Every now and then, one gets to read and hear about the erratic, arrogant and at times aggressive behaviour of the civil servants who abuse the power vested in them by the constitution with impunity, yet put on an air of superiority. The latest in this line is an incident that recently took place in Tripura which superseded all the previous incidents of tyranny exhibited by a civil servant.

The person in question is a district magistrate. He went full blast when a family violated the covid timeline sanctioned by the authorities owing to a marriage function. By going berserk in full public glare, the DM not only vitiated the atmosphere of the auspicious occasion but also brought disrepute to himself and his profession. For the hosts, it was a nightmare which cannot be erased from their memory. A video grab of the incident that went viral on social media left many shell-shocked.

Everyone reacted with shock and dismay at the behaviour of the DM. No one had anticipated a person occupying such a coveted seat of power could act so irresponsibly. Such was the blatant display of arrogance and haughtiness of the civil servant that the word ‘shocking’ is quite inadequate to describe it. Debates over the incident erupted across social media platforms and drawing-room discussions. While an inquiry has been ordered into the incident and hopefully the DM may eventually be made to account for his visible indecent behaviour. The incident brought to the fore a plethora of issues to be discussed, pondered over, and addressed to.

An inquiry has been ordered into the incident and hopefully, the DM may eventually be made to account for his visible s indecent behaviour. However, the bigger question that has surfaced again is that is the selection process that India follows in the appointment of these civil servants is compatible with the critical position these worthies occupy? Is the training process aligned to the changing socio-economic challenges that these officers are required to handle in their day-to-day working or have certain aspects become redundant?

While looking for an answer to these questions, my little bit of research took me back to the British era which laid the foundation for the selection of civil servants in the Victorian era. The British had their own whims and fancies while defining the role of “these officers”. They were essentially meant to manage “slave Indians” in the bigger scheme of the imperial power? The people whom this privileged class was supposed to govern were mostly illiterate and hapless. And the basic training given to the officers was not only to maintain a distance but also to deliberately display that superior air, so as to make the “Janata” realise that they are being governed by them. This probably had laid the foundation for the feeling of “superiority” in this section of officers.

Post-Independence things have changed, albeit at a slow pace. The IAS saheb is still considered a demigod and the glamour and awe attached to that ‘lal batti’ over the white official chauffeur-driven cars {withdrawn lately} still makes it the most coveted career to pursue. Realising the challenges that the “lal batti” bought for a common man, the government in recent past decided to do away with the “lal batti” on the vehicles but the bigger question remained what can be done to change the mindset of the occupants of these cars?

Let’s look deeper into the mindset of the Indian population and the levers that drive these thoughts.

Clearing IAS is a very creditable achievement. More and more people applying for this coveted job makes competitive examination all the harder to crack it. As per the statistics, on average, approximately 10 to 11 lakh candidates apply for the IAS every year out of which only a few thousand can finally make it. And those who make it are pompously broadcasted through all the media platforms as great “achievers”, and what follows is lots and lots of glamour, frenzy, and then the final crowning of the young prince or princess by giving them the charge.  Remember the frenzy that the selection of Tina Diba generated in 2015. This explains why some of the officers, who are unable to handle this self-importance go crazy.

Now, coming back to the infamous Tripura incident, the DM is seen hurling abuses on the top of his voice, “DM hoon main! Arrest karo in sabhi ko…” – Demigod!! His antics just didn’t stop there. He tears the official documents shown by the bride’s parents and throws them at the face of the old couple. He goes on to slap the purohit (priest), rains punches on the bridegroom and whosoever comes forth pleading. He then orders the attendant policemen to arrest everyone present. They were all arrested and kept in the lockup overnight irrespective of their age and gender. This incident can never fade away from memories of those present, especially the bride and the groom.

The second big question is what are the ways to address and mitigate if not completely put an end to this kind of behaviour? The answer lies in exploring the redressal mechanism available to a common man.

Filing a complaint against such officers, if one can muster enough courage to challenge the high and mighty, is the simplest option. The complaint may result in a departmental inquiry the pace of which will again be defined by bureaucracy, that too, sans an objective approach and there is a high possibility that the whole matter will be hushed up. Hence, we rarely read about an officer being dismissed for such behaviors. In most cases, they are transferred to some other department.

And even if he/she is found guilty of certain offenses or irregularities, it’s interesting to know about the process of their removal/dismissal. President of India appoints All India Service Officers (IAS/IPS/IFoS) and other Central Government group A officers (IFS, IRS, IAAS, IRTS, etc.). As per the Indian constitution (Article 311), no person below the rank of appointing authority can dismiss any of the officers. Therefore, only the President of India is the authority who can dismiss an IAS Officer. However, we know that in India we are following a parliamentary system of governance. Therefore, the real power of dismissal lies with the Central government. Hence as per the constitution, PSC shall also be consulted before an IAS officer is dismissed to ensure that an IAS officer is not dismissed arbitrarily.

Phew!  Almost an impossible task unless the officer in question has been found guilty of committing crimes of “serious nature”. So, a few points to ponder upon are:

1. Does the fault lie in the selection procedure?
2. Is there something seriously lacking in the training and induction methodology?
3. Is it because the glamour and undue weightage is given to this position?
4. Is it the absolute lack of performance reviews and consequential departmental corrective actions responsible?
5. Is it the complex process of removing the process of the erring officers? Or is it the combination of two, more, or all the factors?

It is time we looked into the processes employed for the selection of candidates for the top job to address the administrative needs of independent India rather than carry the baggage of a British-era legacy.

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The opinion expressed in the article is of the writer. Writer is a freelance journalist/journalist based in Delhi

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