Former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad used to observe, “Kuch officers ko chhapas ki bimari lag jati hai (Some officers get addicted to seeing their name in print, and will do anything to ensure that).”
Sanjiv Bhatt, do you suffer from this disease, or are you so moved by the wrongdoings that you put your career as an IPS officer at stake?
Bhatt’s (1988 batch IPS) plea in a recently decided case, (WP (Crl) 135 of 2011), before the Supreme Court was that he was present in the meeting on February 27, 2002, chaired by
the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, where, according to Bhatt, certain instructions were given to act softly against the rioters.
The Special Investigation Team (SIT), appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate a complaint filed by Jakia Naseem Ahesan Jafri on June 8, 2006, found Bhatt’s stand false, and serious discrepancies in his statements. To negate that and initiate another special investigation, Bhatt set up K D Panth, a constable working under him, as an alibi, but Panth backtracked later.
The Supreme Court on October 13, 2015, accepted the proposition that Bhatt never attended the February 2002 meeting, illegally set up Panth as an alibi, was hobnobbing with rival political parties and non-governmental organisations, and trying to play the media card to get attention from amicus curiae and the Supreme Court. The court also held that Bhatt did not approach it with clean hands, kept quiet for nine years—from 2002 to 2011—and that he is guilty of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi (suggestion of an untruth). The apex court found his conduct unbecoming of a senior IPS officer.
Bhatt’s story of misadventure and unclean hands brings up the larger question as to if and where a “laxman rekha” should be drawn when a bureaucrat takes up a cause which at times may seriously ruffle political heavyweights.
It is quite likely that a bureaucrat may be put under pressure to act against provisions of law or a rule; comes across a situation where his conscience tells him to act in a manner which is beyond the limits prescribed by the Conduct Rules.
A bureaucrat also is a free citizen of this country and has all the rights to fight against any unlawful act which he may come across. Senior bureaucrats, being part of the system, have both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is, if you bring a wrong into the open, you get instant media attention; the first response of others is to believe you and at times you have a close inside view of the whole issue. The disadvantage is that if what you are doing is not palatable to your superiors, especially the political ones, you may be marked for tough far-flung assignments and rough treatment from the government of the day. If we look at the cases of Ashok Khemka, IAS of the Haryana cadre, or Sanjeev Chaturvedi, an IFS officer working with AIIMS, they took decisions which they thought were correct and faced the consequences (untimely transfers, vigilance enquiries on false charges). This is a courageous act of the bureaucrat and must be supported by all well-meaning sections of society.
In the case of Bhatt, it is political opportunism at its worst. When one reads the judgment of the Supreme Court, several of Bhatt’s wrong and objectionable deeds from the past have been discussed in detail. By such conduct, one loses his own credibility and brings disrepute to the premier civil service of the country.
Once a bureaucrat realises that civil services is not his/her preferred profession—and it should have been politics/social activism or any other—then he/she should quit and take up the other profession.
Yashwant Sinha, Ajit Jogi, Arvind Kejriwal and several others have opted for mid-career changes. In any case, one should avoid a real or perceptional situation where a serving bureaucrat is seen fighting political battles or acting as a stooge of a political party.
Singh is a former IAS officer, and legal practitioner