish Kumar, Anu George, Anshul Mishra, Darez Ahmed and Vijay Pingale, all young IAS officers in Tamil Nadu, braved pressure and transfers to implement a measurable and verifiable system of allotting the noon-meal programme’s selection of employees, taking away the arbitrariness, rent-seeking and nepotism with which the political executive was doing it earlier.

I have never met Durga Shakti or most of those mentioned above. But each one has a bit of Durga Shakti in them. Every one of them has had a track record of standing up for what is right and for upholding the rule of law. Each of them has an exemplary track record in public service wherever they have worked. None of them displayed any arrogance of power, so often associated with civil servants in India, and yet got things done. Their reputation is their greatest asset; their personal integrity and impartiality are their formidable weapons.

In Constituent Assembly debates, the far-sighted Sardar Patel not only gave constitutional protection to IAS/IPS officers but also placed them in the Union List (Entry 70), calling them “agents of the Union.” While maintaining a fine balance between Union and State governments in their power over All India Services, the Constitution is clear that the final decision is that of the Central government.

Appeal

Rule 16 of All-India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969 allows for an All India Service officer to appeal against adverse decisions of State government and also submit a memorial to the President under Rule 25. In Sanjeev Chaturvedi’s case, the President used powers under this rule to quash the illegal suspension orders of the Haryana government. The President of India, the appointing authority of all AIS officers, has original powers to step in and take corrective action. It needs to be pointed out that State governments only have powers via delegated legislation. In Durga’s case, step in he must, and Durga must go in appeal via a Memorial to the President. The Union government can and must protect the Durgas in the Service. This is not about politics; this is about right and wrong.

The political executive is supreme because they are democratically elected — to serve, not to rule. The permanent executive is equally supreme for they are competitively selected (through one of the toughest examinations in the world), also to serve, and they owe their existence to the Constitution, and not to the political leadership.

The civil servant is not there to serve the politician, s/he is a servant of the people. But first, the bureaucracy needs to weed out the corrupt from among them, or else the political executive will always “divide and rule.”

Perhaps the time has come for the All India Service officers to hold out a real threat to all the criminal elements cutting across party lines, convey that they are each capable of invoking a small bit of the Durga Shakti inside them.

By just doing her job well, Durga has in one stroke restored the public’s waning credibility in the IAS. This needs to be shored up. This is the single biggest externality to have happened to restore the badly mutilated public image of India’s civil services.

Today, those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter. This must be turned on its head. Else end this pretence, disband the IAS, and bring in the Ramgopal Yadavs to be Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary, Chief Secretaries, DGPs, SPs and Collectors of India. And watch as they kill it in 41 minutes.

(Srivatsa Krishna is an IAS officer. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @srivatsakrishna)

The article has been corrected for an editorial error.

Correction

A sentence in "Making India’s Durga Shaktis matter" (August 8, 2013, Op-Ed page) read: “U. Sagayam, IAS, who took on the might of M.K. Alagiri in his stronghold Madurai and exposed a Rs.16,000 loss to the exchequer...” It should have been Rs.16,000-crore loss.

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