Sunday, June 7, 2009

A spunky bureaucrat and an intemperate politician spunky bureaucrat and an intemperate politician

One cannot but appreciate Sanjana Jain, a spirited woman in the revenue and administrative services of the central Indian province of Madhya Pradesh (MP), who stood up to a bully of a politician, a minister to boot. For her straightforward way of functioning she has been penalised with a peremptory transfer.

Until recently, a sub divisional magistrate in Dewas, a district headquarter in the state, Sanjana was deputed as the Returning Officer of Sonkutch constituency for the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections in November 2008. It was while functioning as such that she was treated crudely by Tukoji Rao Puar, who was then a minister in the MP Government. He barged into her office and tried to browbeat her to cancel the candidature of the adversarial Congress nominee for this constituency. As the officer quite rightly expressed her inability to comply, the minister entered into an argument with her and, in a fit of rege, threw a bunch of papers at her. This was caught on camera and was telecast virtually by all the news channels. At the instance of the Election Commission a report was duly filed with the police and the minister was arrested, though, was bailed out later. The case is still under process.

Apparently, after the elections, the officer reverted to her administrative post and, as ordered by her superiors, happened to be checking out the other day a food-joint in Dewas – a city, currently, prone to cholera and other infectious diseases – when she fell afoul of the same politician who had become post-election a minister again. The food-joint owner was found operating without the necessary permissions and was found to be using illegally fuel meant for domestic consumers. He, however, happened to be a lackey of the minister. Soon, he pulled his influence with the politician, who, true to his earlier form, entered into a lengthy argument with the officer charging her of bias against his party men. As the officer did not succumb to the minister’s pressure, the matter was taken right up to the chief minister.

That the lady took on this politician even after the earlier unpleasant incident during the elections speaks volumes about her guts, courage of conviction and commitment to her duties. Very few of her colleagues, why, very few of her senior colleagues even in the superior Indian Administrative Service, have displayed such courage. As expected by her and her colleagues, she was peremptorily transferred by the state administration under pressure from the political executive and posted at the Academy of Administration in the Capital. That is neither here nor there. She has made her point and, hopefully, created a benchmark for official conduct, which many of her junior and senior colleagues might like to strive to work up to.

The ruling party, on the other hand, has come out in poor light. Surely, people will not easily forget this sordid episode of a minister preventing an official from taking administrative action to ensure public health and general wellbeing. What is, however, deplorable is that this politician, a former princeling of Dewas, after having been arrested and bailed out subsequent to the earlier incident, happened to have indulged again in this kind of ugly and unbecoming conduct. As a matter of course, there has been no action against him. After all, “a king can do no wrong”. Having suffered severe setbacks in the state in the recently concluded General Elections, one would have expected the ruling party to chastise the minister.

It is a pity that the senior bureaucrats of the state administration did not come to the rescue of a field officer who was literally stopped in her tracks from doing her duty. Not only was she bullied by the minister before a crowd of onlookers, she was also reported to have been insulted in front of a defaulter whom she had apprehended breaching the relevant extant laws. This is not a happy augury. Such instances of needless, in fact condemnable, political interference in administrative work may have acquired run-of-the-mill character for the higher bureaucracy but it should have been the business of those who wield power over junior functionaries to sift chaff from the grain and be more judicious and circumspect. What the needlessly penalised officer was attempting to do was of by far of great importance and direct benefit to the people by way of trying to ensure their health and wellbeing. Besides, her effective action would also have saved the state’s expenditure on maintaining public health, as it is largely the unscrupulous operators in the food sector who, apart from committing sundry irregularities, are generally responsible for choking up the public health facilities, especially during the hot and humid season. Surely, the state’s bureaucrats are aware of this basic fact.

That such penal transfers demoralise the officialdom at all levels, particularly the cutting edge, and that they also have their own inevitable pernicious impacts on the people at large hardly need any emphasis. What is more, in such a milieu the politicians and their crooked foot-soldiers, getting a field day, are likely to wreak havoc on the process of unbiased administration. Instead of properly appreciating the implications of the episode and standing up to the politicians the state’s senior bureaucracy collapsed in a heap before its political masters. In succumbing to political pressure in this case it cast abroad a baleful and sinister message for the people and the few remaining functionaries in its ranks who are sincere and honest. Clearly, henceforth none can expect straightforward honest and unbiased administrative action if it interferes with the interests of the politicians in power or their myriad supporters. Likewise no officer, even those who are committed to their job, would hereafter stick his/her neck out to take administrative measures in general public interests.
Both, the chief minister and the chief secretary of the state have done bad turn to the state and its people
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