A professionally competent and politically neutral bureaucracy is a sine qua non for the smooth and efficient functioning of a democratic polity. Thanks to the foresight and vision of the founding fathers, our Constitution provided the framework for a splendid administrative structure. The All India Services, particularly the IAS and the IPS, constitute the very core of India's administrative fabric. These Services owe their establishment to the vision and determination of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. He hoped that with the ironclad guarantees incorporated in the Constitution, the Services would resolutely stand by the Constitution and the law even under the most trying circumstances. He also expected that they would play a pivotal role in holding together a country of great disparities and diversity and provide a uniformly high standard of administration at the Centre and all the States. For some two decades the All India Services, by and large, functioned as envisaged by the founding fathers. Then the decline started, first slowly, and later at an accelerated pace. The nadir was reached in Gujarat in recent weeks. The IAS and IPS have been laid prostrate. The once superb administrative structure lies in ruins, reduced to a shambles. Evidently these Services no longer serve the purpose for which they were established.
In this paper I shall describe the process of decline and the causes for the degeneration. I shall discuss at some length the developments in Bihar and then briefly deal with the country as a whole.
It was our singular good fortune that a number of able leaders, who had a clear understanding of the tenets of democratic governance and could distinguish between right and wrong, became ministers both at the Centre and in the States when India became independent. Some of them had a hand in shaping the Constitution. They all had a clear understanding of the proper role of ministers and top civil servants in a parliamentary democracy. By and large, civil servants gave frank, fearless and well-considered advice. Ministers took decisions bearing in mind the advice that the civil servants gave. Where the Minister did not agree with the Secretary, the former would record his reasons and overrule the Secretary. However, such instances were few. It was well understood that the Minister was responsible for making policy, the civil servant's role being restricted to tendering advice. Implementation was the domain of civil servants and ministers seldom interfered with implementation. The system worked smoothly with reasonable efficiency. I had no personal experience of the functioning of the Central Government in those days. But I had the opportunity to watch from inside the working of the Bihar Administration. I shall briefly describe how that administration functioned in the decade of the 'fifties of the last century.
I joined the IAS in 1951 and I was allotted to the Bihar Cadre. After a few months' training in Delhi I reached Bihar in January 1952. During the next ten years I held charge of two sub-divisions, spent three years in the Home Department, first as Under Secretary and then as Deputy Secretary, working directly under the Chief Secretary. From 1958 I was Collector of Darbhanga for some two and a half years. During my first ten years in Bihar the state administration was in fine fettle, functioning smoothly and efficiently. That was the administration which the distinguished professor of Public Administration Paul Appleby assessed as one of the twelve best in the world. I witnessed the gradual decline of that administration during the period 1962-1970 when I worked as Secretary to Government, first in the Health Department and then in the Finance Department. From 1970 to 1975 I was on deputation to the Government of India. In August 1975 I returned to Bihar. The Administration had degenerated further when I was away in Delhi. My second spell lasted about three years. During that period I held in succession the posts of Finance Commissioner, Resource Commissioner and Chief Secretary. Despite my best efforts I did not succeed in making much improvement during my tenure as Chief Secretary. I left Bihar finally in 1978. During the next two decades Bihar acquired the reputation of being one of the worst administered in the country.
Period of good governance and modest progress
Bihar was a stronghold of the Indian National Congress before independence. After independence the Congress continued to be the dominant party and it ruled the state for two decades without break. Group rivalry rooted in caste conflict was a significant feature of the Congress party in Bihar before and after independence. The implacable antagonism between the two dominant upper castes of Bhumihars and Rajputs was at the core of the infighting in the Party. Chief Minister, Srikrishna Sinha, a Bhumihar, had wide support in the party cutting across caste lines. Next only to Rajendra Prasad, he was the tallest leader and he did not depend on other ministers and legislators for his survival. His rival, Anugrah Narayan Sinha, a Rajput, was decidedly number two in the Cabinet. He enjoyed wide support among Rajputs. A few leaders of other castes also supported him. But he was in no position to challenge the Chief Minister. Furthermore, both men had worked together for decades in the freedom struggle, and both had imbibed the values of the national movement. They respected each other and so they could carry on for a decade without rocking the boat too much.
L.P. Singh of the ICS was the Chief Secretary. He enjoyed the trust and confidence of both the Chief Minister and the Finance Minister. Singh was a brilliant administrator, extremely hardworking and dedicated. He was an excellent team leader who had the knack of getting the best out of his team. The Chief Secretary was the nodal point of the administration. He was also the Secretary to the Council of Ministers. All important cases had to go to the Cabinet. The Chief Minister's approval had to be obtained through the Chief Secretary for including any item in the agenda for the cabinet meeting. The Rules of Executive Business framed under Art.166 of the Constitution contained certain provisions calculated to ensure that every department would maintain a uniformly high standard. The first one was a rule laying down that certain cases which need not go to the cabinet, but were otherwise important, should be put up to the Chief Minister through the Chief Secretary after the minister had passed orders. The second one was a rule requiring the Secretary of the Department to submit to the Chief Secretary the files in which the Minister's orders were not in conformity with the law or the accepted policy of the Government. The Chief Secretary had also the power to call for any file suo motu and, where necessary, advise the Chief Minister to overrule the minister. I had seen a few cases in which the Chief Secretary intervened to get unusual orders reversed. Though some ministers resented the practice, they never protested. For the Chief Minister's pre-eminence was unchallenged. He was much more than first among equals. In later years when Chief Ministers lost their primacy, those very rules proved to be of no avail in reining in wayward ministers.
That was the state of affairs when Paul Appleby visited Bihar in the early nineteen fifties. He found the administration functioning as it should in a parliamentary democracy. The Chief Minister and his colleagues concerned themselves with policy, which was invariably decided on the free and frank advice of the Chief Secretary and his colleagues. Implementation was left entirely to the bureaucracy and ministers seldom interfered. I know from personal experience that even junior officers like Under Secretaries and Deputy Secretaries enjoyed complete freedom to express their views without any inhibition. So the actual practice approximated the ideal envisaged by Sardar Patel in his speech in the Constituent Assembly on October 10, 1949. The Sardar had said, 'Today my Secretary can write a note opposed to my view. I have given that freedom to all my Secretaries. I have told them that if they do not give their honest opinion fearing that it will displease the minister, they should better go. I will find another Secretary.' Though there were exceptions where civil servants behaved as sycophants, the majority functioned as expected by Sardar Patel. Unfortunately the idyllic state of affairs did not last long.
Both Srikrishna Sinha and Anugrah Narayan Sinha were old men in failing health. The followers of both the leaders strongly felt that the issue of succession should be settled when they were alive. In the General Election of 1957 the Congress was returned with a decisive majority. The followers of Anugrah Narayan Sinha persuaded him to challenge Srikrishna Sinha for the leadership of the Congress Party. The canvassing by the rival groups soon degenerated into a vicious campaign in which they resorted to all manner of foul means, including the promise of office and bribery. Srikrishna Sinha won by a handsome margin, but irreparable damage had been done to the political process in Bihar. The politics of consensus and conciliation gave way to the politics of confrontation and intrigue. The Chief Minister was obliged to fulfill the promises made on the eve of the contest. A number of supporters, including a few non-entities, were appointed Deputy Ministers. They had little power; yet, they soon started interfering in administration, particularly in postings and transfers. L.P. Singh had already joined the Central Government. M.S. Rao, also of the ICS, had succeeded him. Able, upright and experienced, Rao proved to be an efficient Chief Secretary. He did not, however, have the kind of close rapport that L.P. Singh had with the Chief Minister. Moreover, in his declining years Srikrishna Sinha came under the influence of a small coterie of self-seekers. Bihar's administration started to decline slowly. Yet, when the Chief Secretary or some other senior officer brought an improper decision to the Chief Minister's notice, he would intervene and set things right. I remember instances in which Sri Babu rebuked Deputy Ministers who tried to interfere with the power of the Heads of Departments, particularly in the matter of postings and transfers.
I left the Secretariat in the middle of 1958 and worked as Collector of Darbhanga till the end of 1960. Throughout my tenure as Collector I could discharge my duties without any interference by ministers, legislators and other public men. When the District Boards were superseded and put under the Collector's charge, a couple of Deputy Ministers tried to influence me in the postings and transfers of District Board doctors. I told them politely but firmly that I would not accede to their requests. That was the end of the matter.
I could also extend effective protection to upright officers who happened to displease powerful politicians. That was possible mainly because a man like Sri Babu was the Chief Minister. I shall narrate briefly two instances to prove this point. The Maharaja of Darbhanga owned two sugar mills in the district. There were two rival labour unions, one of the Congress and the other of the Socialist Party. The intense rivalry and bickering between the two unions often led to violence and breach of the peace Both the Subdivisional. Officer and the Deputy Superintendent of Police were upright men. I had assured them of my support as long as they acted firmly and impartially. When the local Congressmen failed in their efforts to influence the officers, the politicians started a vicious campaign against them. They complained to the Labour Minister and the Chief Minister. The Labour Minister visited Darbhanga and after looking into the matter told me that he felt that the SDO and DSP had been partial to the Socialist Union. He did not accept my assessment. The Congress leaders intensified their campaign against the officers. A few days later the Chief Minister came to Darbhanga. He looked grim and visibly angry. When we were alone in the Circuit House I asked him why he was angry and what had upset him. He said that it disturbed him that his young officers were favouring parties opposed to the Congress. I narrated the facts and requested him not to reach any conclusion without looking into the matter personally. Suddenly he became relaxed. The tension was gone. He laughed loudly and assured me that there was no question of his reaching a conclusion in haste. In due course, after thorough examination Government came to the conclusion that the officers had acted correctly.
There was a Union Deputy Minister who was rather self-opinionated and was also a bully. He would visit his constituency three or four times in the year and spend several days there. He was in the habit of humiliating in public the Block Development Officers and their staff. Once he made a frivolous complaint against a BDO. He wanted me to place the officer under suspension forthwith. I told him politely that I would look into the matter and send a report to Government. He was not at all satisfied. On inquiring into the matter I found that the officer had not been at fault. I sent a report to Government explaining the facts. The upshot was that the Chief Minister gave a dressing down to the Deputy Minister. Thereafter for several months the Deputy Minister did not visit his constituency. When he came later he behaved normally.
I shall narrate one more small incident. The Chief Minister was scheduled to open a new Community Development Block in Madhubani Subdivision. A local leader of the Congress organized a luncheon in honour of the Chief Minister. He invited all senior officers also to the lunch. He was a muscleman and bully and often he used to terrorize the people. When he came to invite me I told him politely that I would not be able to attend. I discussed the matter with the Commissioner. He told me that he would accompany the Chief Minister. He added that if I had serious reservations I should myself speak to the Chief Minister. Accordingly, I spoke to the Chief Minister. I told him why I would not attend the lunch. The Chief Minister replied that I was free to act as I liked. He added that he did not have a choice. For, as a politician he was often required to associate with all manners of people including some undesirable elements. Looking back I am convinced that it was the presence of a man like Sri Babu at the helm of affairs that enabled officers of my vintage to act impartially and fearlessly. We could effectively deal with wrong doers even if they enjoyed political patronage. The personality of the Chief Minister is the most important factor preserving the administration of a state in good condition.
During that period an administrative structure penetrating deep into the countryside was established. The community development programme was implemented with vigour. Natural calamities were handled with competence, communal peace was ensured and law and order was maintained with a firm hand. It has, however, to be conceded that institutional reforms, social justice and democratic decentralization did not get the required priority. Though a good beginning had been made in primary education, the tempo could not be maintained. Yet, on the whole, Bihar remained a well-administered State. Young officers like me could look forward to the future with confidence, hope and optimism.
Onset of decline and degeneration
In December 1960 I returned to the Secretariat as Joint Secretary in the Finance Department. Sri Babu died soon after my return to Patna. His successors were first Binodanand Jha and then Krishna Ballabh Sahay. Neither of them had a large personal following. Their survival depended on the continued support of powerful group leaders. Neither enjoyed the prestige or authority of Sri Babu. They could not rein in wayward ministers. Civil servants began aligning themselves with individual ministers.
I was Health Secretary for about five years from mid-1962 to mid-1967. Thereafter I worked as Finance Secretary for two and a half years from mid-1967 to the end of 1969. Harinath Mishra was the Minister when I joined the Health Department. A couple of years later Abdul Qayum Ansari succeeded him. Indiscipline was rampant in the Health Department. Intense lobbying to secure plum postings was the order of the day. Ministers, legislators, bureaucrats and other influential people openly pleaded the cause of their proteges. Hari Nath Mishra was an honest politician. He approved my proposals to bring about some system and objectivity in postings and transfers and put an end to lobbying. But those efforts met with only limited success. Though Mishra was well meaning, he could not resist the pressure from influential politicians. During Ansari's regime things took a turn for the worse. Doctors succeeded in getting desired postings by resorting to bribery. On the eve of the General Election of 1967 the Minister sent down over one hundred transfer orders from his camp office. Many orders violated the guidelines. More than one doctor was posted to the same place and in some cases the same doctor was posted to more than one place. If the Minister's orders were implemented the result would have been utter confusion and further demoralization. I refused to carry out the orders and reported the matter to the Chief Minister through Chief Secretary. Chief Secretary supported me and the Chief Minister decided that the Minister's orders should not be implemented. All the doctors who had paid money were naturally unhappy. The rumour was that in the beginning the cost of securing a favourable order was Rs.5000 to Rs.10, 000. As the election approached and it was felt that the Congress would be defeated, the amount of bribe came down to as little as a couple of hundred rupees. Corruption had become widespread in other departments also. In the Works Departments corruption had existed since a long time in the matter of awarding contracts. Now bribes were freely offered to secure transfer to particular posts, and even for getting promoted to higher posts. The six years following the death of. Sri Babu witnessed a sharp fall in the quality of Bihar's administration. Though Krishna Ballabh Sahay was a very able administrator, he could not stem the rot, as he was dependent on quite a few unscrupulous men for his survival. He did not have the authority to check his erring colleagues. Powerful Ministers began functioning as they pleased. Soon several officers aligned themselves with such ministers and avidly helped them in the abuse of power. The administration was in a deplorable state by 1967.
The Congress was defeated in the General Election of 1967. A number of small parties with conflicting goals and ideologies formed an amorphous coalition to run the government. For a while there was some reduction in the level of corruption, but indiscipline continued unabated. The internal contradictions in the coalition led to the fall of the government before it completed one year. A number of short-lived coalitions followed some of which remained in power for only a few weeks. In one extreme case a government was in office for only a couple of days. The decline got accelerated. During those years to stay in power the Chief Minister was obliged to placate every little group, some of them making utterly unreasonable demands. The office of Chief Minister lost its pristine grandeur and authority. In the winter of 1972 while staying in the Circuit House at Saharsa I happened to see the then Chief Minister being buffeted and abused by an angry crowd of legislators and politicians. I could not believe my eyes. For Bihar was the state that some fifteen years ago Sri Babu had ruled with unquestioned authority and supreme dignity.
I was on deputation to the Central Government from the end of 1969 to the middle of 1975. When I returned to Bihar in July 1975 I noticed that the administration had degenerated further. As Finance Secretary I found that the finances of the state were in a precarious condition. Financial discipline had evaporated. In an age in which the administration had no access to telephone or wireless the British rulers had included in the Treasury Code a rule (Rule 27) empowering Collectors to draw money from the treasury in anticipation of formalities to meet emergencies like floods, earthquakes, devastating fires etc. To my dismay I found that Collectors had been freely drawing money for all manner of purposes under Rule 27. In one extreme case a Collector had drawn money under the rule to help the Subdivisional Officer of another district to buy a staff car. I am narrating this simply to illustrate that all checks and balances had disappeared. There was no accountability and anyone could do what he pleased. Resorting to a number of harsh measures I could restore a measure of financial discipline. But the administration continued to be in disarray.
Even during the Emergency, contrary to popular belief, there was no improvement in the level of efficiency. In the General Election of 1977 the Congress was badly beaten. The Janata Party, which was a loose alliance of discordant political groups, came to power. The Chief Minister, Karpoori Thakur had known me from my days as Collector of Darbhanga, his home district. When he was Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister in 1967-68, I worked under him as Finance Secretary. We respected each other. Soon after taking over as Chief Minister, Karpoori Thakur told me that he proposed to appoint me Chief Secretary. There were five officers senior to me in the Bihar Cadre posted at that time in Bihar. I suggested that he should appoint one of them to the post of Chief Secretary. I also told him that I wished to go back to the Centre. A week later the Chief Minister told me that it was the unanimous decision of the Council of Ministers that I should be the Chief Secretary. I replied that as a disciplined civil servant I had no option but to accept the post. I, however, added that Bihar's administration was in a mess and that I could be effective only if he agreed to certain conditions. These included appointing officers handpicked by me to key posts, substantial delegation of powers and non-interference in delegated powers. Within a few days of joining as Chief Secretary I found that these conditions were not met. Right from the beginning I found it difficult to persuade the Cabinet to fill key posts on the basis of objective considerations. Lobbying for top posts continued to be the order of the day. Ministers were always on the lookout for officers of their own caste or pliable men. Often outstanding officers were overlooked. In a few cases ministers preferred corrupt and incompetent men. Many officers succeeded in evading transfer orders by resorting to lobbying. Inspite of instructions issued from time to time, interference in day-to-day administration, particularly in the matter of postings and transfers continued unabated. Ministers and legislators were taking a great deal of interest in the transfer of even non-gazetted personnel. Heads of Department and District Officers who resisted such interference were bullied and humiliated, politicians made frequent statements denigrating individual government servants and the bureaucracy in general. The morale of the bureaucracy, which had already been low, went down further.
A few unusual incidents made it obvious that all my efforts to stem the rot would be frustrated. One morning I happened to see a news item prominently featured in the local dailies saying that the Director of Public Instruction had been suspended. Under the Rules of Executive Business no senior officer could be suspended without obtaining the approval of the Chief Minister through the Chief Secretary. I had not seen the case. When I spoke to the Education Secretary he told me that he too had not seen any such file. A couple of hours later the Education Secretary reported to me that he had just received a minute from his Minister directing him to suspend the Director and submit a note the same day confirming that the order had been implemented. The Minister had not even bothered to draw up specific charges. I asked the Education Secretary to send the papers to me and inform his Minister. I submitted the file to Chief Minster pointing out that it would be wrong to suspend the officer without even knowing what were the charges against her. The Chief Minister accepted my advice. But when the Minister threatened to resign on that issue, the Chief Minister caved in. The officer was suspended and proceedings were drawn up. Eventually no charge could be proved. I came to know that though the Director was an efficient and upright officer, she happened to incur the Minister's displeasure for the simple reason that she was not pliable. That incident had an extremely bad impact on the morale of the administration.
Soon lack of discipline reached such alarming proportions that ministers and officers started issuing press statements attacking each other. Two ministers wished to occupy the same house. They decided to take the law into their own hands. Each sent his Personal Assistant with a section of armed police to take possession of the house. Finally the District Magistrate passed an order under Section 144 of the Cr.P.C. restraining both Ministers from occupying the house. Newspapers flashed the news on the front page. Bihar's administration became a laughing stock.
When the atrocious behavior of some legislators came to my notice I asked the Additional Inspector General of Police, Intelligence to make a secret enquiry. After a few days he reported that there were 44 legislators with criminal records, equally shared by the Janata Party and the Congress. I discussed the matter with the Chief Minister. I asked him why he could not weed out the criminals. He frankly confessed his inability to do anything because most of the criminals enjoyed the support of some of the top leaders of his party.
When I realized that there was absolutely no chance of the administration being revamped, I left Bihar in April 1978. The years since then have witnessed further degeneration and total devastation. In recent years Bihar acquired the reputation of being the worst administered state in the country. In my well considered view the top politicians and members of All India Services are equally responsible for bringing about the ruin. For, if at least one half of them had lived up to the expectation of Sardar Patel and resolutely stood by the Constitution and the law, the tragedy could have been averted. Alas, that did not happen! The charismatic Laloo Yadav bestrides the narrow world of Bihar politics like a colossus. He is his own master, and unlike his mentor Karpoori Thakur, he can be ruthless and decisive. He had the opportunity to set things right and pull Bihar up by the boot-straps. Unfortunately, his priorities are lopsided, and conditions have worsened under his stewardship. It is no consolation to the long-suffering people of Bihar that several states have joined Bihar on the road to ruin.
Though the degeneration started early in Bihar, soon the other states followed suit. In the General Election of 1967 the Congress Party was defeated in several states. An assorted bunch of small political parties and splinter groups with little in common but opposition to the Congress and love of office came to power. Thanks to intense infighting, the situation was not much better even in the states under Congress rule. All over the country, barring a few exceptions, Chief Ministers became prisoners in the hands of conflicting political parties or groups. To survive they were obliged to placate numerous petty politicians. The new breed of ministers with tenuous tenures was on the look out for pliable bureaucrats. There was no lack of unprincipled opportunists in the bureaucracy. Before long, a large number of civil servants aligned themselves with individual ministers and became active collaborators with disastrous consequences for the administration.
After crushing her rivals, Indira Gandhi acquired total control of the Congress Party early in the 'seventies. Inner-party democracy was snuffed out and free election of office bearers of the party was abolished. The great party of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel with a tradition of vigorous inner-party democracy was reduced to a plaything in the hands of Nehru's daughter. Chief Ministers of some stature and personal following like V.P. Naik and Devaraj Urs were eased out with thoroughness worthy of a nobler cause. Chief Minsters came to be chosen purely on the basis of loyalty to the supreme leader, totally ignoring the factors of ability, integrity and popular support. Several non-entities and lightweights lacking administrative acumen and political standing were pitchforked into the office of Chief Minister. Those developments had a devastating influence on public administration in states ruled by the Congress Party. The further decline following the declaration of internal emergency will be discussed in later paragraphs.
Government of India
I joined the Central Government in November 1969. After a brief stint in the Ministry of Health and Family Planning I spent the rest of my tenure in Delhi in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Planning Commission as Land Reforms Commissioner. I had no opportunity to observe personally from a nerve centre the functioning of the Central Government. Therefore, unlike in the case of Bihar, my understanding of the decline of the Central administration is based on my observation from the periphery and what I heard from friends or read in newspapers and journals.
Soon after joining the Health Ministry I observed that senior officers were rather reluctant to express their views frankly. Many of them would mould their views to please the superior officer or minister. On one occasion the Secretary did not like what I had recorded in a file. He discussed the matter with me and asked me to take back my note. He wanted me to write another note on the lines suggested by him. I told him politely that I would not revise my note. The Secretary became angry and told me that it was an accepted practice to revise notes after discussion. I told him that I would stick to my stand. Thereafter our relations became strained and I proceeded on leave. After my leave I joined as Land Reforms Commissioner in the Ministry of Agriculture. Concurrently I held the same assignment in the Planning Commission. In that post I happened to work with four Secretaries. I had cordial relations with all of them. Even when we differed, none of them ever suggested that I should reconsider my stand.
At the Centre the decline started much later than in Bihar. For the first twenty- five years after independence the system was in reasonably good shape. During that period the country tided over the perils and trauma of partition. The threat of administrative collapse was averted. The integration of princely states exceeding five hundred in number, attainment of self-sufficiency in food, the adoption of planned economic development and the survival of democracy were the significant achievements of that period.
Decline and Degeneration at the Centre
From around 1973-74 the administration started to decline at the Centre. It was then that some persons in authority ridiculed the concept of a politically neutral bureaucracy and advocated its substitution by a committed civil service. The ham-handed handling of the popular mass movements against the corrupt regimes in Bihar and Gujarat resulted in great public anger and dissatisfaction. The government of Indira Gandhi was fast losing its moral authority. The departure of men of ability, integrity and vision from the Prime Minister's inner councils coincided with the usurpation of political power by a small coterie headed by Sanjay Gandhi. I shall narrate a trivial incident which presaged the shape of things to come. In the years immediately preceding the Emergency a close friend of mine had been working as the General Manger of the Super Bazar in Delhi. A crony of Sanjay Gandhi started frequenting the Super Bazar and telling the staff how the goods should be displayed. He also added that he was acting on behalf of the Prime Minister. When his meddling became intolerable, the General Manager complained to the Prime Minister's Joint Secretary. The latter put up the letter to the Prime Minister with a note suggesting that the busybody should be warned. The Prime Minister's reaction was unbelievable. She wrote that she was a busy person and that it was not always possible for her to express her wishes in writing. Sometimes her orders would be conveyed verbally by people close to her! Perhaps the Prime Minister did not realize that she was opening the floodgates to the blatant abuse of power and the subversion of the system.
The declaration of internal emergency was a watershed. Prior to the emergency the administration was, on the whole, in a reasonably good shape. Emergency dealt a crushing blow to the administration, particularly at the Centre and in the State of Haryana. A week before the declaration of emergency I had proceeded on leave preparatory to my reversion to Bihar. I did not work under the Central Government during emergency. So my understanding is based on what I heard from friends. As I was on leave, I woke up rather late on June26, 1975. I came to know about the declaration of emergency from the single sheet issue of the Delhi edition of Statesman, the only newspaper that came out in Delhi on that day. All India Radio was playing some banal music. Switching on the BBC I gathered scrappy information about the declaration of emergency. I got ready quickly and went to the Agriculture Ministry. I met the Secretary Triveni Prasad Singh and Minister of State Annasaheb Shinde. Both were stunned. Annasaheb told me that the telephone lines of Jagjivan Ram and Y.B. Chavan had been disconnected. He added that probably they were under house arrest. As I was on leave, I could spend the whole day meeting senior officers in the Ministry. I also looked up a Joint Secretary in the Home Ministry who had already started work on a white paper. I spent the next few days gathering information about the manner in which the momentous decision was taken and the persons responsible for the decision.
I was shocked to learn that the emergency had been declared without the Cabinet's approval. Home Minister Brahmananda Reddy heard about it only at the Cabinet meeting held at 6 A, M. on June 26. Cabinet Secretary B.D. Pande came to know only when he was asked in the small hours of June 26 to convene an emergency meeting of the Council of Ministers. Even the Prime Minister's Secretary, P.N. Dhar, was not in the picture. A couple of days earlier the Home Secretary Nirmal Mukherjee had been shifted to the Ministry of Civil Aviation because of the apprehension that he might prove to be inconvenient. In his place a pliable officer from Rajasthan was airlifted and posted as Home Secretary. On the night of June 25 top leaders including Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai and others were arrested without the knowledge of the Home Minister and other Ministers. The Prime Minister took the ominous decision to declare emergency on the advice of a small clique headed by her younger son Sanjay Gandhi. Siddharth Shankar Ray was roped in to provide legal advice. The President signed on the dotted line. All the checks and balances built into the Constitution crumbled, Parliamentary democracy was annihilated and the Cabinet ceased to be the repository of executive power. Throughout the emergency a small gang headed by Sanjay Gandhi usurped all the powers of the Government of India. An assortment of hatchet men, opportunists and sycophants gained access to the levers of power.
No minister or senior bureaucrat raised any objection to the declaration of emergency or the manner in which it was done. A few experienced deep agony; and a large number felt uncomfortable. But many IAS and IPS officers enthusiastically collaborated with the authoritarian regime. Without any regard for the Constitution and the laws of the land, they executed illegal orders and cheerfully functioned as instruments of tyranny. The impact of the emergency was most severe at the Centre and in the state of Haryana adjoining Delhi.
During the emergency the great institutions of our federal democratic polity, which had already been under attack, were undermined and severely eroded. The important institutions under attack included Parliament and State Legislatures, the Cabinet System of governance, the office of the Chief Minister, the limited autonomy enjoyed by the States, the judiciary, the bureaucracy and the press. The rule of law was dispensed with and constitutional proprieties were cast aside. All checks and balances built into the Constitution crumbled. An extra-constitutional junta headed by Sanjay Gandhi exercised supreme executive power. Mercifully, Sanjay Gandhi's interests were rather limited. So in areas outside his sphere of interest the administration functioned as in the past, with the difference that many officers availed of the opportunity to act arbitrarily.
Among the States the most severe impact of the emergency was experienced in Haryana. That State had already acquired notoriety for arbitrary governance. The emergency provided an excellent opportunity to Chief Minister Bansi Lal to commit unbelievable excesses. IAS and IPS officers who were unwilling to collaborate were bullied into submission. The official machinery was blatantly misused to wreak vengeance and carry out vendetta. In one extreme case a District Employment Officer who did not accede to the wishes of Bansi Lal's son was harassed and imprisoned. The Supreme Court Judge who inquired into the excesses committed during the emergency came to the conclusion that Bansi Lal had been guilty of the abuse of power and that he had behaved like a medieval despot.
In the other states also democratic governance yielded place to arbitrary exercise of power. Many civil and police officers availed of the opportunity to act arbitrarily on their own without any direction from political superiors, Throughout the emergency I worked in the Finance Department. Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra was in charge of the Finance Department. He did not pass any arbitrary and illegal order as Finance Minister. During the emergency the distinction between the government and the party in power vanished. Sanjay Gandhi and Congress President Baruah made two or three visits to review progress in the implementation of the so-called Twenty Point Programme. As luck would have it, I was not required to attend those sessions. In spite of the draconian measures adopted during emergency there was, however, no improvement in efficiency.
Devastation and break down
In the General Election held in 1977 immediately after the lifting of the emergency the Congress was trounced. The Janata Party, which came to power, was a fragile makeshift alliance of discordant political groups. Though institutions like the Cabinet System and Parliament regained strength, before completing one year in office the government fell under its own weight. Indira Gandhi's return to power in 1980 ensured that the great institutions of our federal democratic polity would not regain their former strength. The next two decades witnessed the exponential growth of the evils of corruption, criminalisation and electoral malpractice. Though early on during his tenure Rajiv Gandhi showed some awareness of the problem, soon he came to terms with the rotten ambience. His successors also did not try to stem the rot. As a result of perverse personnel policies pursued by successive Central and State Governments, public administration became dysfunctional. Governments no longer govern. Law and order has broken down in large parts of the country and some Metropolitan cities. Citizens no longer enjoy security of life and property. The primary purpose for which the State was set up is not being served. The Social Contract has collapsed. Communal, class and caste conflicts often leading to rioting, arson and slaughter have become endemic. The magistracy and the police have often been reduced to helpless spectators. Occasionally they have added fuel to the fire by their partisan conduct.
During 1993-95 I had occasion to study the state of the Land Revenue administration in all the states as the Chairman of a Committee appointed by the Government of India. An extract from the report of the committee is reproduced below:
'In all states routine is neglected and senior officers seldom attend to their all-important functions of field visits, inspections and supervision. Corruption and inefficiency are so rampant that members of the public find that they cannot get anything done without greasing the palms of the functionaries concerned or bringing to bear great influence on them. Well-meaning and efficient Collectors who try to bring about an improvement in the situation often find their efforts frustrated. They are unable to take any disciplinary action against erring subordinates who have access to peddlers of influence. The main reasons for this state of affairs are the pursuit of perverse personnel policies and mindless political interference in day-to-day administration, particularly establishment matters. In several states ministers routinely interfere in the postings and transfers of even low-level field staff appointed by the Collector. The expression 'political interference' does not adequately describe what goes on. In reality what happens is the blatant misuse of public office for pecuniary gain. Touts, power brokers and peddlers of influence are having a field day all over the country. These unhealthy developments have led to thorough demoralization in the bureaucracy, rampant indiscipline and all round inefficiency. It is high time that effective steps are taken to stem the rot and put an end to this sad state of affairs.' (Report of the Committee on Revitalization of Land Revenue Administration-Government of India, Ministry of Rural Development, March 1995, page 12).
I shall now briefly refer to a few major events that clearly demonstrate the break down of governance and the abdication of responsibility by the All India Services. During the first two decades after independence communal clashes and tension were endemic in many places. The administration was scrupulously impartial. Criminal elements of all communities were firmly dealt with. From the late 'sixties in several states the lower echelons of the administration, particularly police outfits like the Provincial Armed Constabulary of Uttar Pradesh, started showing bias against the minorities. The serious communal riots of Meerut and Bhagalpur exposed the lethargy and negligence on the part of the civil and police administration. Even so, the Council of Ministers and the top echelons of the administration continued to be unbiased. During the riots in Delhi in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi the administration did not act with speed. Some prominent leaders of the Congress played an active role in fomenting trouble. The administration let them go scot-free.
The destruction of the Babri Masjid was an important climacteric in the decline of the administration. Though the Hindu fanatics had given a clear indication of their intention, no effective step was taken to protect the mosque. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao temporized and allowed things to drift. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh openly connived in the destruction of the shrine. The top IAS and IPS officers present at Ayodhya failed in discharging their duty. That incident badly tarnished the image of Indian administration; it was shown to be toothless and biased. The riots that followed in Bombay and other places were not handled efficiently. The police did not intervene effectively to maintain public order.
Then followed several incidents that showed the IAS and IPS in very poor light. A case in point is the Fodder Scam of Bihar. Several IAS officers were alleged to have acted culpably and some were imprisoned. Another instance is the role of the top police officers of Tamil Nadu in humiliating Ex-Chief Minister Karunanidhi. In recent years all over the country members of the IAS and the IPS have shown a marked tendency to carry out the wishes of their political masters without pausing to consider if the action was in accordance with the law. Many of them have been behaving like servile hatchet men and not as members of elite services owing unshakeable allegiance to the Constitution, the laws of the land and the principles of democratic governance. It is true that the major share for this sad state of affairs should rest with the new breed of politicians who have scant regard for the Constitution and the laws of the land. They have no qualms about abusing power to garner illegal gains and carrying out personal vendetta.
In recent weeks the State of Gujarat under the stewardship of Narendra Modi witnessed .the complete ruin and devastation of the All India Services. Gujarat was a well-administered state some three decades ago. The decline started with the regime of Chimanbhai Patel. He was succeeded by a number of Chief Ministers under whom the downturn gathered momentum. According to M.N. Buch, a perceptive observer of the degeneration of the Gujarat administration, under those Chief Ministers nepotism, corruption and favoritism became rampant. The interference in day-to-day administration filtered down to postings of even police constables, patwaris and other low level employees. With the coming to power of the BJP, political interference continued in a more organized manner. A large number of RSS and VHP activists were inducted into Class III and Class IV posts, particularly into the police force and the Home Guard organization. The administration became thoroughly demoralized.
Such being the state of affairs in Gujarat at the time of the Godhra carnage, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, a staunch RSS pracharak of long standing, faced little resistance in ensuring that the Civil and Police administration remained inert during the so-called Hindu backlash. According to a report published in the OUTLOOK of June 3rd, the Chief Minister discussed the law and order situation with the Chief Secretary, the Director General of Police and other senior officers on the night of February 27, a few hours after the Godhra incident. It is alleged that the Chief Minister said that the next day during the bandh called by VHP there would be justice for Godhra and that the police should not come in the way of the Hindu backlash. Narendra Modi is reported to have snubbed the DGP who expressed some doubts. Thereafter the top IAS and IPS officers meekly knuckled under the bullying tactics of a political leadership bent upon violating the Constitution, the rule of law and the basic principles of democratic governance. The All India Services abdicated. Govardhan Zadapiya, a VHP activist functioning directly under Modi as Minister of State in the Home Department took charge of the Ahmedabad Police Commissioner's Control Room. Another minister issued instructions from the State Control Room. For several days inhuman and hitherto unheard of atrocities were perpetrated against Muslims. Eye-witness accounts and videotapes have documented the gory details of barbarous crimes.
The Gujarat riots were unique. For the first time since independence a Chief Minister and his cabinet colleagues played a proactive role in rendering the law and order machinery inert and permitting Hindu fanatics and gangsters to have the free run of the state for several days. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Police Act, the sole responsibility for the maintenance of public order rests with the magistracy and the police. The law assigns no role to the Council of Ministers in the maintenance of law and order. When the Chief Minister gave an illegal order it was the plain duty of the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police to ignore that order. They should have instructed the District Magistrates, Police Commissioners and Superintendents of police to take effective steps to maintain public peace exercising all the powers vested in them under the law. It was also the duty of the DGP and the Commissioner of Police to throw out of the Control Rooms the interlopers. Of course, the senior officers ran the risk of incurring the wrath of a vindictive and ruthless Chief Minister. Considering the Constitutional protection enjoyed by the members of the ALL India Services, the risk was no more than that of being transferred. It was, indeed, a crying shame that no IAS or IPS officer in top positions offered any resistance at all when the Constitution, the laws of the land and the principles of civilized governance were trampled under the feet.
In the preceding paragraphs I have described the process of decline drawing attention to the causes that led to the degeneration. Now I shall briefly recount the important causes that led to the degeneration. The decline of the great institutions of our federal democratic polity was a prime cause. The decline of the Cabinet system and the degeneration of the legislatures also adversely affected the administration. As far as the states are concerned, the most ruinous development was the sharp decline in the stature and authority of the Chief Minister. These developments were a direct consequence of the snuffing out of inner party democracy in the Indian National Congress and the concentration of all power at the top. The mass politics of the early years gave way to manipulative parlour politics. Blind loyalty to the top leader became the sole criterion for the selection of Chief Minister and ministers. Several persons unfit to hold public office were pitchforked into high office. The period also witnessed the weakening of the Congress Party in several states and the emergence of new political formations with no clear ideology. For long periods unstable coalition governments lacking in cohesion ruled many states. The only cementing force was greed and the anxiety to cling on to power. More often than not a Chief Minister heading a coalition was a prisoner in the hands of self-seeking ministers. Such governments seldom functioned with a sense of purpose.
Another important development since the mid 'seventies of the last century was the growth of a malignant syndrome embodying large-scale corruption, criminalization and electoral malpractice. The unhealthy socio-political environment facilitated the emergence of a breed of cynical politicians with no faith in the Constitution and the laws of the land. They looked upon electoral victory as licence to abuse power, help cronies and amass huge fortunes. The total absence of transparency and accountability in our political system facilitated these deadly developments. A few bureaucrats felt uneasy, but the great majority got on to the bandwagon and either acquiesced in the wrongdoing or shared the loot. Long before the Gujarat carnage the country was heading towards administrative collapse. The recent events in Gujarat simply revealed that for a long time the administration had been rotten to the core.
It is often argued that since the All India Services no longer serve the purpose for which they were established, they should be wound up. This is a counsel of despair. It is certainly true that the bureaucracy being an integral part of the polity, efforts to rejuvenate the administration should be preceded by thoroughgoing political and electoral reforms and other measures to pull the polity out of the morass. These should also include a war on corruption and criminalization, drastic devolution of powers as envisaged in the 73rd Amendment of 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. The recent reaction of the political parties to the modest efforts of the Supreme Court and the Election Commission to introduce reforms shows how difficult it will be to bring about even modest electoral reforms. The political scenario is, indeed, depressing. Even so, there are two good reasons for retaining the All India Services and trying to rejuvenate them.
In the first two decades after independence we had both at the Centre and in the states ministers who had faith in the Constitution, the rule of law and the principles of democratic governance. Unfortunately, many of the ministers and other political leaders of the present day have no faith in the Constitution and the law or in democratic practices. So, there is greater need today than at any time in the past for the All India Services wedded to the Constitution and the law. They can offer considerable resistance to illegal actions of the politicians in power.
Secondly, recent experience in Gujarat confirms the need to retain and strengthen the All India Services. A great deal has been written and said about the devastation and utter failure of the All India Services. Unfortunately adequate light has not been shed on the performance of a handful of fearless officers who stood by the Constitution and the law. When all over the state the Police acquiesced in the nefarious activities of the Sangh Parivar, the Superintendents of police of Kutch, Bhavnagar, Banaskanta and Bharuch accorded effective protection to Muslims. They exercised their powers under the law and, where necessary, used force against troublemakers. In one case in which a Commandant of the Home Guards, an erstwhile VHP activist, had stabbed an old Muslim woman and her grandson living in an isolated dargah, the Superintendent of Police took drastic action. He drew up a First Information Report, arrested the culprit and sent him to prison. Not only that, he stood firm when a minister and a member of the Chief Minister's staff tried to browbeat him. Of, course he and the other three officers were subsequently transferred. But the four officers have the satisfaction that they did their duty in extremely trying circumstances in Gujarat's darkest hour. I have no detailed information about the performance of all the IAS and IPS officers. In all probability there are others also who discharged their duties fearlessly. These instances prove that it will be disastrous to wind up the All India Services. If only the Chief Secretary, the DGP and a number of senior officers had displayed the same fearlessness and dedication, the Gujarat carnage could have been averted or at least mitigated.
After having watched Indian administration for half a century I am firmly of the view that the All India Services should continue. The President is the guardian and the Supreme Court the very palladium of our Constitution. But they are beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. It is a civil and police administration fearlessly upholding the Constitution and the rule of law that will enable millions of Indian citizens to enjoy the rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Abolition of the All India Services will certainly lead to a worsening of the situation.
A question that merits urgent consideration is what practical steps can be taken to restore to the IAS and IPS, at least partially, the ethos and 'lan that existed some four decades ago. Admittedly, noticeable success can be achieved only after the cleansing of the Indian polity by introducing far reaching political and electoral reforms. There is little hope of that happening in the near future. In the meantime we have to be satisfied with small practical steps to improve the morale of the All India Services and bring about marginal improvement in their performance. There is also the pressing need to extend moral and material support to the few fearless officers who perform their duty with remarkable dedication. This matter deserves to be discussed at a brainstorming session to be attended by some knowledgeable people who have not yet succumbed to despair and cynicism.