The call was from a fellow retired civil servant. He was upset at the current crop of officers not returning his calls or responding to his messages. I shared with him my personal experience that, like many other retired officers, was totally different. Almost every officer who I had worked with and even those that I just came in contact with, invariably returned my call and responded to my messages.
Even while in harness, I had spoken freely and frankly but there were limitations on account of the Code of Conduct. My views were limited to discussions and on files. Never held them back but once a decision was taken, I treated the decision like my own. However, after retirement, there was no such limitation. I am loving it and enjoying this freedom thoroughly. I also discovered my true worth (including the market value) and the worth of others. There are no hangers-on. I was truly reaping the harvest of what I had sown during my career as a civil servant. This was the reason why I tweeted, “True worth of a civil servant gets determined when he is officially a nobody”
All civil servants retire someday. This is also true of those that get extension(s) of “life” by the gods on earth. Some civil servants deserve these “extensions”. Others somehow “manage” to get it despite the cost associated with it. Sometimes they end up paying a price during the after-life (retirement). They should then not complain about the price they have to pay. They made a choice when they had one.
Retirement, in a sense, is salvation for those civil servants that have made an effort to earn it during their careers. However, while in service, civil servants live a number of lives as they get transferred to various positions.
Death is certain in one’s life but when the ultimate knock will come, one doesn’t know. In this sense, it is similar to the life of a civil servant. A civil servant knows that he would get transferred but when the transfer would come, is anybody’s guess. However, though there is no certainty about life after death, it is certain that there is life after transfer. In this context, the life of a civil servant is different from life itself.
According to the Hindu philosophy, the ‘Atma’ never dies and a man is rewarded or punished in subsequent lives on the basis of ‘Karma’ in the existing life. So, human beings are enjoined to lead a particular style of existence that could result in salvation. How true is this for a civil servant, though some choose to be blissfully oblivious of this similarity! Obsessed with the ‘material’, without realising that over a period of time and the innumerous lives (transfer) that he lives in various incarnations, some of them accumulate a ‘reputation’ that becomes their nemesis. Living in their own make-believe world and a perceived aura of invincibility, they seem to believe that they can get away with anything.
This perception needs to change for more reasons that one, especially in the wake of what has happened in the past couple of decades. Unfortunately, on account of high visibility of these bureaucrats, the entire bureaucracy seems to be getting a bad name even though these are isolated cases. It is, however, a blessing in disguise as such instances have demonstrated that law does catches up with the high and mighty. It might also induce the fence setters amongst the civil servants to take a hard and realistic look at the options available to them. Accumulating a bank balance may not always come handy but accumulating ‘good-will balance’ and an honest reputation just might help in the long run, even after retirement. Like the inevitability of death, both categories of officers get transferred but whereas the honest ones can hold their head high, the others would struggle.
There is also perhaps a lesson for those that convey to the bureaucracy all the wrong signals looking for pliable and servile bureaucrats. It is high time that the civil servants themselves realize that they are being used as a tool by the powers-that-be for furthering their own parochial interest. It is evident that a civil servant would be cultivated only till the time that purpose is served. He would be dropped like a hot brick the moment his services are either not required or when he becomes inconvenient. Some of us may believe that we are indispensable but experience has shown that even the most “committed” of bureaucrats are shown the door when the occasion arises.
The informed public should also take an objective and dispassionate view of the bureaucracy. Bureaucrats are a part of the society and hence this group carries with it all such ills which afflict the society as a whole. Efforts should be made to evolve such institutions which protect and encourage honest and efficient functioning. Some examples already exist. Election Commission was an institution, till not very long ago, that made us proud, within and outside the country. This Commission was and is still manned by civil servants. CVC is another such institution. The Supreme Court has itself indicated that the selection to posts, such as Chief Secretary, should be through a transparent process. The Apex Court has shown the way and now it is for the powers- that-be to take up the challenge and to put in place a transparent process that encourages honesty and efficiency and also provides a security of tenure to the bureaucracy. Keeping a bureaucrat at the “pleasure” of certain individuals or group of individuals has already done an incalculable damage to the system. It would be wrong to blame the entire bureaucracy if the honest and efficient are left out and only the pliable officers are picked up to man sensitive posts.
There is an old saying, as you sow so shall you reap. You can’t expect the bureaucracy to deliver if you have wrong men at right places and the right men at wrong places. The Supreme Court judgment is, therefore, a wake-up call for all of us.
— Anil Swarup is former Secretary, Government of India and author of the book 'Not Just A Civil Servant'. The views expressed are personal
First Published: IST