Thursday, February 16, 2012

An IAS officer should know to say `No'

By Jayaprakash Narayan

Today in India, there is a certain lynch mentality. We are willing to believe the worst about those in public office, be it politicians, bureaucrats or judges. That unless proved otherwise, the fellow is a thorough crook. This is not a very happy situation. We can understand why it has come about. People are vexed, there is a terrible crisis of legitimacy and monumental corruption. There is enormous anger.

But then there are also bonafide acts by officials which go wrong. Many a time due to the pressure of doing one hundred things at the same time, things do go wrong. No human being can say he will always be perfect. You must acknowledge that there is an inherent possibility of error in government decisions.

As long as there is no criminal intent and due diligence is done which essentially means reasonable exercise of caution, you cannot hold a person's decision wrong in hindsight. At best you could order a departmental enquiry, a rap on the knuckles. Corruption is a matter of criminal intent and an objective person should be able to distinguish between the two.

Now if each segment keeps saying that while I may be guility, you should first go after him, it is not right. I remember a R K Laxman cartoon many years ago saying the enquiry report has come and that the report says no one in the country is guilty of any wrong and that whatever is happening in the country is happening on its own !

The country is in an awful mess and let us first acknowledge that. We have third rate governance. People are not getting what they are entitled to. There is monumental inefficiency and corruption. There is arrogance of power and delay.

But the IAS officers should not behave as if they are peons and clerks. The IAS has awesome prestige and authority and protection under the Constitution of India. This class of people are chosen from among thousands of people. At the age of 30, you give them immense power over 3 million people in a district where they get to play a significant role in legislation and implementation of policy.

Now if they turn back and say we have nothing to do with the decisions, that is not the right thing to do. I agree that the politician must be hanged from the nearest lamp post, after due process of law. I am all for it. But the IAS officer cannot say that he is just a small fish and I was told to do this and that, therefore I did.

The IAS officer takes an oath to protect the Constitution of India, not to protect partisan interests. If he is being asked to pass a wrong order, he must resist.

A clerk and a police constable can say he is a mercenary but the DGP, or an SP or IAS officer cannot claim that. If they behave like clerks, the system will collapse as they will be undermining themselves.

We have to protect the honest officers from vindictive witchhunt. But more importantly, we have to protect society because today it is not the officer who needs protection. It is Indian society that needs protection from the governing classes because they have been governed very poorly.

(Jayaprakash Narayan is a former IAS officer and now President of Loksatta Party. He is an MLA in the Andhra Pradesh assembly)


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