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December 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         December 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:Dec' 2017


Politicians' whipping boys

Mamtha Sharma

The bureaucrats in Karnataka are going through a difficult phase these days having become the whipping boys of the state's law makers. With a section of the ministers and MLAs caring two hoots about government procedures and rules, the hapless bureaucrats are working under trying conditions.

Siddaramaiah If the officials do not comply with the unfair demands of the law makers, they are threatened ; even transferred, with the chief minister conveniently looking the other way. In fact, when the hassled officials sought to meet chief minister Siddaramaiah for redress, they were greeted with a loud silence. While many seasoned bureaucrats have taken such transfers in their stride , retaining their dignity and integrity, the younger ones have found it difficult to cope with the embarrassment and harassment.
The case of whistleblower and retired IAS Vijaykumar, in Karnataka is too well known. As he did not buckle under pressure, he was penalised not only by the law makers through repeated transfers but even by a section of his senior officers whom he had tried to expose. They retired him prematurely.
Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, there are equal number of such instances though one of the most quoted relates to P Shankar, who also suffered several transfers just because he bucked corrupt ministers. In fact, once he was transferred barely 27 days into his new responsibility as the chairman of Tamil Nadu Electricity Board in the late 90s by his then minister, Kannapan. His crime: he did not tow the line. It is another matter that he went on to become the Central Vigilance Commissioner at the centre later and retired with dignity.

Shivamurthy Naik What is worrisome in Karnataka particularly is that such instances are only increasing day by day as the law makers have begun to believe that the bureaucrats are their servants. The problem gets compounded when the targets are not limited to merely young bureaucrats but some of the senior officials as well.
A case in point relates to the behaviour of Congress MLA Shivamurthy Naik who barged into the office of R Kataria, secretary in the commerce and mines department , even as the latter was busy attending to some visitors .
This happened this month. The law maker wanted to know why his son's request for the grant of a mining lease on a six acre land was not being cleared.
Even as the official was explaining that the MLA's son was not eligible for the grant as per government rules, the power drunk law maker shouted " you are my servant .If you do not listen to my orders you will face the consequences ."

Vijaykumar This is not all. The MLA tried to force him to get the file cleared by the director of mines and geology and approve it immediately. The instance would not have come to light but for the complaint lodged by the beleaguered official with the chief secretary and the IAS association of Karnataka, in addition to the chief minister's office. The plea was simple : such behaviour was making it difficult to discharge official duties. Especially as the Supreme Court was also monitoring the mining business closely and it was not possible to favour anybody.
Kataria's case, however, is not an isolated one. There have been several instances where the law makers are increasingly getting uppity when confronted with an upright bureaucrat. In the normal course, one would assume that the chief minister would step in to assuage the bureaucrats' feelings while encouraging them to work without worry or fear. This has not happened, evidenced by the plight of V Rashmi and K A Mathai, two bureaucrats who approached the chief minister for redressal. He did not even bother to give them time.
Ajay Seth, who was principal secretary in the primary and secondary education department, too faced a similar situation when he did not clear a grant for a questionable institute run by a law maker.
The MLA concerned thought nothing of demanding immediate approval of grant in aid for five institutions of which he was the chairman, even though they were closed for several years, according to sources in the department. When informed about the ineligibility, the MLA termed the bureaucrat "anti dalit " adding that " this is my government and government money is my money," to go by the complaint which Ajay Seth sent to the CM.
The IAS officers' association also wrote to the CM pleading for action against Naik who had become"abusive " while threatening Seth with dire consequences if he did not support his proposal. This is not all. In yet another case which happened a few days ago, Ajay Nagabhushan, commissioner in the department of collegiate education, was shunted out as commissioner, cane development, in addition to being spoken to rudely. His fault: he questioned the irregularities in the purchase of laptops which were to be distributed to undergraduate students in the state as part of a government programme.
He had floated a global tender in the firm belief that it would help in getting quality and competitive prices for the laptops in addition to ensuring transparency. Instead, the powers that be forced a change and mounted pressure on him to go for piece meal tenders in the process leading to a major jump in prices. The officer wrote to the CM's office and the chief secretary on the alleged irregularity .Predictably,till the time of writing he had not received any reply or support.

Ajay Nagabhushan This apart, Nagabhushan even questioned the release of over Rs 100 crore for the newly set up Ambedkar School of Economics, as due process was not followed. The net result: the minister concerned humiliated him ; even directed him to stop interfering in the issue concerned .
According to senior officers, such transfers and ill -treatment of bureaucrats has increased substantially because either the officials are seen as obstructions or too smart for their own good. While many officials are able to take such harassment in their stride others fail , leading to depression and a tendency to commit suicide.

Anurag Tiwari Here the mysterious death of the young IAS officer Anurag Tiwari who was in the food department in the state earlier this year ,also raises serious questions. The CBI probe into the unfortunate but unexplained death of the young officer has not reached anywhere .. Anurag ,it is learnt, was ready to blow the whistle on a major scam in the distribution of subsidised foodgrains to the poor .His body was found on the road in Lucknow where he had gone to meet his friend.
Admittedly, while the harassment of bureaucrats by the politicians does remain a concern, Vijaykumar,the whistleblower,has his own theory. He believes that it is not uncommon for bureaucrats to curry favour from ministers and law makers when it comes to comfortable transfers and postings. In one case where the bureaucrat had alleged harassment by a law maker, it was found that he himself was guilty of enjoying an unnecessarily long stint at the Centre , instead of returning to his home state. He had used the clout of his father in law , a political heavyweight in north India , to remain in Delhi for long periods as PS to a Central minister.
Vijaykumar quotes from his experience while emphasising that more often than not ,ministers and politicians apart , it is the senior IAS officers who themselves harass their colleagues. What's more honest officers rarely get the desired support from their associations, he adds.
As if to prove his point, it would be worthwhile to quote the case of K A Mathai,a Karnataka Administrative Service officer. For someone who has served the state for over two decades, this upright officer has been complaining to the CM against the alleged harassment that he is being subjected to by three senior bureaucrats.
In fact, he has sought permission from the government to file cases against the three officers, accusing them of stalling his increment and promotion, not to mention his salary of over four months. Till the time of writing he had not received any response and nor,for that matter, had the chief minister bothered to give him time.
Meanwhile, cases of harassment and transfers remain the order of the day in the state. As assembly elections are barely a few months away, the law makers have become more strident and aggressive in seeking to browbeat the bureaucracy into doing their bidding.