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My Corner

Bureaucrats as feudal lords

The behaviour of many superior officers is governed by personal fancy

Durga Shakti Nagpal is now almost a household name, with her claim to fame being her suspension as SDM, Noida, when she opposed the State government order. Almost the entire world believed that she was being punished for having stood up against the sand mafia. The bravery attributed to Nagpal made her a hero in the eyes of the Indian middle class, as a bureaucrat who had the guts to stand against the establishment, for a justified cause.

Nagpal is in the news again, this time for the suspension of her IAS husband, Abhishek Singh. Singh, posted as SDM, Mahavan, Mathura, was suspended on October 11.

As per media reports, Singh treated a 55-year-old Dalit teacher in an allegedly inhuman manner. The media report says that, taking serious note of the matter, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav suspended Singh with immediate effect. The allegations are that the teacher, Fauran Singh, was summoned by the SDM and made to do sit-ups as punishment for not completing a report on time. For this, the SDM summoned Fauran to his office. He is said to have openly abused Fauran and made him do sit-ups in front of his 24-year-old son.

He is also said to have threatened Fauran with jail.

A few reports say that Singh has denied these charges as baseless. As it is, not being in a position to make a definite statement on the facts of the case, it is expected from me to not to make my own conclusion of what exactly happened but to go by the government version.

At the same time, I can easily vouch for the fact that many members of the IAS, IPS, PCS and other so-called superior services in UP do behave like lords and kings in their day-to-day functioning. I shall be presenting a few of these incidences that actually came on record. An ex-SSP of Lucknow had beaten a constable with a lathi merely for having found him urinating outside his official bungalow. Amit Ghosh, an ex-DM of Lucknow, had slapped a subordinate officer of the agriculture department in January 2000. Rajesh Modak, then SSP Moradabad, had badly beaten three followers for having kept a ruling party leader waiting. Then IG Bhanu Pratap Singh is said to have slapped a Sub-Inspector during his inspection in Farrukhabad district. Hairom Sharma, IG, Fire Service, is said to have beaten up a Class IV employee. Singh is also said to have previously misbehaved with an Executive Engineer of RES as SDM, Chhata.

Other than these examples, I have personally been witness to an SP-rank officer openly mouthing swear words at his stenographer and throwing a glass at him, for having felt poorly about some of his official actions. As SP, Ballia, I was told by many that my predecessor used to punish subordinates by making them stand in the open, on one leg, if he found some alleged dereliction of duty. I know of an incident of the Additional SP, Azamgarh, shooting himself immediately after a phone call from then IG, Zone Varanasi, known for his abusive language and humiliating manners, who is said to have abused the junior officer so badly that he could not resist ending his life.

What the above facts mean is that Uttar Pradesh has been witness to improper, arrogant, whimsical, anti-human and anti-humane conduct by many senior officers of the so-called superior services, who it seems start believing themselves to be modern-day feudal lords, having no rules and regulations to control their acts and mannerisms. This is a serious issue and thankfully the Singh episode has brought it to the fore. The problem is truly deep-rooted and the only possible reason, to the best of my understanding, is that these officers have been able to commit such inhuman and indecent acts without being accountable for them and without ever having faced any hardship and punishment for them.

I am sure, if these officers had been taken to task and made accountable for their misconduct, this would have sent the right signals at the right place and the recurrence of such incidents would have either stopped or got minimised. Hence, personally, I would welcome the step of suspending the IAS officer for having misbehaved with a teacher in the manner as described in the media with the hope that this would serve as a warning for everyone else to stop thinking of themselves as being above the law.

Here it seems appropriate for me to discuss another aspect related with this issue. It is with regard to the counterarguments used by these officers to justify their improper acts. The argument is akin to the “white man’s burden” as stated and propagated by the Europeans during the age of Imperialism when they said that they had to undertake many acts because of the huge responsibility imposed on them to “correct” the negativities existing in the non-white world. In the same manner, these IAS and IPS officers are heard saying that they have to misbehave with the subordinate officers, scold them and even beat them because of the mighty responsibilities imposed on them of running the government and extracting work from their staff. Thus, they portray themselves as duty-bound repositories of the government work while the subordinate officers are indisciplined, unconcerned, uncaring and non-serious. Thus, they like presenting the entire thing as black vs white, something like Ahura Mazda vs AhriMan in Zoroastrianism.

Clearly, this argument does not seem to make much sense. Firstly, it is based on the presumption of a few officers that it is solely they who are sincere about their work. Such a presumption is prima facie and inherently defective. Secondly, even if this presumption is assumed to be true, it does not give these officers any right to misbehave, abuse, denigrate, beat, torture or use any extra-legal or illegal means on the subordinate allegedly to extract work from them. Every person in the government is bound by rules and regulations and no one has any right to defy the laws or adopt unlawful measures on any said pretext. Thirdly, and possibly the most important reason, is that it has been often seen that the large majority of such cases of senior officers taking the law into their hands has less to do with serious government work and more related to personal fancy, personal gains, selfish interests, personal anger or animosity. The plea of government work for personal intent can never be justified and needs to be condemned.

Before ending, I would like to say that I have limited myself to UP not because such things do not happen in other States but merely because I find it better to base myself on solid facts rather than conjecture. I do not have definite information about other states, and making a comment would not be proper. But, as a person who values the human rights of one and all, I do feel it my duty to advise all such lords and kings that, taking a lesson from the Singh episode, they should mend their ways and stop being extra-legal entities for their subordinates in any manner. This is good for governance and good for society.

Amitabh Thakur, an IPS officer from UP, is also working for transparency in governance. The views expressed are personal

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