Indian Administrative Service (IAS) babus have often shared a rocky relationship with their neta bosses, locking horns over issues that ranged from sand to land. At present, the tricky question, of course, is whether a bureaucrat can defy his political master if he believes that a minister is intent on skirting the straight and narrow. Bureaucrats are all committed to serve the Indian public and uphold the Indian Constitution. They are accountable to a higher loyalty — to the Constitution. They cannot, in good conscience, ignore or deny this loyalty and responsibility.
There is one school of thought that argues that politicians alone aren’t to blame. Top officials also curry favour with politicians. However, the bureaucracy must understand that the fight between the bureaucrat and the politician has always been an unequal one and remains so. Administrators may have to pay the price for standing upright by losing a good post or being shunted out, but they have to pay that price to ensure the system remains intact.
. ALSO SEE | Newsmaker: Durga Shakti Nagpal
Uttar Pradesh has a long history of craven bureaucrats. It began during the long rule of the Congress party when babus took orders from party officials. The bureaucrat seldom appears to have the wherewithal to triumph against his crafty political boss. The preferred approach among officials is two-pronged: forge a nexus with crooked politicians and enjoy the fruits of power. The second, but less chosen, option is to recognise the institutional deficiencies and then rely on one’s ingenuity to work the system for the sake of the people.
Regardless of the explanations that the Uttar Pradesh Samajwadi Party government offers, the fact is that it has hounded and persecuted intrepid IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal who had confiscated more than 20 dumper trucks which belong to illegal sand-mining mafias and arrested several of its leaders.
If the Akhilesh Yadav government is to be believed, Nagpal’s decision to demolish a ‘mosque’ wall that was being illegally raised on government land endangered her position, as her action could have led to a communal flare-up in the state.
However, the report submitted to the UP government by the divisional magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar rubbishes that argument. Political pundits say the incident was a god-send opportunity for the SP government to appease Muslims in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabah election.
The only silver lining is the manner in which the IAS fraternity has come together in support of Nagpal. The Indian Civil and Administrative Service Association has raised the matter with New Delhi. The association seeks necessary safeguards in All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules 1969, for an officer. As per rules, the state government needs to send a report (on suspension of an officer) to the Centre which is awaited. The association is the central body of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers which has at present has about 4,737 member (equal to the number of officers of the elite service).
Service rules give bureaucrats ample protection. Officials, the rules say, must perform their duties in a ‘true and correct’ manner, except when ‘acting under the direction’ of a superior officer. Such direction has to be in writing. The Opposition, including Mayawati’s BSP and the BJP, have backed the association, but Chief Minister Yadav accused it of “indulging in politics”. On Friday, the Allahabad High Court adjourned the hearing on PIL against Nagpal's suspension till August 19.
Legal luminaries say the Union government has the power to intervene in the matter and revoke suspension of the IAS officer. In the first such intervention, the Centre quashed the suspension of UP's seniormost IAS officer, Promilla Shanker, in 2012. It called the suspension "totally misplaced'' and an "utter disregard of the guiding principles for placing government servants under suspension". "The central government as the appellate authority has decided to hold the suspension order of Promilla Shanker as void abinitio after hearing her appeal against the UP government," the central government said in its order.
The other part of the story is: the unholy nexus between the sand mafia and the politicians in the state. Nationwide, illegal sand mining has a turnover of roughly $2.25 billion annually.
Quoting a district administration official, The Hindustan Times reported that Nagpal had rubbed UP agro chairman and senior SP leader Narendra Bhati the wrong way by lodging an FIR against his close aide Omendra Khari in a sand mining case.
The official added that Bhati distributed Rs 51,000 among residents of Kadalpur village and told them there was no need to take permission to build a mosque if the whole village wanted one. Once the villagers raised a wall, he got a verbal complaint registered with Nagpal that a religious building was coming up on government land and that it should be demolished as it could disturb peace in the area.
A video purportedly showing the senior SP leader claiming he got Nagpal suspended in "just 41 minutes". The video shows Bhati telling his supporters that he rang up Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav at around 10:30 a.m.; by 11:11 a.m., suspension orders were served to Nagpal. According to the footage released on TV news channels, Bhati accepted that he was involved in the suspension of the SDM.
Mining of sand is depleting the waters of the rivers. While the real estate boom fuels the demand, weak governance and rampant corruption are facilitating uncontrolled and illegal mining of sand and gravel in the rivers, threatening their very existence. In May, the Supreme Court issued notice to Centre and all states seeking their response for framing rules for preventing illegal sand mining on river banks.
Defending the UP government's action, Azam Khan, a senior minister, said: "Everyone has the right on nature's bounty. Loot as much as you can."