Two bureaucrats are discussing Cabinet minutes in Yes Minister:
Bernard: So you want me to falsify the minutes?
Humphrey: I want nothing of the sort! It’s up to you Bernard; what do you want?
Bernard: I want to have a clear conscience.
Humphrey: A clear conscience?
Humphrey: When did you acquire this taste for luxuries?
Senior IAS officer Dipali Rastogi has surprised many by publicly coming out against civil servants who let their spine rot and said only what their masters wanted to hear for the sake of “salary, perks, club membership, car, driver, domestic help, spruced-up homes, dinner parties, discounted vacations, foreign trips and the silly, mean-minded ‘power’ to dole out small favours to friends and relatives.” Her outburst seems to have touched a chord, not only among her colleagues, but also junior and senior officers alike. Most of the bureaucrats I spoke to praised the 1994 batch MP cadre officer’s candidness.
The 1994 batch MP cadre officer was scathing: “The biggest ‘quality’ attributed to an IAS officer is IAS officer that he, or she, will anticipate political will and run to obey/comply before words are even out of his political masters’ mouth.” Discussing the “ripple” caused by the Modi government’s initiative to induce lateral entry at the joint secretary level, she points out: “As the years go by and the lines between bureaucracy and politics, between right and wrong, between truth and lies become fainter and fainter, an IAS officers will have lost all original thought.” He becomes pompous, his knowledge redundant and his figures fudged “to show what the ones in power want to see.”
She may sound despondent. But her defiance shows the will to fight the rot. The seemingly self-deprecating voices from within hold a ray of hope for the crumbling system. Otherwise, options are always open in the world outside. BD Sharma (1956 batch) chose to become a jholawala, Pravesh Sharma (1982 batch) a sabziwala, Dhiraj Mathur (1983 batch) a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Harsh Mander (1980 batch) a rights activist, while Mukesh Kacker (1979 batch) joined MNCs and Lovleen Kacker, his wife and batchmate, the corporate world.
Dipali Rastogi has a history of being something of an iconoclast. Earlier, she had received a rap on the knuckles for violating service conduct rules by publicly criticising the official ODF campaign. The media is speculating that she voiced her criticism of yea-sayers after her husband and batchmate, Manish Rastogi, an equally intrepid and outspoken officer, was shunted out of the science and technology department last month, kicking off a political storm. Rastogi, a brilliant IIT-ian, was relieved of his charge of the department soon after he unearthed a massive Rs1,000-crore scam in the MP government’s e-tendering. Racketeers had rigged the process, allegedly with inside help, to favour some particular firms. The Opposition Congress has described it as MP’s Watergate, bigger in size than Vyapam. “His shifting out at this juncture was surprising because he was the most suitable person to unravel the crime and arrest the culprits,” said a senior IAS officer familiar with the developments.
Even as Rastogi, apparently unhappy with the change, has proceeded on leave, the case has reached the economic offences wing of MP Police, unequal to the specialised task. The grapevine says the government is going slow in its investigations in view of the Assembly elections, due by the end of this year, lest the unfolding scandal damages the ruling party’s chance. It is not the first time that the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government has shifted an officer in the middle of a sensitive inquiry. Last year, it had transferred Chhavi Bhardwaj, a corruption-buster, after she tumbled upon a Rs200-crore transport racket in Bhopal Municipal Corporation. The scam was all but forgotten after her. Earlier, her husband and batchmate in the IAS, Nandkumaram, was shunted out of Neemuch after he tried to stop corruption at an inter-state transport barrier, ruffling many feathers.
There is no dearth of such conscientious officers as the Rastogis, Bhardwaj and Nandkumram in MP. Chief secretary BP Singh was candid during the IAS officers’ meet last year: “An officer isn’t supposed to work on the directives of a political leader. He’s supposed to work with him for the welfare of the people. An officer shouldn’t do anything that is not in the public interest and benefits only the leader even if he has to suffer for that.”
(The writer is a senior journalist)