Civil service woes

Print edition : April 17, 2015

A television grab of the IAS officer Rashmi V. Mahesh when she was assaulted in Mysore on October 15, 2014.

WHAT transpired in the final hours leading up to the death of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer D.K. Ravi may probably never be known. But his death has opened up a can of worms, bringing into focus a whole gamut of issues, mainly the dubious relationship that politicians have with officers of the administration, the growing intolerance among elected representatives towards decisions taken by the officers, the nexus between politicians and business groups and the hold they have over the administration, the nexus between the bureaucracy and politicians, and the increasing tendency among the majority of officers who advocate, what Additional Chief Secretary Madan Gopal calls, a “nothing is possible” and “success requires compromise” attitude.

It was obvious that some of the recent protests in Bangalore, Tumkur and Kolar demanding a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the death of Ravi were organised by the opposition purely to embarrass the government, but the groundswell of anger against maladministration, malfeasance and corruption in the Siddaramaiah administration cannot be ignored.

A senior IAS officer, said, on condition of anonymity: “For the past five or six years, the ecosystem is lopsidedly in favour of status quoism, with the default mechanism set in such a way that the balance of power always tilts towards the most powerful stakeholder in the system. Given this situation, we as administrators are not able to give the vulnerable sections the justice, attention or priority they deserve. In order to access good postings or a trouble-free tenure or even just to survive, you are forced to play it safe, dare not be seen doing things differently, or take a stand against the elected representative, for then you are branded a troublemaker and easily replaced. You have to make sure that you align yourself with the dominant group, be it caste, political party, or local bureaucracy. This alignment severely compromises the authority for decision-making. It is an acknowledgment of the fact that you are not encouraged to do good work. Any change can happen only if the higher bureaucracy becomes receptive. But mentoring your juniors has gone into a tailspin.”

Another IAS officer said: “The public interest is not given attention or priority, and we are not able to work with objectivity. Powerful vested interests are close to the powers that be and they are able to dictate and even overturn decisions with ease.” Many officers this correspondent spoke to said that while “postings in Bangalore afforded them a cloak of anonymity, the environment in the districts is full of hostility”.

Thulasi Maddineni, a 2005-batch IAS officer who as the Deputy Commissioner of Koppal district (2011-13) acted against a Minister in a few land-related cases, was given a tough time. She was “demoted” and posted as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat in July 2013. While her batchmates were Deputy Commissioners or in other higher posts, Thulasi Maddineni remained as CEO for nearly two years before seeking deputation recently to the Centre as a Deputy Director. Said an officer: “The benchmark of a government is how coherently it responds to a crisis. And this government has time and again proven to be bad in crisis management.”

V. Rashmi Mahesh, a 1996-batch IAS officer posted as the Director General of the Administrative Training Institute (ATI) in Mysore, was last October manhandled in full public view. Her fault: unearthing a Rs.100-crore scam in the ATI. But the government has made out the whole issue to be a spat between two women IAS officers (Rashmi’s senior Amita Prasad was at the helm of the ATI when the alleged irregularities took place) and has not even booked those who assaulted the civil servant.

Incidentally, Karnataka has the dubious distinction of being one of the few, if not the only, State which does not have a Civil Services Board (CSB). According to civil servants, this is in contempt of the Supreme Court’s October 2013 direction, which mandates the formation of such a board. The CSB is meant to go into transfers, postings, disciplinary inquiries, Lok Ayukta cases and suspension, among other things, of all Central and State cadre civil servants.

According to officials, Chief Secretary Kaushik Mukherjee has “erroneously” noted on the file that the Cabinet has stayed the decision to implement the CSB. Since the CSB is constituted according to the rules framed under an Act of Parliament, the State has no right to stay it, they point out.

Ravi Sharma

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