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  1. #1
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    Travails of an Honest Bureaucrat


    This is an interesting article by Shri Arun Bhatia IAS(retd), which shows the problems faced by honest civil servants who are dissatisfied with the system and are quite helpless. The article has been sent in the form of an open letter by Shri Bhatia himself, who can be contacted at bpdbhatia(at)hotmail(dot)com.


    FORGIVE THOSE WHO CAN'T "WORK" WITHIN OUR SYSTEM

    Said a distraught mother to her twelve year old daughter in a boarding school: "Why do you cry all the time, my baby? Look at the other children enjoying themselves."

    The girl wiped her tears and looked at her mother, not without surprise. "Because, Mama, I miss you all the time. The others cry for a few days but I cry till the time comes for going home again."

    It was then the mother's turn to cry.

    Through all her years of schooling the girl was never reconciled to the separation from her family. Teachers, students and other parents said she was odd. But her mother understood and never questioned her girl again. And nor did she ever point to the other children. For she loved her child for the very reasons that others thought were strange.

    Think now of the odd people in the bureaucracy who don't merge with the traffic but continue to struggle against the organisation. After three long decades in harness they have not been able to make peace with corruption and sycophancy. They remain agitated, rebellious and stuffed with criticism that comes gushing out at every turn in the conversation. They are the odd ones who will never settle down in the system. The mad ones who have to be transferred from place to place because they create conflict wherever they go.

    The difference is that the school was not a corrupt bureaucracy. The similarity is that some people can never become acclimatized to their environment. And such people are not judged as quite normal.

    It is not these people who are odd; it is the system. If children have to stay away from parents it is odd. If honest people have to smile in a corrupt organization it is even more absurd. The girl's mother did understand her child but who has the perception to understand the odd bureaucrat.

    The context

    Arun was posted as the Commissioner of the Pune Municipal Corporation and transferred by the government after a week. There was a public protest and some citizens went to court, defeated the government and had the transfer cancelled. However after a few weeks Arun was voted out of the corporation by the elected councilors and this time nobody approached the court. A section of opinion believed that Arun was too radical and should have been able to work within the system to improve the city.

    The story

    Arun was an old horse, now retired from a putrifying third world civil service in India (the corrupted IAS). The bones creak now and then but he still has the trained mind of a racer. There are many stories he could tell - one worse than the other. How money is made; how public treasuries are drained; how a country has been ruined. After a while you will cease to be alarmed and will become like the rest of us - self-centered, insensitive, afraid and, above all, useless.

    So why is Arun writing this?

    Because one day, in perfect harmony with the drowsy afternoon, while he was watching the fishing boats from the sands of Alibag, after three decades in the bureaucracy, after losing his promotion, after being transferred 26 times in 26 years, after being assessed as "mentally imbalanced" by corrupt but empowered superiors, after numerous notices and enquiries for bad and "un-officer like conduct", he justifiably believed the worst to be over. Till two men walked up to him. They were from Pune. One was a university teacher, grey and knowledgeable; the other, a young member of an NGO dealing with human rights. Both were exceedingly courteous and well informed about governance theory.

    He was therefore horrified to hear the older one admonish him with the words, "Mr. Bhatia, you have let us down. The citizens of Pune poured into the streets to support you, they defeated the government in the High Court and brought you back into the Pune Corporation. But you just fought with everyone and had yourself thrown out again. Our effort in bringing you back achieved nothing."

    The younger one continued, "We had empowered you. You could have done something for the city. But you were like a bull in a China shop. You smashed everything and didn't build any relationships to improve the administration."

    The words stung. But Arun said nothing. "Then why have you walked up to this bull?" he asked. "Just leave him to his bullish ways," he shot back in anger.

    "No," they said, "we are your supporters. Don't get us wrong. We criticize your methods because we want you to be effective. We want men like you to win and not get pounded by the system."

    That did make him feel better but he realized that the academic and the young rebel knew not too much about how the country was being run, how the "system" worked from within. He looked at the cloth pouch the young man carried and wondered what books he had read on the subject. It was necessary to inform people about the rot.

    One shouldn't make too many enemies they said. So how does one do this if one wants to improve the system? If it is found that road surfacing is poor and money has been claimed on the basis of false measurements should one inspect only two roads and leave the rest? Prosecute only one engineer and ignore the remaining eight? If there is harassment in the passing of building plans should one instruct that the first five plans every month should be passed soon without bribes and the rest can be delayed so that enemies are not created in the building department? If builders violate rules and helpless purchasers face problems should corporation officials be told not to take action in more than ten cases every month so that they can be paid for their silence in the remaining cases? When vulnerable sections (single women, widows, elderly people whose children are not in Pune to defend them etc.) living in the high population density areas of the old city are bullied by neighbours who encroach, block ventilation or build toilets near kitchens and entrances of weaker neighbours, should the corporation officials be told to let sleeping dogs lie (for a fee) and turn a blind eye to the hundreds of complaints of this type that come pouring in?

    The crucial question was, does one address all complaints and help all citizens or only some? Should some matters and victims be left as they are to allow the corporation to feed upon them?

    Once the news spread that Arun's doors were open, the number of persons with complainants and problems that started arriving at his office rose to 120 per day, going up on some days to 300. It would have gone much higher.

    This is not surprising, given a population of three million and a corrupt administration. Arun had come to the Pune Corporation to help these people. Should he have told them that he would attend to no more than five complaints a day and the remaining applications would be destroyed? Or should he have asked the municipal officials to decide which cases they would like to ignore? Was he there to help citizens or to placate corrupt officials and corporators working in tandem.

    They gave no answers to these questions. "You shouldn't have rocked the boat so much. You should have worked with the system; tried to muster support within the system," they insisted.

    It became obvious that they had no idea of the real working of the system. If you aim at reform or change the boat will always be rocked because there are strong vested interests (councilors, contractors, staff/officials, favoured suppliers of materials etc.) who thrive in the status quo and will always oppose change which threatens them. So by keeping the peace, by keeping everyone happy in the system one could stay in the post of Commissioner, PMC, for two or three years but nothing else would be achieved. And this is what has been happening. Hence the flood of never ending complaints. Hence the increasing corruption that was never effectively checked. "If you wanted me to do this you shouldn't have brought me back to this city," he retorted.

    "On the contrary," he said, gathering momentum, "the citizens didn't sustain their support to me. They left my side just when I needed them most, just when I had developed a small core team of good men in the municipal administration, just when I was beginning to become effective.

    True, citizens did come out on the streets and a group went to court and had my transfer cancelled. I respect them and am grateful. But what happened just a few weeks later when the corporators threw (voted) me out?

    Who challenged this in court? My methods were too redical some said."

    This was an old syndrome; it had happened before with Arun and with others. Protest against the transfer of good officers is seldom sustained by the middle class in India, too complacent and preoccupied with its own small world to see the rot around it. Too scared to try to do anything about it.

    How does one keep both sides happy - the citizens on the one hand and the PMC corporators and staff, on the other? Can one be diplomatic in trying to remove corruption? And should one try to do this at all? Why worry about keeping people happy? Why not just implement the law for the benefit of everyone?

    Secondly, just to keep things going the way they are you don't need people like us in the PMC. Anyone can keep corporators happy. It's simple. You require us odd people only if you want reform - basic, meaningful reform to improve the city and the services to the inhabitants of Pune.

    Take another aspect of bad municipal governance. Does one try and enforce some priorities in budget making or not? When raw sewage (untreated shit) is sent into a river that could be made beautiful, when mosquitoes and disease invade us every year, should one not divert funds to sewage treatment plants, sanitation, toilet construction, and public hospitals?

    But corporators and their contractors (who also manage elections) prefer large civil works like stadiums from where funds can be diverted to private pockets, party coffers and elections. Arun tried to divert just 48 crores out of a budget of 1,000 crores and was thrown out of the post.

    Then Arun told them the story. Eleven corporators had met him and said they would definitely vote in his favour on the issue of removing him from the corporation. There were some politicians who were happy because people's grievances had been addressed by him and pending work started in their municipal wards (urban electoral constituencies)<WBR>. But, very surprisingly, when the day came, they voted against him and in favour of his removal. Later, they told him they were compelled to do this because of stern directives from their political parties. The logic was that even a single vote going in his favour would jeopardize the credibility of the elected councilors and indicate that the Commissioner was not insane or incapable of working in an organization or with politicians. A unanimous vote against him would be clinching evidence and would convince the media and the citizens that he was utterly and totally unacceptable to everyone, that he was too harsh etc.

    "Their strategy had worked. Their version was swallowed by people like you." He said this closing his eyes and surrendering himself to the breeze that had been patiently wooing them, sometimes gently, sometimes petulantly, blowing their words out of range.


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  2. #2
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    Re: Travails of an Honest Bureaucrat


    I have been carrying in my mind one specific incidence. Infact it had confuced me a lot It is like this
    I was serving in a big establishment with more than 4000 civilian staff apart from more than 500 army men. One day I get a promotion order stating that a particular Office Superintendent of my establishment is promotted as 'Officer' and posted in citu. But none of us could place him. So, I called him in my office to see. I have seen him but had never come across on any issue,not even to diccuss a case. He has been working or not working so silently that neither his presence or absence never felt by any of us. He had never approached me for anything. I was even surprised to see that one of his Annual Confidence report was written by me. What happens when you have to write lot of confidential reports and you may not be knowing them well enough ? Naturally a normal report with absolutely nothing adverse and a recomendation for further promotion follows. Thoughout his service such was his state of reports. When his report reached before Departmental Promotion Committee when persons of his seniority considered for promotion they found him to be perfect with no adverse comments from anyone and everyone recomending him for further promotion. My question is that, do we want such officers or those who say a spade not only a spade but a dirty showel ? Those accept all responsibilities which some time keep pending work and their absence foreven an hour is feltby his superiors.

  3. #3
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    Re: Travails of an Honest Bureaucrat


    Believeit or not :
    1. It is much easier to get things done by paying bribe rather than fighting for it
    2. Almost every one is susceptible for accepting bribe. Some may not be accepting it because of scare, others due to lack of scope in their post to get bribe

  4. #4
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    Re: Travails of an Honest Bureaucrat



    Quote Originally Posted by colnrkurup View Post
    2. Almost every one is susceptible for accepting bribe. Some may not be accepting it because of scare, others due to lack of scope in their post to get bribe
    Colonel Sir, I beg to differ with you. Your statement appears to be too much of a generalisation. I have come across several honest govt servants who have enough scope in their post, but still don't take any bribe. It is not because they are scared of taking it. But because of proper moral values imbibed into them during their up-bringing and also on account of their sincere concern to the sufferings of their fellow-countrymen. From the ranks of peons upto the level of bureaucrats, such honest people are available in every cadre, but they are marginalised by those who are fond of taking "speed money".

    Besides the above case of Shri Arun Bhatia, in our forum you can find among others, the case studies connected with the travails of Shri Somesh Tiwari and Shri M N Vijayakumar, all top level officers, who had suffered untold sufferings at the hands of our rulers, just because they decided to remain honest.

  5. #5
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    Re: Travails of an Honest Bureaucrat


    Dear Mr.Ganapathy,
    Your observation being correct I have no choice but to agree with you. Of cource ther are exceptions. They are very few which made me generalise it.

  6. #6
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    Re: Travails of an Honest Bureaucrat


    Dear Mr.ganpat1956
    *in appreciation of : your forward (dated 08-04-2007 10:57 PM) to - the article by Shri Arun Bhatia, IAS (retd.) - 'Travails of an Honest Bureaucrat', the Article itself, & and your remarks to the threaded response, were quite apt, and apply even today.
    Despite all-odds, those following dictates of The Conscience, still exist.
    *Yet Shri colnrkurup's expressions apply to many amongst us ( " ... Believe-it or not :
    1. It is much easier to get things done by paying bribe rather than fighting for it
    2. Almost every one is susceptible for accepting bribe. Some may not be accepting it because of scare, others due to lack of scope in their post to get bribe ..." ).
    *You too have ended your counter-remarks stating - "... honest people are available in every cadre, but they are marginalised by those who are fond of taking "speed money"..."
    *Through reading your thread, i've become aware that - rtiIndia.org has attracted the attention of honest govt. officials, who have suffered for being Honest. ( Quoting you, "... Besides ....... Shri Arun Bhatia, in our forum you can find among others, the case studies connected with the travails of Shri Somesh Tiwari and Shri M N Vijayakumar, all top level officers, who had suffered untold sufferings at the hands of our rulers, just because they decided to remain honest."
    *The Nation needs (the Constitution speaks thus) - Honest govt. servants, more so today - when The World has become a Global Village. (We can Sell, if we Deal Honestly).
    * Sir, its about time - such govt. servants (in harness & also the retd.) come together, & with back-up of the legally knowledgeable of The People, use legal methods available (like - the RTI, PIL) - to cohesively quash the "speed money collectors & their illegal methods."



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