British civil servant Trevelyan and Parliamentarian Northcote together are credited for formalising the recruitment of the most ideal individuals to serve in the Government.
During the British rule in India, the same system of civil service was evolved which we have inherited and constitutional mandate given to the All India Service, the higher echelons of bureaucracy through Article 312 of the constitution. From a modest strength since independence, the bureaucracy has swelled and the Central government alone employs over 35 lakh personnel apart from several thousands by the State governments. Higher bureaucracy was expected to give advice and intellectual oversight in policy formulation, but over a period of time, the execution part of various schemes of the government has assumed importance.
No doubt, it is true that significant progress has been achieved in various sectors like infrastructure, health, industry, but what has plagued the Executive is the monumental collusive corruption. Recently, the Central government has compulsorily retired 27 senior officers-mostly from the Indian Revenue Service on grounds of inefficiency and pending corruption charges.
As per section 56 under various sub sections of Central Service Conduct Rules and All India Service Conduct Rules, government personnel are annually weeded out on grounds of ill health and poor performance, but this year, most of those who have been compulsorily retired face serious corruption charges. The message is loud and clear: ‘perform or perish’, but most importantly, perform honestly. While honesty denotes scrupulous care in handling public money, integrity of action is an expression of abiding adherence to ethical values in implementing government schemes.
Integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality that are considered the foundation of civil service have over a period of time diluted and the Lakshman Rekha, the benchmark for bone honesty has long since been crossed.
An unfortunate truth is that honest officers are respected but seldom rise while corrupt officials are despised but thrive! This dichotomy in civil service is due to the unholy nexus between corrupt politicians and pliant officials. If one official straightens there are many ready to bend backwards. This despicable development got aggravated particularly after economic liberalisation and growth of investment in various sectors.
Government departments have to facilitate growth by easing out ground level requirements like uninterrupted power supply, pollution board clearance, registration of land documents, inspection by Labour department, and so on. But this is where the challenge lies and the ground is clogged with the quicksand of corruption.
Every government on the one hand announces single window facility for clearances, but in practice, one window has many windows built in and the nascent investor is led into a maze which he cannot fathom without a middleman. This facilitator is the convenient conduit for corruption and the cancer grows unchecked. This is clearly a rights violation as the honest investor loses while the corrupt businessman succeeds.
The World Bank assesses quality of a country’s civil service, its independence from political pressure, the quality of policy formulation, implementation and facilitation for ease of doing business. India’s performance is only average. Data from 2014 places India in the forty-fifth percentile globally, nearly a 10 percentage point decline from the country’s position in 1996, when this data was first collected. There has been some improvement with recent policy initiatives in ensuring transparency but as former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan says, “We are in for a long haul”.
In fact, corrupt practices grossly affect the delivery of services to the public who are forced to approach the local politician or powerful middleman to get their legitimate basic needs like water, electricity and other welfare schemes of the government which they are entitled to.
The Central Bureau of Investigation registered 206 cases of corruption against Central government employees in 2108, 338 cases in 2017 and 441 in 2015 but overall, only fifty percent of the cases have been charge-sheeted. The Central government accorded sanction for prosecution against 17 IAS officers and two IPS officers since 2015.
During the course of investigation, there were also reports of huge seizure of cash and unaccounted land documents from the officials involved. After initial sensational action, the dust settles down and long legal battle follows. Due to such systemic delay, initial punitive action hardly acts as a deterrence.
Under these circumstances, the action of the government in weeding out corrupt officials by compulsorily retiring them or invoking Article 311(2) of the constitution for summary dismissal will definitely send a clear signal that corruption will not be tolerated.
It was David Lloyd George-the late Prime Minister of Britain-who gave the adjective ‘steel frame’ to Indian Civil Service way back in 1922 in the hope that, irrespective of change of political guard, the transition would be seamless, adhering to the basic principles of honesty, integrity and impartiality. But the steel frame is certainly getting corroded. As Ronald Reagan jocularly remarked, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Governmentand I’m here to help!”, is a sad reflection on the reliability of the government servant.
There is always a conflict between the rustic common sense of the politician driven by pragmatism and the elitist approach of the civil servant, but dictates of practical governance where the focus is to deliver, has lulled the intellectual development of the civil servant.
This has in turn resulted in his meek submission to political masters. It is therefore imperative that there should be constant endeavour on the part of the bureaucrat to intellectually develop oneself which alone can temper the steel frame and give strength to stand up to illegal gratification.
—The writer is Mylapore MLA and former DGP