Hullabaloo over decisions by Durga Shakti Nagpal and Ashok Khemka, IAS officers from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana cadres respectively, have once again sparked the debate of relations between bureaucrats and politicians. Both babus and the people elected to rule are two sides of the same coin. They are part of the government and cannot work independent of each other.
The government takes decisions and bureaucracy implements them. Success or failure of a government is judged by implementation of its schemes and quality of governance. Normally, blame goes to the government for failure while administration rarely faces the wrath of people. This happens because elected people do not allow babus to work independently. Gone are the days when ministers would consult them and honour their views. Now, babus are looked upon as a salaried class answerable to the elected class, not the public.
The biggest change happened after Independence. Earlier, men from civil services were answerable to people as well. The fact can be corroborated by going through documents and correspondence in the state’s archives. District collectors would personally reply to letters or submissions by people. The replies would end with ‘Your obedient servant’. This shows respect towards the common man -- the tax payer in whose name the system works.
Today, does a layman receive acknowledgements by the district collector himself? Commoners have become subjects in democracy as the political class has imbibed in babus that they are their masters. It’s due to a fact that they deal with the issues of their appointments, promotions and suspensions.
On the other hand, if someone from the bureaucracy with utmost sincerity exceeds expectations and works in the interest of common people, he or she mostly antagonises ruling party members. It’s because a popular bureaucrat is someone who performs without seeking favours. To avoid controversy, many a bureaucrat toe the line drawn by politicians, favouring ruling leaders and their cronies, which has ruined the democratic set-up.
The controversy over decisions by Nagpal and Khemka merits evaluation of Maharashtra bureaucracy. Luckily, in our state, people and their representatives behave in a relatively better manner. Most politicians respect bureaucracy and people here do not suffer silently bad governance. Politicisation of bureaucracy is minimal compared to other states.
But that hardly means everything is hunky dory at the grassroots. A cursory glance at what is happening in Vidarbha – which consist of 12 districts – is revealing. The region, which has witnessed the highest number of farmer suicides in the last decade and monsoon fury in the last two months - is devastated. Earlier farmers were distressed due to low yield of crops; now they are unable to cultivate as layers of soil that help crops grow have been washed away. Worse, not enough number of officers are there in the region for site visits to assess the damage and offer monitory relief. As a result, government help could not been distributed.
One reason could be that currently in the state, 62 posts of IAS officers are vacant against the sanctioned 350. The situation at ground level is not different. Approximately 586 posts of additional collectors, deputy collectors and tehsildars are lying vacant as officers rarely want postings in the developmentally backward Vidarbha or Marathwada. A large number of officials prefer to cling on to Pune or Mumbai where it is convenient to settle down with lucrative benefits.
Even as a number of officers from the state hail from the regions, they prefer postings outside, mostly in western Maharashtra. The situation in coastal districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg is similar. No wonder then that in the absence of better administration the state is losing its sheen which is affecting its overall growth.
Despite that, Maharashtra is known to be the best administered state, mainly due to the understanding and cooperation between politicians and bureaucrats. Officers from other states avoid confrontation with politicians, while political parties here want to pursue their interests through bureaucrats.
That is why crucial postings at places such as Mumbai, Thane, Raigad, Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, Nashik, Ahmednagar, Auranagabad, Nagpur and Nanded are available to a select few from the state bureaucracy.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY