Perhaps the greatest tragedy that has happened in India since Independence is the corruption that has crept into the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). And destroyed the faith of the people in good government. The IAS has let down the country very badly. And that is putting it mildly. The IAS is the successor to the Indian Civil Service (ICS) which the British had set up as early as in 1765. It was run by the British for the British and by the British and it had no place for any Indian upto 1870, when, for the first time one Indian was appointed. Three more were to be selected the next year.
The ICS was famous for its incorruptibility. The man who held the title was known as Collector and the Collector was the last word in good governance. The entire system of administration was held in such high regard that a British Prime Minister Llyod George was to call it the “Steel Frame” that kept India intact. After the British left, the government of a new and independent India established what came to be called the Indian Administrative Service under the concerned eye of the then Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. As Sanjay Bagchi, himself a retired IAS says in his book The Changing Face of Bureaucracy, “there was a time when IAS officers were universally respected”. But alas, this is no longer true today. Writes Bagchi: “It was the corrupting influence of power that started the IAS on its downward journey… The deterioration began in the 1970s in the wake of a single political party monopolising political power for a long period”. The situation today is pathetic, to say the least.
Matters have gone from bad to worse. And involved in corruption is not only the IAS, but the Army and the Judiciary as well. The IAS list seems endless. A former Vigilance Commissioner RC Samal has been quoted as saying that he has “strong evidence to prove that at least 161 All-India Service officers and 10,000 employees of other levels are corrupt”. In Odisha, for example, the State Vigilance Department has registered corruption charges against 26 IAS officers, two IPS officers and 13 IFS (Indian Forest Service) officers and it is well to remember that the State Government has refused to prosecute four more officers for reasons unknown. In Uttar Pradesh, the CBI had arrested the State’s former Principal Health Secretary for his alleged role in the multi-crore National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Involved in the same NRHM scam was another bureaucrat, while a third IAS officer and Revenue Board Member were already under the scanner. In all 31 Uttar Pradesh officers both retired and serving have reportedly been under suspension, including, of all officers, a Chief Secretary.
In Assam, in May, a Special Judge Court had issued summons against eight IAS officers and eighteen Assam Civil Service officers. In May this year the media reported that more than a dozen officers in the U.P. Government were likely to be booked for an “Irrational and unaccountable” expenditure on the reconstruction and renovation of former Chief Minister Mayavati’s official bungalow.
In Andhra Pradesh, the mining scam, which felled powerful political leader Janardhan Reddy, also claimed the liberty of two senior IAS officers. In November 2011, two Madhya Pradesh IAS officers had their property attached by the Enforcement Directorate. It is an endless story. In April 2012 the media reported that 454 Class ‘A’ officers including two Joint Secretaries and 44 Directors hadn’t declared their immoveable property assets. Similarly, the Ministry of Home Affairs was quoted as saying in June 2012 that 508 IPS officers had failed to submit their Immoveable Property Returns (IPRs) for 2011 despite several reminders. The sheer impertinence of the officers sounds unbelievable.
As early as January 10, 2011, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh himself, angered at the reluctance of many bureaucrats to declare their assets despite repeated reminders, had got their names, designations and departments posted in the official website of the Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Ministry. The list of defaulters – there were 851 in all – included bureaucrats of the rank of Secretary to the Government of India! Fancy senior officers thumbing their noses at no less than the Prime Minister himself! No one knows what transpired later. When Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel moved to establish the IAS, it was expected to be loyal to the Government, while remaining politically neutral. Loyalty to the government was not supposed to compromise the larger interests of the nation.
In the years that followed the IAS failed to distinguish between the Government of the day and the political party in power. The situation was further confounded, as Sanjay Baghchi notes in his book “when the Prime Minister demanded personal loyalty before selecting secretaries to the Government”. Adds Bagchi: “From being public servants, many members of the IAS became personal servants and stooped to function like servile lackeys in a medieval court”. They not only forsake ethical standards but also compromised many laws and conventions. According to Bagchi “several top IAS men in Rajiv Gandhi’s Court were known for their misdeeds and were named in publications apparently without affecting their future career”.
Ergo, corruption starts from the top and trickles downward. Is there a remedy? IAS officers who have been caught and jailed have had their names published. But everyone is quickly forgotten. We can’t produce decent politicians for the simple reason that we don’t have men of stature in our public life to provide proper leadership. From the Mahatma downwards we don’t even have a Vinobha Bhave, let alone a Jayaprakash Narayan amidst us.
Is it possible to have a substitute for the IAS? But then how can that help? Can one put the IAS – and for that matter even the IPS and SCS – outside the authority of the Ministers and under an independent IAS Commission which, as Bagchi notes “must be given the authority to regulate transfers and postings all overt the country?” But which party will permit this revolutionary approach? Every Minister wants his own lackey to be his ministerial secretary, so that he has a pliant servant to do his illegal bidding. All this suggests that a massive public outcry must be organised in the larger interests of the nation, that can lead to a full study of the current administrative system and suggest improvements. The time is Now!