Book Review

Like Arabian Nights the 88 tales in Anil Swarup’s ruminations have both morals and posers

Like Arabian Nights the 88 tales in Anil Swarup’s ruminations have both morals and posers by Shubhabrata Bhattacharya Shubhabrata Bhattacharya
Enter Vol.14 ISSUE 4-6 JULY-SEPT 2020

The title of Anil Swarup’s second book, “Ethical dilemmas of a civil servant”, is somewhat misleading. Like his first tome, “Not just a civil servant”, this book does not bring forth an author who had dilemmas. It is a treatise of the post-retirement rumination of an officer who tried to tread an ethical path in a quagmire—and never tripped, or was trapped.

Title: Ethical Dilemmas
of a Civil Servant
• Author: Anil Swarup
• Publisher: Unique
Publishers India Pvt Ltd
• Pages: 264
• Price: `300

Reviewing a book whose foreword has been penned by the eminent author and corporate honcho, Gurcharan Das, former Proctor Gamble chairman, and which has been endorsed by luminaries, including former cabinet secretaries and a chief election commissioner, is an uphill task. Vineet Nayar, the former bureaucrat who went on to head corporate giants GAIL, Tech Mahindra and HCL, sees the book as an “insightful, honest, warts-and-all account” of Swarup’s illustrious career. Four former cabinet secretaries—KM Chandrashekhar, BK Chaturvedi, Surendra Singh, Prabhat Kumar—and eminent bureaucrats, K Padmanabhaiah, Yogendra Narain and Mukund Behari Kaushal, have endorsed the book, which contains 88 short stories culled from the author’s experience, which, SY Qureshi  says reminded him of the fables from the Arabian Nights; each story has a moral and a poser in the end.

Initially selected for IPS, Swarup joined IAS in 1981.His police training left an indelible mark in his approach to ethics. He cites instances when he used his IPS background to show the book to errant officers who were impeding genuine work. Winner of the Chancellor’s award in his alma mater, Allahabad University, and the Director’s medal for being the best trainee at the Mussorie academy, Swarup spent his younger years in his cadre state, Uttar Pradesh, and later held key positions at the Centre. He was made Coal Secretary at a time when coal scam was hitting headlines and his predecessor in that post, HC Gupta, was jailed (later acquitted as charges against him did not stand scrutiny of courts—a testimony by itself of the perils faced by officers).

During his tenure in the Centre under the UPA, Swarup was involved in the launch of the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana.His expertise was drawn upon by NDA when further schemes were formulated, with Prime Minister Modi interacting with him on health scheme-related issues in a meeting after Swarup’s Education Ministry discussion was over. “His yearning for details is amazing,” comments Swarup after narrating his interaction with Modi.

Swarup served in UP chief minister’s office during the tenures of Mayawati and Kalyan Singh. He was witness to the events of December 6, 1992, and was privy to the agonised telephone call which Kalyan Singh made to Rajasthan chief minister and BJP stalwart, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, after the demolition. While serving with Mayawati, he one day found a District Magistrate visiting the CM’s residence; he entered her room carrying a briefcase but came out without one. He looked sheepish when Swarup queried if the officer had forgotten his briefcase in the CM’s room.

Swarup has written a chapter on “Extra Constitutional Authority” in which he cites Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency and refers to the influence of Mayawati’s brother on her administration. He writes in detail about the late Amar Singh and his clout in Lucknow during Mulayam Singh’s regime. He has word of praise for Kalyan Singh: especially for the effort made to check “nakal” (copying) in examinations. At one point he even cites how while he was serving at the Centre, Kalyan Singh sought his advice before meeting BJP high command in New Delhi. The absence of reference to a Lucknow Municipal Corporator who rose to be a power centre during Kalyan Singh days is perhaps one of the few shortcomings in Swarup’s narrative. The book vividly brings out power broking in Lucknow,engulfing details like the rise of a state aircraft pilot (Shekhar Singh, not named in the book) to become “Cabinet Secretary” of UP—a post specially created for him (unprecendented, as it’s a hallowed position at the Centre: the Number One bureaucrat in New Delhi is so designated).

Post-retirement he did a stint in Jharkhand and his observations on the difference in the trajectories adopted by progressive Chhattisgarh and backward Jharkhand—states carved out of MP and Bihar, respectively, in 2000—is a study in developmental administrative-economics. Chhattisgarh has performed better or at par with MP; Bihar developed at a faster rate post Jharkhand bifurcation while Jharkhand lagged behind. Swarup bluntly states that while good IAS officers preferred to serve in Chhattisgarh and help develop a nascent state, the Jharkhand officers preferred central deputation. He cites Chhattisgarh creating a new capital, Naya Raipur, and Jharkhand government continuing to function from the “Project Bhavan”, the former head office of a central PSU, Heavy Engineering Corporation, in Hatia in the outskirts of Ranchi, even 20 years after creation of the state to highlight his tale of two states.

While I was browsing through Swarup’s book, I came across in the website, “The Print”, a story which said that the Nagaland Civil Service Association, a body of native state officers, described the IAS as “suitcase bureaucracy” as  Nagaland cadre IAS officers  preferred to leave the state at the earliest pretext and serve elsewhere. Citing the killings of two IAS officers in Nagaland in 1974 and 1995, the association said on July 26, “These two tragic incidents greatly shaped bureaucracy in Nagaland. It began the chapter of what journalists would go on to call the era of ‘suitcase bureaucrats’—IAS officers posted to the state would leave on any pretext they could find. Some applied for leave and extended their leave for years. Those that could, applied for deputation and some managed to stay away on deputation without ever coming back to serve in the state. Many officers have changed their cadre altogether,” the statement said. This episode showed the relevance of the observation of Swarup regarding some IAS officers preferring to serve in New Delhi than to play a role in the development of the state to which these elite all-India service officers are allotted.

Recalling his Jharkhand experience, Swarup says that he was dismayed to learn that the PM’s people-friendly Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) was a non starter due to connectivity issues in remote areas. He says banks in two blocks of Simdega did not have computer connectivity. There may be more such blocks but the case of Simdega is highlighted effectively by the author. The relevance of what Swarup has written is borne out by a news item, published in The Economic Times on August 18, 2020: Till August 5, only 2.46 lakh tonne (31 per cent)of the eight lakh tonne foodgrains Narendra Modi had allocated for free distribution among migrant labourers hit by the pandemic pandemonium had been distributed by the State governments.

Eighty per cent of the grains allocated for the scheme (6.38 lakh tonnes) had been lifted by the States but only 2.46 lakh tonnes had reached the beneficiaries. The scheme which was announced by the PM in the wake of largescale reverse migration due to Covid is to end on Sptember 30. If only 31 per cent has been disbursed during these trying times then the efficacy of the scheme, a jewel in the crown for the Atmanirbhar Bharat mission, can be fathomed. If bureaucracy is sloppy and sans compassion in times of mass human misery then the least is said is better. The figures were culled by the newspaper from the Union government’s submission before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour. It transpired in the parliamentary panel that migrants were unable to lift foodgrains through the ePoS system as it does not work in the fair price shops in remote areas due to connectivity issues.

The book is full of anecdotes which are revealing as well as educative. Hopefully it will find some place in the syllabus of civil service trainees. The New Education Policy was announced after Swarup published this book. Hopefully as a former Union Education secretary he will put pen to paper and analyse this paradigm changing reform. g

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