‘Govt should re­de­fine its role’

Business Standard - - DEMOCRACY AT WORK -

Any civil ser­vant’s most for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence is his work as District Mag­is­trate (DM)…

I was posted as DM at Lakhim­pur Kheri in UP – 150 kms north of Luc­know, on the In­di­aNepal border. I served in just one district for my en­tire term and ev­ery­thing that could hap­pen in a district, hap­pened there: An 18-hour en­counter with Sikh in­sur­gents in which we shot down five ter­ror­ists; the Babri Masjid ag­i­ta­tion; floods; and the farmer ag­i­ta­tion led by Mahin­der Singh Tikait… I was so for­tu­nate to have a re­ally able team.

The elec­tions went ab­so­lutely smoothly. Those were the days of T N Se­shan when he was try­ing to cor­rect the process of elec­tions. We did not have the elec­tronic vot­ing ma­chines (EVMs) then. Then the Man­dal ag­i­ta­tion broke out and young peo­ple got all fired up with­out hav­ing read the re­port. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion was chal­leng­ing, but I man­aged to pre­vent ru­mours from spread­ing.

Dur­ing the Babri Masjid ag­i­ta­tion, I put be­hind bars, the district head of rul­ing party. So we didn’t have to im­pose cur­few in that district like else­where in the state.

Can ri­ots be con­trolled?

I am con­vinced, af­ter a 38-year ca­reer, that if the gov­ern­ment means busi­ness, it can con­trol ri­ots. There is a price to be paid. Once you con­vey — and we call it Iqbal in Urdu — this be­lief to the peo­ple that you won’t al­low ri­ot­ing and if peo­ple have faith in the gov­ern­ment, then chances of ri­ots break­ing out, law and or­der go­ing out of hand, are much lower.

That brings me to some of the re­cent events in Ut­tar Pradesh. I am aghast that they are al­lowed to hap­pen — not at what some politi­cians did but what some civil ser­vants did. It is their job to see that rule of law is up­held, re­gard­less of fear of be­ing trans­ferred. For me trans­fer is like death, in­evitable for a civil ser­vant. In Hindu phi­los­o­phy, you are born again. You are not thrown out of ser­vice. You can con­tinue work the way you want to work. You are do­ing dis­ser­vice to your own self, so­ci­ety and to the na­tion if you are not do­ing what you think is right. If you are do­ing what some­one else thinks is right, then you will be in trou­ble, the so­ci­ety and ev­ery­one else.

That’s what hap­pened in Lakhim­pur Kheri. Peo­ple got a mes­sage that ir­re­spec­tive of po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions, you can go be­hind bars if you do wrong. That’s where the prob­lem is now. Be­cause of cer­tain po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions and prob­a­bly try­ing to avoid trans­fer, we take de­ci­sions that we shouldn’t take.

But if you take de­ci­sions you are also liable to be pun­ished, even if you have taken the rights ones. H C Gupta’s is a case in point. Gupta’s case is to­tally dif­fer­ent. He got caught in po­lit­i­cal cross­fire. The good news is that be­cause of trans­parency and a very alert me­dia, it is very dif­fi­cult to do wrong — be­cause the chances of you get­ting caught are very high. To­day, hon­esty is not just the best pol­icy but it is the most prac­ti­cal pol­icy. Gupta’s case was very dif­fer­ent. He was pun­ished for a fault he hadn’t com­mit­ted.

When a bu­reau­crat is caught in po­lit­i­cal cross fire, what do you do?

Your rep­u­ta­tion helps you. There are large num­ber of civil ser­vants who have gone be­hind the bar and no one is fight­ing for them. Gupta’s bat­tle is be­ing fought by many peo­ple. And the fact that he is not be­hind the bars and the en­tire civil ser­vice is back­ing him is be­cause of his rep­u­ta­tion. What hap­pened with him is sad. But if you have a pos­i­tive rep­u­ta­tion, peo­ple will help you, talk good about you.

In the coal min­istry that you have helmed, could what hap­pened to Gupta, hap­pen again?

It can but it will be dif­fi­cult now.

One — the re­ac­tion to Gupta’s case. Sec­ond, con­se­quent to Gupta’s case, Sec­tion 31d(3), un­der which he was held has been ab­ro­gated. The judg­ment says there was nei­ther an al­le­ga­tion nor proof of any quid pro quo. Yet be­cause this sec­tion ex­isted, he was held liable. To­day in a sim­i­lar case, no one would be held liable. That’s the ad­van­tage of be­ing hon­est. He has suf­fered but the fu­ture gen­er­a­tion stands to ben­e­fit.

In the coal sec­tor, things are not mov­ing as fast as be­fore. Af­ter a high of the coal auc­tion, move­ment is sub­dued. Why?

There was a mo­men­tum built in 2014-16. The coal story (high pro­duc­tion not auc­tion) hap­pened be­cause the team di­ag­nosed the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem ac­cu­rately. The prob­lem was not scams but a short­age of coal — as there were prob­lems in get­ting land, for­est, en­vi­ron­ment clear­ance and rail rakes. We tried to ad­dress this. We didn’t med­dle with Coal In­dia — just fa­cil­i­tated things for them such as land clear­ance. They are very solid peo­ple. There are is­sues which a sec­re­tary can ad­dress by reach­ing out to the states. So the gov­ern­ment of In­dia can help but should not mon­i­tor Coal In­dia.

Sec­ond, all the ac­tion was hap­pen­ing in the states. So I held all the meet­ings with the state ad­min­is­tra­tion in their state.

Third, if you don’t have a head of an or­gan­i­sa­tion, how do you ex­pect strate­gic de­ci­sions to be taken? Coal In­dia was left with­out a chair­man for a year. So the mo­men­tum was lost. Now they have a CMD and he’s a very good of­fi­cer so now you will see mo­men­tum build­ing up but it will take time.

In those one and a half years, min­istry started im­pos­ing it­self on Coal In­dia. I have heard of let­ters be­ing writ­ten to Coal In­dia. If let­ters could im­prove coal pro­duc­tion in the coun­try, there would never be any prob­lem.

You have been vo­cal about en­ergy schemes, Ujwal DISCOM As­sur­ance Yo­jana (UDAY) es­pe­cially. What do you think went wrong there?

Peo­ple talk of the Gu­jarat model and one model in that state that should have been repli­cated across the coun­try is power re­forms. Gu­jarat was turned around by the then Chief Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi through a spe­cific strat­egy. You needed to pair good per­form­ing states with un­der per­form­ing ones so they can learn bet­ter prac­tises.

So it failed ?

UDAY didn’t travel the dis­tance it should have. Some fi­nan­cial ar­range­ment hap­pened, mi­nor im­prove­ment here and there but didn’t cre­ate the im­pact that it should have. Now there will be se­ri­ous cri­sis in power sec­tor.

How do you judge this gov­ern­ment’s per­for­mance as a whole?

I can’t pass a gen­eral judge­ment. Look at who was man­ning which min­istry. Look at how coal,

swach­hta ab­hiyan worked in tan­dem with the state gov­ern­ments, and how Ayush­man Bharat is evolv­ing in tan­dem with the state gov­ern­ments. Where bu­reau­cra­cies en­gaged with state gov­ern­ments, it suc­ceeded. The same en­gage­ment was needed in the power sec­tor.

You moved to ed­u­ca­tion as sec­re­tary. That re­quires in­tense en­gage­ment with states…

My ear­lier ex­pe­ri­ence in the Project Man­age­ment Group (PMG) and coal helped me. I was the most un­e­d­u­cated ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary. I was the fifth sec­re­tary for that depart­ment in first two and a half years of this gov­ern­ment. What came in handy was my un­der­stand­ing of mafia — in both the coal and the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor. And they are worse in ed­u­ca­tion.

Is this why this gov­ern­ment hasn’t done much?

Why this gov­ern­ment, no gov­ern­ment is both­ered much about ed­u­ca­tion. We tried some fun­da­men­tal work than make an­nounce­ments or head­lines. Teach­ers are the pivot for the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem in school ed­u­ca­tion. There are around 16,000 BEd and DElEd. col­leges in this coun­try — 4,000 of them do not ex­ist but still they can give you a de­gree and if you pay them more, a job as well. We started ac­tion against them. It is sad I could not de­fend the then chair­man of Na­tional Coun­cil for Teacher Ed­u­ca­tion. But they went to court, a lot stay or­ders were is­sued, so many high courts got into it. The gov­ern­ment took a very fun­da­men­tal de­ci­sion of in­creas­ing the ten­ure of BEd course to four years from two years. So now, all these farzi col­leges will have to re-reg­is­ter and then they can be iden­ti­fied

So it is like de­mon­eti­sa­tion in ed­u­ca­tion? You can call it de­mon­eti­sa­tion but a pos­i­tive one. The coun­try doesn’t re­quire an­other ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy. What it needs is a clear cut ac­tion plan.

So, what is ef­fec­tive — more gover­nance, less gov­ern­ment or oth­er­wise?

This is all jar­gon. I don’t think gov­ern­ment should leave but it should re­de­fine its role. It should not do things it does not need to do. Coal In­dia is a clas­sic ex­am­ple.

What do you tell young civil ser­vant as­pi­rants when you meet them?

I tell them to have clar­ity about what they want. Once they know what they want, they must do what they think is right — not what oth­ers tell them. They must know what they are do­ing and take re­spon­si­bil­ity for it.

Anil Swarup, for­mer coal sec­re­tary, tells Shreya Jai In­dian bu­reau­crats can achieve a lot if they are not afraid of fac­ing the con­se­quences of their ac­tions. Edited ex­cerpts:

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