Pillars Of Discord
A complaint was received in the District Collectorate that the road constructed to the resort owned by a prominent politician, who was also a sitting Minister, was done by illegal reclamation of land. The District Collector ordered an inquiry into the matter which found that the resort had indulged in illegal reclamation of land from the lake where it was located. This resulted in a notice being issued to the Minister, leading to his resignation. The politico, obviously rattled and annoyed, lashed out at the Collector, who, however, held firm to her report.
A mob led by the youth wing of the ruling party threw stones at police station when the demand of a local functionary, for being allowed to meet some accused held in custody, was turned down. Police received credible information that the leader of the mob was holed up inside the district office of the party. The Assistant Commissioner of Police led a posse of officers to search the office of political party, which was objected to by the functionaries present there. Finally, the search was done after lapse of some time and it provided to be a futile exercise. However, this incident raised the hackles of senior leaders of political party who demanded that action be taken against the officer.
Construction of a building taking place in a location was found to be done flouting the rules and regulations governing it. Despite the Sub Collector issuing orders for stopping the construction, it continued uninterrupted, forcing the officer to send a team to the spot to enforce the directions. However, the officers were prevented from carrying out their duties by a crowd that had gathered at the site under the leadership of local Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA). Hon’ble MLA also chose the occasion to pass certain distasteful remarks about the Sub Collector, which met with wide condemnation.
The above are gist of three incidents that had grabbed news headlines recently in Kerala. All three pertain to face-off between political executive and bureaucracy over actions taken by the latter. Incidentally, the officers at the centre of the storm in all these instances were young women, who had discharged their duties fearlessly and with alacrity. Their firm action and poise under extreme pressure found praise in the media, who elevated them to the status of star performers overnight.
These incidents also bring the spotlight on to the very old question of what should be the relationship between political executive and bureaucracy in a democracy. Traditionally, the three pillars- legislative, executive and judiciary - are envisaged as independent ones with each capable of working in co-ordination, but independent of the others. Thus, the job of legislators is to frame the laws, the bureaucracy to execute them while the judiciary passes judgment about the legality of the same in accordance with the framework laid down by the Constitution. However, in practice, there would emerge many instances where these responsibilities overlap, which result in incidents of the type mentioned above.
Bound by Constitution
The democratic polity that is envisaged in the Constitution of our country is guided by the Westminster style of parliamentary democracy practised in England and most countries of the western world. These countries, besides being developed ones, have a long history of evolution of democratic practices and institutions, which place them on a different pedestal. Further, the fact that electorate is small in number and comprises educated persons who are aware of their rights and responsibilities also make a vital difference when compared with the scenario in India.
The higher bureaucracy in India comprises of All India services such as Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Forest Service (IFS) and Central Government services which include Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Revenue Service (IRS), Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IA&AS), besides a host of around twenty odd services. The officers of All India services are allotted to various state governments and serve a better part of their career there working in the districts and in Secretariat or departmental headquarters. These officers, in addition to discharging the various responsibilities under the different laws, are also involved in the developmental works undertaken by the government. Thus, officials such as the District Collector and Sub Collector perform the task of co-ordinating the various projects implemented by the State government. On the other hand, officers of Central government services specialise in specific areas and invariably spend most of their careers working in their respective departments, with little exposure to other tasks.
Members of Legislative Assemblies and Parliament, whose prime task is to attend to legislative work, are also involved in the planning of development related work in their respective constituencies. As the persons who keep their ears to the ground, people’s representatives have an excellent grasp of the problems that confront their electorate, which they work hard to mitigate. Hence, they are better placed to offer constructive and practical solutions with regard to the needs and requirements of the people. In most of the places, one finds that when bureaucrats work in tandem with MLAs/ MPs, it usually brings good results to the public.
Question of authority
One finds that problems arise when people’s representatives start poking their nose into the areas that bureaucrats consider as their preserve. Since laws are made by the legislature, it is surprising that law-makers themselves should work towards contravening the very provisions of the statute that they helped to enact. In many a case, they might be espousing the cause of a poor or a destitute person where the enforcer of law may not be in a position to grant any additional liberties. Further, the constant interaction of people with their representative places the latter in a difficult position of not being able to ignore the demands of the former, despite knowing that they may not always be entirely legitimate.
However, in the cases mentioned earlier, political parties/ leaders were not canvassing the cause of those unfortunate to live on the wrong side of the tracks. It goes without saying that the actions of officers in the instances cited above were correct and proper. It was wrong on the part of political persons to berate the Collector and Sub Collector for doing their duties sincerely and diligently; similarly, the action of the members of the ruling party establishment in first obstructing and subsequently criticising the search of their office premises was improper. It was for these reasons that the actions of these young officers were hailed by the media and the public.
Here one should add a note of caution. Uncontrolled exercise of power and authority invariably leads to excesses. It is a fact that effective involvement by political leaders result in fair and fast redressal of grievances but that would not entitle or justify use of intemperate language. Just as a politician should refrain from making unreasonable demands from the bureaucrats, the officers themselves must desist from doing things with the sole intention of winning accolades from the public. Bureaucrats are expected to discharge their responsibilities without frills or commotion, in an equitable, impartial, lawful and independent manner. An officer who follows this work ethic would seldom meet with interference from any quarter.
In the final analysis, the enforcers of statutes are as important as the persons who enact it for proper implementation of the system of rule of law. A harmonious relationship between the two based on mutual respect is sine qua non for the successful functioning of a democracy.