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Sticklers for honesty

Some government functionaries are driven by their unflinching loyalty to the Constitution and the rule of the land. They are good examples to emulate

Former election commissioner TN Seshan, who died last week, epitomised how an officer should conduct and be guided by the constitution and rule of the land. The former election commissioner enforced Model Code of Conduct and had zero tolerance to politicians who had the tendency to flout rules.

He was revered, because for a bureaucrat it’s not easy to confront their political masters. But there’s always a line to draw. The distinction between a political worker and a subservient bureaucrat is thin. In many cases, when a bureaucrat enters into a cosy arrangement with politicians, in the state or at the Centre, he gets prized positions. Some get caught in the political hailstorm.

Take the case of the then commissioner of police of Kolkata, Rajiv Kumar, known to be close to Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee. He allegedly prevented the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) — the move might have been politically motivated — from discharging their duty.

Moreover, the 1989 batch IPS officer, Kumar, ‘evaded’ the CBI’s notices to appear before it in connection with the Saradha ponzi scheme case. He has been accused of tampering with evidence to shield influential beneficiaries, including politicians. Kumar has been on the run for weeks, desperately trying to evade imminent arrest.

Rajiv Kumar is an extreme case of the fallout of batting for politicians instead of the law of the land. There are many who follow the rule book, what may come, prevent rather than facilitate the murky deals of politicians and live with a clean conscience.

Ashok Khemka, an IAS of officer 1991 batch of Haryana cadre, is one of them.

He came into the limelight in 2012 when he cancelled the mutation of a land deal between Skylight Hospitality, a company promoted by Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, and the major real estate developer DLF. He was later suspended. The Haryana government, under Bhupinder Singh Hooda, ordered a CBI probe against whistleblower Khemka in 2014 for allegedly arbitrarily awarding work to private companies in the purchase of galvanised sheets for the State Warehousing Corporation. Nothing came of it.

An IIT graduate from Kharagpur, Khemka is a sticker for laid down norms and rules. He has been transferred 53 times in a career spanning nearly three decades. It’s not convenient, to say the least, living out of a suitcase for the whole of your career.

On November 27, he was shifted from the post of principal secretary of Science and Technology department of the Haryana government, his 53rd transfer. This time Khemka expressed dismay on Twitter. He is an anti-corruption campaigner, regularly tweets on such issues, has more than three lakh  followers. “Whose interests do I protect? Yours or the people you claim to represent?” he asks. “It’s your arrogance that you will trample me under your feet. With pleasure; I have suffered repeatedly, let it be once more,” he tweeted.

He minces no words, for he has nothing to hide. “Sycophancy pays off well when a weak, insecure person is boss. Tyrants are such bosses. A good leader and institution builder will keep competent, honest people around him. He encourages alternative viewpoints and voluntarily obeys the rules.” He believes that a “weak” person tolerates corruption to “increase his own well-being, but does not contribute in nation building.”

N Dilip Kumar, IPS of 1984 batch, for the first time as the chief of Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB), Delhi used sting operation to nab the corrupt functionaries. Using this stratagem, he secured conviction in more than 50 cases. He became inconvenient, but had the support of the LG Tajinder Khanna. He was shifted out of ACB on a promotion, and the then Delhi commissioner of police, YS Dadwal, made him the joint commissioner of vigilance and gave him a free hand to clean up the mess within Delhi Police. Dadwal was soon succeeded by the new commissioner BK Gupta, who was not so keen on cleaning up the mess. Kumar was soon shunted to inconsequential post of joint commissioner, procurement.

Kumar remained unperturbed for there is no confusion in his mind. He feels honest people are not a roadblock in getting things done, by creating impediments. On the contrary, they have the interest of the people in mind and are not guided by their vested interest. “They are guided by the mission of the organisation they work for, bring innovations, and guide political masters to make the right decision.”

As chief of vigilance department, he initiated cases against the sand mafia and the parking mafia because “the police were getting payoff and it was going to the highest level.” He was shunted out. Investigations were never taken to the logical conclusion. He has no regrets, for no position is a bad position. “I will employ my innovative skills to make a difference in public interest,” he says. That’s what he did as part-time member of Delhi’s Public Grievance Commission.

But all are not so optimistic. Some give up early because they don’t want to be part of a corrupt, unethical system, or else suffer harassment not just by political masters but their own compatriots in the bureaucracy. Four IAS officers have resigned in the last few months. One of them, Kannan Gopinathan, 33 years of age, resigned for the coveted job because the denial of freedom of expression to the people Jammu and Kashmir, which was not acceptable to him. Period.

Gopinathan felt it was “immoral” to criticise a policy decision by the government from inside the government. He clarifies he’s not against abrogation of Article 370, it’s the right of the government, but not allowing people the ‘right to react’ is something not acceptable to him. “The right to life is meaningless without the right to liberty,” he says and ask this pertinent question to himself, “what have I done about it?” Many of his peers in IAS told him that it was a hasty decision to quit, conscientious people should be in the government, not outside. He’s convinced that what he did was “good for my own wellbeing.”

In an interview to Rediff, Seshan had said, “I never reached a point at which my conscience said that there was no alternative but (to) resign. There are lower levels of compromises that I have made. But the higher levels of compromises, where you do something manifestly, No. I have certainly not done anything illegal. I have never done anything which is immoral.”

Using laws of physics to describe the human condition, he says, “We lost character everywhere. Fundamental laws of physics: human nature turns to chaos. To make it clean, you need to put in energy. To make it unclean, you don’t need any effort. Third law of thermodynamics.”