Cen­tre-state war may de­stroy the ex­ec­u­tive

Deccan Chronicle - - Edit - Pa­van K. Varma The writer, an au­thor and for­mer diplo­mat, is a mem­ber of the JD(U). The views ex­pressed are per­sonal.

Sar­dar Pa­tel is cred­ited with cre­at­ing the “steel frame” of In­dia, which was an all-In­dia bu­reau­cratic struc­ture. Such a struc­ture, which in­cluded what are called all In­dia ser­vices, such as the In­dian Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vice (IAS), and the In­dian Po­lice Ser­vice (IPS), was ex­pected to be im­par­tial, be­yond par­ti­san pol­i­tics, and guided by a code of con­duct that en­sured neu­tral­ity and ad­min­is­tra­tive ef­fec­tive­ness. Gov­ern­ments may come and gov­ern­ments may go, but the steel frame was the bi-par­ti­san ex­ec­u­tive con­ti­nu­ity of the busi­ness of gov­ern­ment. It was con­ceived as the ex­ec­u­tive bedrock, im­mune to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, con­tin­u­ing in per­pe­tu­ity, even if po­lit­i­cal par­ties, and the gov­ern­ments formed by them, lost or won at the hus­tings.

But Sar­dar Pa­tel prob­a­bly did not vi­su­alise what hap­pened re­cently in Kolkata, where a se­nior IPS of­fi­cer was “shielded” by the state gov­ern­ment, led by the feisty Ma­mata Ban­er­jee, from be­ing ar­rested by a team of the Cen­tral Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (CBI). It was a clas­sic case of the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment be­ing at log­ger­heads with the state gov­ern­ment in an all-out po­lit­i­cal slugfest, where the col­lat­eral dam­age was clearly the ero­sion of some of the fun­da­men­tal premises on which the “steel frame” of In­dia was built.

The crux of the prob­lem is that in con­ceiv­ing the civil ser­vices in the man­ner that they ex­ist to­day, Sar­dar Pa­tel had ac­cepted that of­fi­cers will be su­per­vised at the dual level of both the Cen­tre and the state. When they are posted as part of the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment they will fol­low the di­rec­tive of the con­trol­ling au­thor­ity in Delhi, and when they are posted in states, they will be sub­stan­tially un­der the au­thor­ity of the state gov­ern­ment.

In the case of Ra­jeev Ku­mar, the po­lice of­fi­cer in the eye of the Kolkata storm, he is, as the po­lice com­mis­sioner of Kolkata, an­swer­able to the Chief Min­is­ter, but his cadre con­trol­ling au­thor­ity is the cen­tral min­istry of home af­fairs. There is, as en­vis­aged, an over­lap with re­gard to whom he re­ports in his cur­rent avatar, and who is re­spon­si­ble for his over­all con­duct in terms of his be­ing a mem­ber of an all-In­dia ser­vice. It is this du­al­ity that en­abled Ms Ban­er­jee to pre­vent his “sur­ren­der” to the CBI. And, it is this du­al­ity, too, that has now prompted the Union home min­istry to take ac­tion against Mr Ku­mar and other po­lice of­fi­cers serv­ing in West Ben­gal, in­clud­ing the di­rec­tor-gen­eral of po­lice, un­der sev­eral rules of the All In­dia Ser­vices (AIS), 1968. This ac­tion could in­clude re­mov­ing the “delin­quent of­fi­cers” from the em­pan­el­ment list, which would bar them from serv­ing at the Cen­tre, and with­draw­ing medals or dec­o­ra­tion con­ferred on them for mer­i­to­ri­ous ser­vices.

The Cen­tral gov­ern­ment also took this mat­ter to the Supreme Court (SC). In a ju­di­cial di­rec­tive that plays a fine bal­anc­ing act be­tween the pre­rog­a­tives of the CBI, the Cen­tral in­ves­ti­gat­ing agency, and the state gov­ern­ment, the SC di­rected that Mr Ku­mar could be ques­tioned for his al­leged non-co­op­er­a­tion against the guilty in the chit fund scam, but he could not be ar­rested, and that the in­ter­ro­ga­tion would be in a “neu­tral” place — which was nei­ther Delhi nor Kolkata, but Shil­long. The SC’s di­rec­tive was hailed as a vic­tory by both the op­pos­ing sides — the BJP and Ms Ban­er­jee. But this is far from be­ing the end of the story.

The crux of the mat­ter is not an im­me­di­ate so­lu­tion to this in­ci­dent but the far more se­ri­ous is­sue of Cen­tre-state re­la­tions where of­fi­cers of the all-In­dia ser­vices are con­cerned. The “steel frame” de­vised by Sar­dar Pa­tel was premised on a co­op­er­a­tive in­ter­face be­tween the Cen­tral and state gov­ern­ments. But if that co­op­er­a­tion ceases, the en­tire sys­tem is likely to be jeop­ar­dised. If, for in­stance, state gov­ern­ments be­gin to doubt the bona fides of the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment with re­gard to ac­tion against al­lIn­dia of­fi­cers, and re­fuses to co­op­er­ate in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of ex­ist­ing ser­vice pro­ce­dures, the con­se­quences can be very se­ri­ous. Of­fi­cers of the all-In­dia ser­vices serv­ing in their states could, with the back­ing of the state chief min­is­ter, ig­nore the di­rec­tives of the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment in its ca­pac­ity as the cadre con­trol­ling au­thor­ity. Since state gov­ern­ments are of­ten ruled by po­lit­i­cal par­ties who are in op­po­si­tion to the party at the Cen­tre, such po­lit­i­cal con­fronta­tions could pro­lif­er­ate, and there could be many more Ra­jeev Ku­mars caught in the en­su­ing po­lit­i­cal bat­tles. One very dele­te­ri­ous con­se­quence could be the fur­ther politi­ci­sa­tion of the bu­reau­cracy, with of­fi­cers on dep­u­ta­tion to the cen­tre or serv­ing in the states, de­cid­ing to jet­ti­son their manda­tory po­lit­i­cal neu­tral­ity in favour of open par­ti­san­ship with po­lit­i­cal par­ties, ei­ther at the cen­tre or in the states.

In the case of the IPS, the sit­u­a­tion is fur­ther com­pli­cated be­cause “po­lice” and “pub­lic or­der” are in the State list un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion, and not in the Con­cur­rent list. This could fur­ther bol­ster the claim of rul­ing par­ties in the states to re­sist any “en­croach­ment” of their ju­ris­dic­tion by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. What hap­pens then in crimes that are not re­stricted only to one state, and have in­ter-state im­pli­ca­tions? The chit fund scam is a case in point. It has a foot­print across sev­eral states. This mas­sive ponzi scheme has de­frauded some 17 lakh in­vestors to the tune of `3,500 crores. In­ves­ti­ga­tions have to car­ried out in states, but the des­ig­nated in­ves­ti­gat­ing agency is a cen­tral one, the CBI. The vic­tims are cry­ing out for jus­tice, but the in­ves­ti­ga­tion has be­come a foot­ball be­ing kicked around as po­lit­i­cal par­ties at the cen­tre and the state fight out their po­lit­i­cal bat­tles.

The fact of the mat­ter is that the “steel frame”, like many other in­sti­tu­tions in the fed­eral polity that is our repub­lic, rests on the foun­da­tion of trust be­tween the Cen­tre and the states. If the trust deficit be­comes too wide, in­sti­tu­tions of this na­ture will fall through the gap. In the po­lit­i­cal ca­coph­ony of the world’s largest democ­racy, and the pres­sures that build up as po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­come more ac­ri­mo­nious with gen­eral elections ap­proach­ing, we need to be very care­ful about what the col­lat­eral dam­age is to the time-tested in­sti­tu­tions that have al­ways safe­guarded our na­tion.

Pa­tel did not en­vis­age what hap­pened in Kolkata, where a se­nior IPS of­fi­cer was “shielded” by the Ma­mata Ban­er­jee-led state gov­ern­ment from be­ing ar­rested by a team of the CBI

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