Indian Bureaucracy – Then and Now

indi office file

“Even the cream of the talent in the country in the administrative field often collapses at the slightest pressure … forging of records, fabrication of ground[s] of detention, ante-dating detention orders, and callous disregard of the rights of detainees as regards revocation, parole etc”

  • From the Shah Commission Report, 1978

In normal times if a citizen petitions the administration for any work and many other people or organizations support the issue raised in the petition, the bureaucracy is supposed to set in motion the process of taking action. The petition can be sent by speed post or it can be received at the concerned office. The office is supposed to give a diary number. Many times the issue gets raised in the media and there are officials in the government of India particularly in the Union Home Ministry who keep clippings of print media. In the good old days, the lowest level gazetted officer would prepare a note when the issue was of public importance. This note passes from the section officer to the under secretary, then to the deputy secretary, then to the joint secretary and again to the additional secretary. Finally, it reaches the secretary who may consult the Minister for opinion. The Ministers generally give oral advice to escape any future enquiry. An upright officer can ask for a written opinion by the Minister. That is protocol in normal times.

Meanwhile citizens and organizations can go to the office and ask for a reply to their petition. Presently anyone can file an RTI application and demand a reply. I have a very simple question. Is there not a single gazetted officer left in India who can stand-up to the powers that be? It is so obvious that the electoral bond scam has been raised by so many people, lawyers, political parties, organizations; also the petitions have been received in this or that government offices including the following constitutional/statutory bodies:

  1. National Investigation Agency
  2. Central Bureau of Investigation
  3. Income Tax Department
  4. Enforcement Directorate
  5. Central Vigilance Commission
  6. Securities and Exchange Board of India
  7. Reserve Bank of India
  8. State Bank of India
  9. Comptroller and Auditor General of India
  10. Election Commission of India  

Is it the case that no bureaucrat in India has shown the courage and do the needful expected of a public servant? Are we back to the period 1975–1977 when bureaucrats behaved the way as concluded by the Shah Commission. In 2 months’ time we would be entering the 50th anniversary year of the declaration of Internal Emergency. But the situation is the same today. Only a mass movement can reverse it.

When TMC leaders protested at the office of the Election Commission of India, New Delhi recently they were detained by the police and taken to the police station. They were only demanding the transfer of some officials. They were not even challenging the authority of the Election Commission of India. I remember my friend Inder Mohan sitting on a dharna at this very office over the Kashmir Elections in the last decade of the 20th century. In normal times the demand of transfer of officials raised by a large number of organizations is addressed and looked into by the powers that be. Since there is no declared emergency, the people are flabbergasted.

राजा बोला रात है
रानी बोली रात है
मंत्री बोला रात है
संतरी बोला रात है
यह सुबह सुबह की बात है

– Gorakh Pandey

P.S. Sahni is a member of PIL Watch Group.


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