The day opens with two apparently conflicting visuals on two consecutive pages of the morning newspaper: the Chief Minister of the democratically elected Government of West Bengal telling the media that the attack by the hired goons on the Land Eviction Resistance Committee villagers of Nandigram is justified because they have been paid back in their own coin; on the second page of the same newspaper there is a bland and quiet advertisement by the Ministry of Information & Culture, which is also under the same Chief Minister, asking people of Nandigram to go back to their respective homes and commence development work with the help of the local administration and Panchayat.
In course of the last eight months, i.e. after 14th march 2007, when 14 people were killed and several injured in the police firing in Nandigram, the Resistance Committee was holding Nandigram under 'siege' (as per the version of the Left Front) and not allowing local administration to get in. Government, however, did not take any action for bringing the situation under control by either disarming the criminals who had illegal weapons, or bringing about a condition for peaceful commencement of dialogue with people of all political parties. The same Government today, after several people have been killed and injured in an operation on 10th November by a private army (when the police was implicitly instructed to stand by and watch), is requesting people to settle down in their respective households and commence development activities with help of Panchayat and administration. This sounds so unconvincing that does not even make one feel sad. The apparently conflicting scenario of a democratically elected Government refusing to acknowledge their responsibility towards the people who did not vote for them, raises serious issues about the role of the permanent executive or the administration which is working under the political executive. What were the field level officers doing when first of all the Land Eviction Resistance Committee was driving away thousands of CPI(M) cadre out of their village homes? Did they try to reverse the situation with the help of the local political elements who were from the CPI(M) or in case they failed, did they report back to headquarters of the State Government in Kolkata? If none of them did so, do the claims of the Left Front about the 'Homeless' CPI(M) hold good? How did the officers who remained marginalized and bypassed as the private army opened fire on 14th of November react to the situation? How did the Police and Magistracy handle the fact of uniformed CPI(M) cadre camouflaging themselves as armed policemen in a day's mayhem which ended in killing 14 villagers of Nandigram?
While reading The Appu Papers, a collection of writings of Shri P.S. Appu, a distinguished retired officer of Indian Administrative Service recently brought out by Sahitya Samsad, a hypothetical question crossed my mind ' What would Shri Appu had done, how would he have led the State Bureaucracy, if he were the Chief Secretary of the Government at this hour? Stepping down from one's responsibility seems to be the most unacceptable option and I am sure Shri Appu would never have done that. Rather he would have collected his colleagues together and tried to forge a way ahead by influencing the collective conscious of the political executive.
Shri Appu joined the IAS in 1951 in Bihar Cadre and served as Land Reforms Commissioner in the Ministry of Agriculture. He chaired the Planning Commission's Task Force on Land Reforms in 1970'1975 steering major policy changes on agrarian reforms. He was the first Civil Servant to make a public statement that lack of political will stood in the way of bringing out land reforms in India. After serving as Chief Secretary of Bihar, he opted out to join as Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation in the Government of India. In his letter to the then Chief Minister of Bihar, Shri Appu had clearly outlined the Government's failure to stem the rot in the political system, the growing criminalization and declining morale of the bureaucracy and the ensuing uncontrollable chaos as his reasons for opting out. I was fortunate enough to be trained as a probationer in the National Academy of Administration in the year 1980 when I was selected for the Indian Administrative Service, by Shri Appu who was then the Director of the National Academy. His resignation from service prematurely on a matter of principle as Director of the Academy had sent ripples through the Union Ministry and the entire bureaucracy and has left a lasting impact on our minds till date. Uncompromising, with great clarity of mind combined with erudition, Shri Appu was an admirable example of courage and principle. As a senior colleague, he was a true leader orienting his juniors towards a pro-people accountable and transparent public service delivery system.
The volume is a mixed genre containing letters and articles by Shri P.S. Appu and notes and articles written on him. The writings on Development are under three broad sections ' Alleviation of poverty in India, Agrarian Structure and Rural Development; the 6th Plan Strategy and its appraisal. Many of these issues and ideas are not on the surface today. After globalization has stabilized in India, discussion of poverty and its alleviation has been marginalized. The poor and their future are almost non-issues, even in development discussions. The Administrative Reforms for agrarian change where West Bengal and Kerala led the brigade have been sidelined in a context where even registered sharecroppers are not acknowledged as rightful candidates for compensation of land acquisition and industries can straightaway bargain for land from owner-farmers with Panchayats looking on.
In terms of planned development, we have moved into the 11th Plan in the current year and despite the fact of increasingly larger Plan allocation, India's growth rate of 8% is no more attributed to the planned economic development. When I read these writings today, I go back to a time where there was a clear ideology, at least in some sections of the bureaucracy, about redistributive justice and a participatory economic system. The global corporate India has dazzled us so much in the post 1990s, that the market has been accepted as the panacea for all problems. The reader is also enlightened by an ever alert mind of an extremely bright practicing Development Economist, who was keen to share his observations on prevailing realities with his readers. There are many of us who do not consider sharing of academic and development related ideas a priority any more. Most of us have over time lost the ability to focus, analyze and express ourselves in matters of public concern.
The volume also has a number of short articles where Shri Appu has written on Indianisation of Hindutva, corruption & criminalization, need for reforms in the public service's decline, de-basement and destruction of All India Service. In these articles he has covered important issues like Constitutional propriety and the President's role, the issues of administrative failure in Gujrat during 2002 riots and the need for strengthening the institutions which contribute to better governance of the country. The reader can consider herself fortunate because, over and above papers by Shri Appu, the volume has three very important civil servants writing the Foreword, the Introduction and the Preface. The Foreword of the Book has been written by Shri J.N. Lyngdoh, former Chief Election Commissioner who had served with Shri Appu in Bihar in 1962, the Introduction by Shri A.R. Bandyopadhyay, former Additional Chief Secretary (AR), Government of India. The collection has been made possible by the able editing and contribution of Shri Pradip Bhattacharya, an International HRD Fellow and Additional Chief Secretary, Development & Planning Department of Government of West Bengal. Inclusion of these three distinguished civil servants as contributors is a statement on the kind of people Shri Appu would have related himself to ' individuals to whom their junior colleagues can look up in terms of integrity, straightforwardness and commitment to public service. For those of us who belong to 1980 batch of IAS and have been fortunate enough to be in the National Academy and being trained by Shri Appu, reading the volume brings back recollection of the days where we were full of dreams and hopes about our own ability to make a difference in the people's life through our work. Reproduction of the piece written by Shri S.C. Vaish, the then Joint Director of the Academy, in the Academy Sandesh, makes one feel nostalgic and reminds one of the tremendous impact Shri Appu had as a Director of the Academy on his Probationers.
'While he was here at the Academy, we felt the impact of his presence in every aspect of life. His departure from Mussoorie generated a debate in Press and Parliament, about which you are all aware. He proceeded on leave preparatory to retirement on 1st March, 1982. He had tried to foster the values of professional competence, political neutrality, total integrity and service to the poor. He never minced words in support of these values. He left a little sad when he found these values were not supported. His parting remark to the faculty was 'I leave to you the bricks and mortars of this Academy.'
Coming back to the Nandigram issue with which I began, I would like to highlight the following extract from Shri Appu's 'The All India Services ' Decline, Debasement and Destruction' which contains his ideas on rejuvenating the All India Services.
'I have discussed at some length the decline and degeneration of the All India Services. The bureaucracy is not an autonomous institution. It is an integral part of the polity. Therefore, any serious attempt to rejuvenate the All India Services should be preceded by the curing of the ills in the body politic'.An important development during the last three decades has been the growth of a malignant syndrome embodying pervasive corruption, criminalization and electoral malpractice. The noxious socio-political environment facilitated the emergence of high profile, cynical politicians with no faith in the Constitution, the laws of the land and the basic tenets of democracy. They look upon electoral victory as license to abuse power, help cronies and amass huge fortunes. The total absence of transparency and accountability in our system facilitated these tragic developments.
The need of the hour is to push through a package of reforms inclusive of thorough-going political and electoral reforms, drastic devolution of powers as envisaged in the 73rd and 74th Amendment to the Constitution, transparency in the management of public affairs and strict enforcement of accountability at all levels. There is little hope of all these things happening in the near future. Only the generation of intense public pressure can lead to the necessary reforms being introduced.'
I would recommend this refreshing book to all members of the Civil Service in the country and also to young readers who think of connecting to the underprivileged Indian people though delivery of public service in all its manifestation.