Modi govt 'sacking' 12-odd senior officials incremental step towards reorienting bureaucracy to align with Centre's agenda

Prime Minister Narendra Modi heaped praises on bureaucrats, encouraged them to “hit the ground running” and ensure "ease of living" for the common man exactly at a time when 12-odd senior officers of the income tax department were compulsorily retired by the government on Monday.

The message is loud and clear — lead, follow or get out of the way. The purge of deadwoods that was long overdue from the gargantuan but ramshackle structure of the government has begun in right earnest. Of course, this is not the first time that officials were compulsorily retired by using the service rule that empowers the government to sack senior bureaucrats on the basis of their merit and performance. Modi in his first stint had used this rule to get rid off officials found wanting in performance and integrity.

But the beginning of his second stint is particularly interesting. Based on his experience in the past five years, Modi is very well expected to tweak the country's fabled yet "rusted steel frame" as the bureaucracy is euphemistically referred to. Since 1989, the Indian bureaucracy has thrived in a political ecosystem that promoted depraved governance and encouraged a deviant, self-serving executive committed more to politics than the Constitution.

 Modi govt sacking 12-odd senior officials incremental step towards reorienting bureaucracy to align with Centres agenda

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

In his first interaction with Secretaries of the government (senior most IAS official in the bureaucracy's echelon) when Modi lauded them for ensuring better delivery that resulted in pro-incumbency wave for the government, the irony was not lost on the gathering. Just at that time, the finance ministry began to purge the department of "rotten apples".

The man who topped the list was Ashok Agarwal, a 1985 batch IRS officer, who was under suspension from 1999 to 2014 on serious charges of corruption and a CBI case against him. He was followed by SK Srivastava, another 1989 batch IRS officer, with a track record of a range of charges including sexual harassment of two woman colleagues of the rank of commissioners and other conduct that resembles the resume of a history-sheeter than a government servant. Ten others who followed them are equally distinguishable for their dubious track records as Agarwal and Srivastava.

But it will be rather naïve to assume that this purge is enough to set the bureaucracy on the right course. The reason is not far to seek. For over three decades before Modi's ascendance, the bureaucracy has become attuned to working with either weak governments at the Centre or family-run political enterprises in many crucial states. As a result, a group of deviant bureaucrats found it convenient to deal with many power-centers that emerged in a coalition era at the national level. In states, the family-run enterprises or regional satraps flagrantly encouraged a set of committed bureaucracy and used them to run the government like a criminal enterprise.

If you have any doubt, just refer to the manner in which an internecine battle broke out among Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate, Intelligence Bureau (IB), RAW and CBDT more recently that witnessed an unceremonious sacking of CBI director Alok Varma. Even the Prime Minister's Office was singed in this battle. Insiders say that nothing has damaged the country’s covert operations so much as the intense bickering among these agencies over the past five years.

Interestingly, the battle still continues with low intensity as most of the key players still occupy the prime positions in the government.

Given Modi’s experience as a former chief minister, and currently the prime minister, he is well aware of the fact that the structure of governance is too complex to be dismantled in a hurry. The sacking of a 12-odd senior revenue official is an incremental step towards refurbishing and re-orienting the bureaucracy to align with the government’s agenda. This step was meant to be a message for a section of deviants in the country’s powerful babudom to re-learn their lessons in governance and focus on performance in their domain.

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Updated Date: Jun 11, 2019 09:55:50 IST