SHIVRAJ CHOUHAN RUNS WITH THE HARE, HUNTS WITH THE HOUNDS

A large num­ber of bur­bu­reau­crats in Mad­hya Pradesh sus­pect grogrow­ing des­per­a­tion in the Chief Min­is­ter oveover gov­er­nance deficit which, they think, ma­man­i­fested it­self in his un­usual rant againa­gainst col­lec­tors here he threat­ened them

Gfiles - - FRONT PAGE - by RAKESH DIXIT

MAD­HYA Pradesh’s bu­reau­cracy is baf­fled at an ap­par­ently Janus-faced Chief Min­is­ter Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Like the Ro­man god Janus that is de­picted with two op­po­site faces, Chouhan too has re­vealed two op­po­site faces. In the com­pany of IAS of­fi­cers he talked like Dr Hide and among BJP work­ers, months later, he played Mr Jekyll vis-a-vis bu­reau­cracy. “I will hang col­lec­tors up­side down if I find that the dis­puted rev­enue cases are pend­ing for more than a month. They will be ren­dered in­ca­pable of col­lec­tor­ship,” roared an an­gry Chouhan while ad­dress­ing BJP state ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing in Bhopal on July 22. The Chief Min­is­ter’s un­char­ac­ter­is­tic

ag­gres­sion pleas­antly sur­prised the party of­fice bear­ers present in the meet­ing. Provo­ca­tion for the un­savoury re­mark came in re­sponse to a query of an of­fice bearer from Damoh dis­trict, who lamented in­or­di­nate de­lay in res­o­lu­tion of rev­enue land-re­lated cases. While the BJP work­ers cheered the CM’s re­mark, it left bureaucrats bit­ter and baf­fled. They re­called how the Chief Min­is­ter had de­scribed Mad­hya Pradesh’s bu­reau­cracy best in In­dia only a few months ago. On De­cem­ber 15, while ad­dress­ing In­dian Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vice (IAS) of­fi­cers at a ser­vice meet in Bhopal, the Chief Min­is­ter was all praise for bureaucrats. He ex­horted them to work fear­lessly with­out both­er­ing for “some dirty peo­ple” among Right to In­for­ma­tion (RTI) ac­tivists. Bureaucrats are di­vided in opin­ions over the Chief Min­is­ter’s threat held out to col­lec­tors. One sec­tion feels it was just a pos­tur­ing to as­suage ruf­fled sen­ti­ments of BJP lead­ers who al­ways have a chip on their shoul­ders against bureaucrats, par­tic­u­larly the ones at field level. “Too much should not be read in the warn­ing as the Chief Min­is­ter was just play­ing to the gallery at the BJP meet,” says a se­nior IAS of­fi­cer who has closely worked with Chouhan over the years. How­ever, a large num­ber of bureaucrats sus­pect grow­ing des­per­a­tion in the Chief Min­is­ter over gov­er­nance deficit which, they think, man­i­fested it­self in his un­usual rant against col­lec­tors. “His ful­mi­na­tion over the de­lay in dis­posal of land re­lated dis­putes was not only in­de­cent but also mis­placed. He is pretty well aware that the de­lay is due to faulty web-based ge­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion sys­tem (GIS) meant to digi­tise the land rev­enue records”.

THE Chief Min­is­ter had as­sured the rev­enue of­fi­cers to get the prob­lem in the Mad­hya Pradesh web ge­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion sys­tem (MPWEBGIS) fixed in the past dur­ing video con­fer­enc­ing, but he has not done so yet. Col­lec­tors are scared of us­ing the MPWEBGIS as scores of com­plaints have sur­faced that un­scrupu­lous peo­ple have ac­cessed lo­gin IDs and pass­words of the web-based por­tals. These uniden­ti­fied scam­mers are abus­ing the ac­cess to tem­per with the land records. In fact, the digi­ti­sa­tion of land records—hailed by the Cen­tre as a ‘game changer’ for farm­ers—could turn out to be just an­other can of worms in Mad­hya Pradesh, where scam­mers have al­legedly con­verted gov­ern­ment land into pri­vate by hack­ing the se­cu­rity code of the land record man­age­ment soft­ware, mint­ing hun­dreds of crores. In some cases, the scam­sters

fal­si­fied records of non-ex­ist­ing land through the por­tal and availed loans from dif­fer­ent banks. Farm­ers of­ten have no clue that loans had been taken by mort­gag­ing their land. In one of the most re­cent cases, Morena col­lec­tor wrote to the com­mis­sion­er­land records (CLR), ex­press­ing se­ri­ous con­cern over “mis­use of the MPWEBGIS por­tal”. “We are get­ting reg­u­lar com­plaints on this por­tal, which shows work­ing on it with­out ad­e­quate se­cu­rity mea­sures is risky,” col­lec­tor Vinod Sharma wrote in his let­ter on June 12 to CLR. Sources say around 225 acres of gov­ern­ment land, worth ` 116 crore, was trans­ferred to pri­vate peo­ple in Gwalior dis­trict. It’s un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by lo­cal po­lice, ac­cord­ing to then Gwalior col­lec­tor San­jay Goyal. Col­lec­tors of Nars­ingh­pur, Harda and sev­eral other dis­tricts have also writ­ten about pos­si­ble hack­ing of the por­tal and fraud­u­lent land trans­fer for procur­ing loans by uniden­ti­fied per­sons.

ON Feb­ru­ary 19, 2013, Mad­hya Pradesh land records and set­tle­ment depart­ment had signed an agree­ment with a lesser­known Haryana-based firm—Bhopal E-Gov­er­nance Com­pany Ltd—in as­so­ci­a­tion with IL&FS Tech­nolo­gies Ltd, Gur­gaon, for “devel­op­ment of an en­ter­prise web-based GIS So­lu­tion for man­ag­ing land records in-bound sched­ule”. It was im­ple­mented in PPP mode in 342 tehsils across 31 dis­tricts. Fear of abuse of the web-based por­tal has dis­suaded col­lec­tors from car­ry­ing out set­tle­ment of land records in their dis­tricts. “In­stead of fix­ing the prob­lem at the gov­ern­ment end, the Chief Min­is­ter chose to blame us and that too in such a foul lan­guage,” a col­lec­tor lamented. Many col­lec­tors had hoped that the Mad­hya Pradesh IAS of­fi­cers as­so­ci­a­tion would at least reg­is­ter a for­mal protest over the Chief Min­is­ter’s re­mark. But the as­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent, Rad­heshyam Ju­la­nia, bailed out the Chief Min­is­ter. “I don’t be­lieve that the CM could have used such a filthy lan­guage. He al­ways speaks in a civilised man­ner,” Ju­la­nia told a lo­cal news­pa­per. For­mer chief sec­re­tary KS Sharma says that even if the Chief Min­is­ter wanted to re­buke the of­fi­cials, his re­mark was not civilised. “Such re­marks only widen rifts be­tween bu­reau­cracy and po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship”. Rev­enue min­is­ter Umshanakar Gupta, how­ever, de­fends the CM’s re­mark, say­ing in­stead of read­ing its lit­eral mean­ing, “peo­ple should ap­pre­ci­ate the sen­ti­ments be­hind it”. Congress sees in the Chief Min­is­ter’s re­mark a sign of his loos­en­ing grip over the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Guna MP Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia said, “Farm­ers are in trou­ble be­cause of the wrong poli­cies of the BJP gov­ern­ment. But the CM is shift­ing the blame on bureaucrats in a bid to es­cape his own re­spon­si­bil­ity.” Leader of Op­po­si­tion in the Assem­bly, Ajay Singh, said the warn­ing was a re­flec­tion of Chouhan’s in­com­pe­tence. So­cial me­dia was abuzz with

Bureaucrats are di­vided in opin­ions over the Chief Min­is­ter’s threat held out to col­lec­tors. One sec­tion feels it was just a pos­tur­ing to as­suage ruf­fled sen­ti­ments of BJP lead­ers who al­ways have a chip on their shoul­ders against bureaucrats, par­tic­u­larly the ones at field level

myr­iad joc­u­lar re­marks and funny pho­to­graphs as re­sponse to the CM’s re­mark. One pho­to­graph sug­gest­ing col­lec­tors hang­ing on the shoul­der of the Chief Min­is­ter like the mytho­log­i­cal char­ac­ter Vikram car­ried Be­tal evoked wide­spread mirth in the so­cial me­dia. It was shared by many col­lec­tors too, though with cau­tious com­ments.

IN pri­vate, both bureaucrats and rul­ing party lead­ers ad­mit grow­ing trust deficit be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and po­lit­i­cal class. In the last two years, hardly a BJP meet­ing went with­out party work­ers and of­fice bear­ers not de­cry­ing ‘ar­bi­trari­ness’ of bureaucrats, par­tic­u­larly at the dis­trict and lower lev­els. The dis­grun­tled in­clude MLAs, MPs and RSS cadre. The state BJP lead­er­ship does not deny this as it suits the party. A nar­ra­tive is be­ing sought to be es­tab­lished in the State that while the Chief Min­is­ter is dili­gently work­ing through his pol­icy ini­tia­tives to im­prove the lot of the peo­ple, the bu­reau­cracy is not as co­op­er­a­tive as it is ex­pected to be. All the blames for poor gov­er­nance, whether in agri­cul­ture, ed­u­ca­tion, law and or­der or women and child devel­op­ment are laid on bu­reau­cracy’s doorsteps. Bureaucrats, on the other hand, counter this nar­ra­tive with their own de­fence. They ad­mit that a sec­tion of bu­reau­cracy from top to bot­tom has in­deed lost the zeal for proac­tive in­no­va­tions, but it is pri­mar­ily due to the Chief Min­is­ter’s re­luc­tance to en­gage all stake­hold­ers in ad­min­is­tra­tion with frank­ness and with­out bias. They feel that Chouhan has al­lowed him­self to be sur­rounded with a co­terie of ad­vis­ers. The co­terie takes de­ci­sions for the Chief Min­is­ter and all oth­ers in the bu­reau­cracy are ex­pected to fol­low with­out ques­tions be­ing asked.

“For in­stance,” a se­nior bu­reau­crat points out, “the farm­ers un­rest could have been han­dled am­i­ca­bly had the Chief Min­is­ter not heeded to the co­terie around him and struck a deal with just one of the farm­ers unions—the Bhar­tiya Kisan Sangh.” This thor­oughly avoid­able de­ci­sion cost him and the State dear as an­gry farm­ers hit the street in de­fi­ance. The Chief Min­is­ter suf­fered a huge loss of face na­tion­wide as farm­ers stir turned vi­o­lent af­ter po­lice fir­ing in Mand­saur, which killed five farm­ers on June 6. The drama that ac­com­pa­nied his 38-hour fast only added to the State gov­ern­ment and rul­ing party’s em­bar­rass­ment. The fi­asco over the farm­ers’ stir was fur­ther com­pounded when the Chief Min­is­ter uni­lat­er­ally an­nounced to buy onion at ` 8 per kg as min­i­mum sup­port price. He did not fac­tor in the acute short­age of stor­age for the pro­cured onion. As a re­sult, a large quan­tity of onion rot­ted for want of stor­ing ca­pac­ity. This short-sighted de­ci­sion spawned mas­sive cor­rup­tion as traders prof­ited hugely. They bought onion cheap from farm­ers and sold to the gov­ern­ment at MSP. The cor­rup­tion in pur­chase, cou­pled with rot­ting of onion, caused dam­age to the gov­ern­ment to the tune of ` 800 crore. “This is one lat­est glar­ing ex­am­ple of gross fis­cal im­pru­dence for which bu­reau­cracy is be­ing wrongly blamed,” a bu­reau­crat as­so­ci­ated with the process of pro­cure­ment lamented. How­ever, the Chief Min­is­ter is un­fazed. “I don’t mind the loss to the gov­ern­ment on this count so long as it helps as­suage suf­fer­ing of the onion grow­ers,” he avers. This pub­lic pos­tur­ing not­with­stand­ing, the Chief Min­is­ter seems to have re­alised that his decade-long rhetoric about mak­ing agri­cul­ture a prof­itable busi­ness has badly floun­dered. He tac­itly ad­mit­ted this when he ex­horted youth in a func­tion to pro­mote skill devel­op­ment in ITIs at Bhopal on June 28. “I ap­peal to youth to fo­cus on train­ing for skills in in­dus­tries for jobs as agri­cul­ture is no longer a prof­itable busi­ness,” he told the par­tic­i­pat­ing youth. Com­ing as it did in the wake of the shoddy han­dling of the farm­ers stir and acute agrar­ian cri­sis in the state, Chouhan’s re­mark took ev­ery­one by sur­prise.

AN­OTHER bu­reau­crat cites the 144-day long Nar­mada Sewa Ya­tra as an­other ex­am­ple of mind­less and waste­ful ex­trav­a­ganza that the Chief Min­is­ter un­der­took with an eye on con­sol­i­dat­ing his vote bank along the bank of the holy river in the State’s 16 dis­tricts. “The ex­er­cise was the Chief Min­is­ter’s brain­child which his ad­vis­ers blindly sup­ported, un­mind­ful of the fact that it will dis­tract the boss from press­ing is­sues of gov­er­nance for a long time on one hand and cause drain of the State ex­che­quer on the other,” the of­fi­cer said. Ac­cord­ing to Congress leader Ajay Singh, the Nar­mada Sewa Ya­tra that in­volved par­tic­i­pa­tion of a large num­ber of BJP ac­tivists and as­sorted groups of sad­hus and celebri­ties from film and sports, cost the gov­ern­ment ` 2,000 crore. “Its pub­lic­ity alone in­curred the gov­ern­ment huge cost as ads were lib­er­ally granted to pub­li­ca­tions from Bhopal to Lon­don,” he al­leges. The Nar­mada Sewa Ya­tra kept the en­tire bu­reau­cracy en­gaged for mo­bil­is­ing crowds at the river banks along the pil­grim­age even as the farm­ers were seething in anger due to gov­ern­ment’s in­ac­tion in en­sur­ing fair price to their ex­ces­sive pro­duce. But the Chief Min­is­ter dis­dain­fully dis­missed the crit­i­cism of the Ya­tra and the cost it en­tailed. Ear­lier, he had ve­he­mently de­fended ex­pen­di­ture of ` 5,000 crore on or­gan­is­ing Simhastha-2016 in Uj­jain, cit­ing def­er­ence to re­li­gious sen­ti­ments of de­vout Hin­dus. Ac­cord­ing to many bureaucrats, the Chief Min­is­ter is un­will­ing to even ac­knowl­edge grim fis­cal con­di­tion of

the State, let alone ad­dress the prob­lem ef­fec­tively. He has a pen­chant to make reck­less an­nounce­ments rang­ing from few crores to sev­eral hun­dred crores in meet­ings of as­sorted com­mu­ni­ties—be it of farm­ers, stu­dents, em­ploy­ees or women. Hav­ing an­nounced schemes, he ex­pects bureaucrats to pool in re­sources for im­ple­ment­ing them. But the prob­lem is that con­cerned de­part­ments have no means to im­ple­ment the an­nounce­ments as they are not pro­vided for in the bud­get. But the Chief Min­is­ter brooks no ob­jec­tions. In video con­fer­enc­ing with of­fi­cers as well as in cab­i­net meet­ings, Chouhan is on record hav­ing warned of­fi­cers to en­sure that his prom­ises are ful­filled, come what may. The Fi­nance Depart­ment is in a quandary as to where to pool in funds to meet the Chief Min­is­ter’s ex­pec­ta­tions. Ev­ery cit­i­zen of Mad­hya Pradesh bears a ‘debt’ of ` 13,853 as the State gov­ern­ment has a li­a­bil­ity of ` 1.11 lakh crore at the be­gin­ning of cur­rent fis­cal (2016-17), ac­cord­ing to the State gov­ern­ment state­ment in the State assem­bly. “The debt of the state gov­ern­ment in­creased to ` 1,11,101.10 crore in March last year from ` 77,413 crore in March 2014,” Fi­nance Min­is­ter Jayant Mal­layya told the assem­bly in the last ses­sion. The Fi­nance Depart­ment sources say the fi­nan­cial con­di­tion will only de­te­ri­o­rate af­ter pro­mul­ga­tion of the GST as the State gov­ern­ment will have lit­tle lee­way for im­pos­ing fur­ther tax to gen­er­ate ad­di­tional rev­enue. In the liquor and pe­tro­leum prod­ucts, which are ex­empt from the GST, the State gov­ern­ment has al­ready reached near sat­u­ra­tion point in tax­a­tion. Petrol and diesel has 27 per cent VAT in Mad­hya Pradesh, which is high­est in In­dia. Also, In­dian Made For­eign Liquor (IMFL) is costli­est in the State in en­tire coun­try. What is worse, say the depart­ment sources, is that the Chouhan gov­ern­ment has no courage to ex­ert pres­sure on the Modi-led gov­ern­ment at the Cen­tre to seek ad­di­tional funds whether it is as re­lief pack­age for farm­ers or for health ser­vice in the Na­tional Ru­ral Health Mis­sion (NHRM). Ad­di­tional Cen­tral aid for nu­tri­tional meals for chil­dren through mid-day meal and an­gan­waris is also in jeop­ardy in the wake of multi-crore scam in dis­tri­bu­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing of nu­tri­tion food. De­spite the Supreme Court or­der and the Chief Min­is­ter’s as­sur­ance to do away with con­tract sys­tem in nu­tri­tion food sup­ply, the old sys­tem is still re­tained due to pow­er­ful nexus of of­fi­cers-politi­cians and con­trac­tors. Since bureaucrats re­spon­si­ble for con­tin­u­ance of the sys­tem are close to the Chief Min­is­ter, no­body has courage to raise ques­tions on the scam. Prox­im­ity with the Chief Min­is­ter has em­bold­ened a sec­tion of the bureaucrats to feel so priv­i­leged that they don’t lis­ten to their re­spec­tive min­is­ters. Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary to the chief min­is­ter, SK Mishra, is, of course, the most pow­er­ful bu­reau­crat. But there are oth­ers too who lever­age their close­ness to the Chief Min­is­ter to push their own agen­das in their re­spec­tive de­part­ments, much to the cha­grin of their min­is­ters.

FOR in­stance, Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary in the Pub­lic Works Depart­ment, Pramod Agrawal, is stay­ing put de­spite protest from min­is­ter Ram­pal Singh. Like­wise, Pan­chayat and Ru­ral Devel­op­ment min­is­ter Gopal Bhar­gava is re­port­edly un­com­fort­able with the work­ing of Ad­di­tional Chief Sec­re­tary Rad­heshyam Ju­la­nia, but can­not do any­thing about it. Woman and Child Devel­op­ment min­is­ter Ar­chana Chit­nis is re­ported to have re­quested more than once the Chief Min­is­ter to shift her depart­ment’s Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary JN Kan­so­tia, but to no avail. In the higher ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment, Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary Ashish Upad­hyay is said to calls the shot at the ex­pense of min­is­ter, Jaib­han Singh Pavaiya. Sus­pended IAS of­fi­cer Shashi Kar­na­vat had in De­cem­ber last year writ­ten a for­mal com­plaint to Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, al­leg­ing that Chief Min­is­ter’s favourite of­fi­cers pos­sess ‘ be­nami’ prop­er­ties worth bil­lions of ru­pees. “While the Chief Min­is­ter is pro­tect­ing such of­fi­cers, the Dalit of­fi­cers are be­ing mis­treated,” she al­leged, cit­ing ex­am­ple of Dalit IAS of­fi­cer Ramesh Thete. Bureaucrats fear they will have to put up with a more ag­gres­sive and prof­li­gate Chouhan in months to come as elec­tion ap­proaches near. While they seem re­signed to bear the pol­i­tick­ing of their po­lit­i­cal mas­ter with for­ti­tude, gov­er­nance is go­ing to be a ma­jor col­lat­eral dam­age.

The digi­ti­sa­tion of land records—hailed by the Cen­tre as a ‘game changer’ for farm­ers—could turn out to be just an­other can of worms in Mad­hya Pradesh, where scam­mers have al­legedly con­verted gov­ern­ment land into pri­vate by hack­ing the se­cu­rity code of the land record man­age­ment soft­ware, mint­ing hun­dreds of crores

Farmer’s stir turned vi­o­lent in Mand­saur

Shivraj Chouhan dur­ing the Nar­mada Ya­tra

Chouhan holds court to hear griev­ances

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