Babus have nothing to lose but their servility
by MG DEVASAHAYAM
A group of us, including former civil servants,
lawyers and other professionals, have set up the Forum for Electoral Integrity
in Chennai. The objective is to combat corruption and money power in elections
which is the root cause of the degeneration of politics and the resultant decay
in democratic governance.
We address public meetings and student gatherings. With the kind of scams that
are rocking the country and with governance hitting rock-bottom, we repeatedly
face one embarrassing but poignant question: Can there be such massive and
widespread corruption and fall of governance except with the connivance of civil
servants – IAS and IPS officers? The unfortunate answer is No.
Take the election scenario. Bribery for votes has now developed into a
sophisticated cash-and-carry business model with advance bookings, IOU coupons
and the like. Sale/purchase of votes is no longer a stealthy activity, but is
done in the open and even boasted about. So much so, formulae have been evolved
and publicly brandished for making the voters “shareholders” in the massive loot
and scams during elections. Cash for this is stored in containers and carried in
cars and vans with police escort.
The entire election supervising machinery, from the Election Commission down to
the District Collector/Superintendent of Police, is manned by civil servants.
During election time they have a clear Constitutional mandate and exercise vast
powers. If corruption and crime have overtaken the electoral process, it is the
civil servants who are to be largely held responsible. However, the present EC
leadership is fighting a rearguard battle to combat the menace. Hopefully, civil
servants will cooperate fully in this.
India has been consistently rated among the most corrupt countries in the world.
A majority of the population pays bribes to access revenue services, municipal
services, public distribution, healthcare, education, electricity, land records,
registration, forest, housing and so on. The police force is the most corrupt
among the services surveyed. All this to deliver low-quality services.
Millions of BPL families had to pay bribes to avail of the benefits of the
government’s flagship NREGA scheme, directly administered by the District
Collectors. Half of the BPL families had to cough up bribes even to get
themselves registered for work. About 15% of the poor either paid bribes or used
a “contact” to get the benefits of NREGA.
This, despite the much-trumpeted “social audits”. Corruption in the issue of
community certificates, ration cards and pension is far worse. These services
also come directly under the District Collectors.
On the police side, registration and investigation of FIRs is
the most primary responsibility of the Superintendents of Police. But this has
become a racket and a massive source of corruption, forcing citizens to go to
District and High Courts to seek relief. The general public has to pay bribes
and compromise its dignity in the process.
At higher levels, we have Secretaries to State governments and police chiefs who
have totally surrendered to Ministers and prefer to share the spoils. How else
could an IAS couple in Madhya Pradesh amass assets worth Rs 360 crore? Uttar
Pradesh and Tamil Nadu had Chief Secretaries doubling as real estate agents.
The Government of India’s Home Ministry had a Director who sold state secrets
for cash and women. Many civil servants own acres of land, posh houses and
apartments, luxury sedans and have several bank accounts. Each of the mega scams
– 2G, ISRO-Devas, CWG, POSCO, Vedanta, Adarsh, Lavasa – has the imprint of
senior IAS officers.
PJ Thomas has inadvertently opened up the “barber’s pit” in his affidavit in the
Supreme Court. He reveals that all the nine IAS officers empanelled in 2008 and
cleared by the CVC for the post of Secretary to the Government of India,
including himself, were tainted by charges of corruption, misappropriation,
embezzlement, land grab and possession of disproportionate assets. Their main
qualification seems to be their success in soliciting postings from the Prime
Minister’s Office or the respective Ministers. This is the kind of person who is
occupying top administrative posts in the Government of India. No wonder
decision-making is coloured and there is a disconnect between New Delhi and the
rest of India!
A recent editorial in The Statesman is revealing: “Much of the woes the UPA
government is facing could be traced to allowing a small coterie of civil
servants with roots in Kerala cornering all key posts at the Centre from the
President’s secretary to the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, the Congress
president’s secretary, Cabinet secretary, home secretary, foreign secretary and
the National Security Adviser….
It is not because of any rare confluence of talent in the small state of Kerala
that most sensitive posts are filled by its citizens. Shameless subservience to
their political masters and clannishness are the root cause of their rise and
At higher levels, we have Secretaries to
State governments and police chiefs who have totally surrendered to Ministers
and prefer to share the spoils.
The PMO, supposedly manned by the most competent civil servants in the country,
is at the epicentre of this clannish coterie and is itself afflicted by major
shams and scams, the latest being the secretive ISRO-Devas deal, which is being
desperately concealed with the connivance of the media. The Thomas episode is
further evidence of these in breeders stooping to any depth to make the country
a “Republic of Scams” and destroying institutions in the process.
Be that as it may, let us hark back to 1922 and recall the prophetic words of
India’s first Governor-General, CR Rajagopalachari, then a freedom-fighter:
“Elections and corruption, injustice and the power and tyranny of wealth and
inefficiency of administration will make hell of life as soon as freedom is
given to us.”
PERHAPS this dire prediction was at the back of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s mind
when he wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in April 1948, advocating the
formation of an independent civil service, in the functioning of which
“political considerations, either in its recruitment or in its discipline and
control, are reduced to the minimum, if not eliminated altogether”. This was
strongly opposed by the Chief Ministers of the States and many members of the
Constituent Assembly. In his speech to this Assembly in October 1949, the Sardar
said: “The Indian Union will go. You will not have a united India if you do not
have a good All India Services which has independence to speak out its advice –
if you do not adopt this course, then do not follow the present system,
substitute something else.”
Sardar Patel had his way and the AIS was established to “give
a fair and just administration to the country and manage it on an even keel”. To
ensure this and safeguard the civil servants from the “vicissitudes of political
convulsions”, these services were covenanted in the Constitution.
Set up under such challenges, the civil services had the basic philosophy of
delivering de-centralized, good and honest governance to all citizens and
uplifting the poor and the downtrodden. Such governance would pursue an
equitable, small-is-beautiful, need-based, human scale, balanced development
while conserving nature and livelihoods. But most of today’s mandarins are
pursuing the MNC agenda of turning the country into a 300-million-strong
rich/middle-class market through FDI-funded, big-ticket projects by mortgaging
the resources of the nation, leaving the 900 million “laggards” in the lurch.
A majority of the population pays bribes to
access revenue services, municipal services, public distribution, healthcare,
education, electricity, land records, registration, forest, housing and so on.
In the event, civil servants have been dragged into the very vicissitudes of
convulsive politics, scams and scandals against which they were supposed to be a
bulwark. They have become accessories to the colossal corruption that in the
last five years alone has exceeded the British colonial loot of India of about a
trillion dollars. Due to the collective failure of civil servants in living up
to the covenant of the Constitution, India’s democracy has diminished, giving
place to a “kleptocracy” – a government of the thieves, by the thieves, for the
India conscientiously adopted the permanent civil service system. But, over
time, it has descended into a spoils system, imbibing the worst of both. In the
event, despite Constitutional protection, civil servants have abdicated their
independence and political neutrality and have become willing pawns in the hands
of ruling politicians. Many of them have compromised and some have become their
joint-venture partners to enjoy prized postings while in service, grab coveted
post-retirement sinecures, acquire properties and set up benami outfits to run
business and corner lucrative contracts. Serving corrupt carpetbaggers has
become their mantra, the aam aadmi be damned. This is a crisis situation for the
Is there hope? Yes, if civil servants revert to the constitutional scheme of
things from which they have drifted and reinvent themselves to become a
fearless, independent, honest and efficient entity bound by an esprit de corps
which is absent now. For this, a few colonial and neo-colonial hangovers such as
“bureaucratic gagging”, “subservience to political masters”, “too much
protection” as well as the jack-of-all-trades culture should be done away with.
Also to be discarded are obnoxious practices like clannish inbreeding and
The message is clear: Civil servants, unite and assert; you have nothing to lose
but your servility. The choice is obvious – resurgence or swansong!