The recent transfer of Ashok Khemka from the post of transport commissioner in the Government of Haryana, his 46th in 24 years of service, has highlighted the issue of frequent, arbitrary and unexplained transfers of senior civil servants, especially IAS and IPS in the state governments. A recent study had indicated that on an average, district magistrates spent only seven months in their posts, the average SP only five months—by the time the officer visits each tehsil/block/thana once, and gets a broad picture of the geography of the district, it is time for him to go. Is this conducive to good governance? What is the ‘mystery’ that impels the chief minister to effect such moves? There must be a serious reason.
Insiders know that it takes about three to four months for an officer to get to know the ‘mafias’ that operate in the district—typically five or six mafias in the fields of, say, land, sand, stones, building, forest, excise and so on, controlled by specific groups that operate in shady manner. One needs to accept that this is the Indian reality. These gangs change colour with change of the ruling political complexion.
Their strategy is to bank-roll the senior politicians of the state in return for assured ‘protection’. Thus, as a DM or an SP stumbles upon information, and starts taking interest in getting to know the modus operandi and the persona of a particular mafia, the chance of exposure goes up sharply. Typically, the officer will get one gentle local warning—if he persists with his inquiry, it is time for him to leave unceremoniously; one phone call to the point-man in the CM’s office is usually sufficient. Many officers discreetly learn to look the other way —it is convenient, comfortable, and helps ‘stability’. Such officers, who constitute the bulk, cannot be called dishonest; they merely prefer not to look into matters ‘not their business’. Some take their Oath of Office seriously, and move in for strong action—they need to be prepared for frequent and sudden transfers, indeed for much worse, including physical harm.
Note that an official is placed for serving the public, the chair he occupies is for disposal of government work in public interest, consistent with the Constitution, freely, fairly and impartially. A premature transfer may be inconvenient to the officer—that is neither here nor there; the punishment really is to the people of the district to get inexperienced officers every few months, affecting the quality of administration. Indeed, the fundamental right of the citizen under Article 21 is affected; this is the basis of the landmark Supreme Court order of October 2013 that every post should have a minimum tenure fixed, and reasons for premature transfers recorded in detail. The same order specifies that postings and transfers are to be done in a proper and scientific manner by a formal Civil Service Board (CSB).
More than 350 reports on administrative reforms, over the past six decades, have uniformly pointed out that premature and untimely transfers are the main cause for poor administration. This is not rocket science. Santanam, an MP, had in the early 60s analysed the issues and suggested solutions, now incorporated in essence through the orders of the apex court. None anymore need to examine the issues de novo each time; full compliance of the Supreme Court’s orders is now imperative. That most states now flagrantly violate the apex court’s orders is an index of the imperative need by the politician to use the bureaucrat for private purposes. Private benefit is masked as ‘public interest’—this is the harsh reality in most states. It is equally an index of the rot in ground conditions, and the rampant operations of local mafias (by whatsoever name) that public servants are treated as private servitors to political masters.
The civil services, astonishingly, still attract the best talent. India is blessed with high quality human material. Imagine the plight of a young IAS/ IPS officer early in his service—he gets first-hand knowledge of the harsh local realities; he is confronted, within the first five years of his service with a harsh choice. Should he remain ramrod straight, investigate every wrong-doing ruthlessly, in short do his job thoroughly and face huge hostility, inconvenience and worse? Or should he quickly learn to look the other way, not become financially dishonest, but intellectually lose something of his morality—to lead a comfortable, happy, often satisfying life of much public contribution? There is a third alternative, alas an increasing number now adopt this route. If you can’t beat them or ignore them, join them, become one of them; all that is required is to give up whatever morality you have; within two years you can amass larger wealth than in a full life time of honest service! It is a measure of the high quality of our civil services that very few opt for the last category—if that number crosses a critical percentage, one can be sure that the total collapse of governance will not be far away.