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18 June, 2013

Bureaucracy in transfer raj

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Eight months ago Ashok Khemka, a Haryana government secretary, was transferred to the less consequential post of managing director of the Seeds Development Corporation after he cancelled a land deal between real estate major DLF and Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, Congress President and Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, holding it illegal.

Five months later, he was transferred again to the even less consequential post of Secretary, Archives department, after he brought to light irregularities in the corporation’s purchase of insecticides from a big private sector corporation.

Khemka’s experience illustrates the plight of officers who dare to look too closely at suspect deals involving politicians and commercial giants.

Recently a media organisation, noting that there are incorruptible bureaucrats, featured on its website some officers who bravely endured many transfers, threats and humiliation.

They included GR Khairnar of Maharashtra, who had invited the wrath of then chief minister Sharad Pawar by moving against illegal constructions in Mumbai, Uma Shankar of Tamil Nadu, a Dalit officer hounded by both Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and All India Anna DMK Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, Poonam Malakondaiah of Andhra Pradesh, a woman IAS officer who forced Monsanto to reduce the price of BT cotton seeds, and Mugdha Sharma of Rajasthan, who was removed from the post of Collector of Jhunjhunu after she moved against the local mafia.

Politicians are not the only ones who make life difficult for upright officials. Trouble can come from one’s own kind. B Asok of Kerala, an IAS officer serving as Vice-Chancellor of the Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, was removed from the post after he made some uncharitable observations about the ways of senior bureaucrats in a newspaper article. The High Court reinstated him but the government recently decided to penalise him for another article he wrote.

Arun Bhatia of Maharashtra, who was transferred 26 times in as many years, says it is difficult for an officer to survive in a corrupt system as “reporting against a colleague results in the whole system ganging up against you.”

Politicians have no role in the appointment and removal of members of the IAS and other central services who are selected through competitive examinations held by the Public Service Commission. The chief ministers’ ability to control them rests on their power to transfer them and offer rewards for loyalty.

Indian universities have not undertaken worthwhile studies on issues such as the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats and the effect of cronyism in the bureaucracy on the level of corruption and the quality of governance. However, there are a few studies by Indian researchers attached to foreign institutions.

Lakshmi Iyer of the Harvard Business School and Anandi Mani of the University of Warwick, UK, studied the career histories of 2,800 IAS officers who were in service between 1980 and 2004 and delineated the contours of the “transfer raj” over the bureaucracy.

They found that officers are subjected to frequent transfers and that their average tenure was only 16 months. When a new chief minister takes over the probability of an officer’s transfer rose from 53 per cent to 63 per cent, and he orders most of the transfers within four months of assumption of office. If he belongs to a party other than that of his predecessor the transfer probability doubles.

Explaining the significance of the findings, Lakshmi Iyer said “transfer raj” means key positions go not to those who are most qualified and competent but to those who cultivate close links with political parties or develop a reputation for being malleable. Officers are more likely to be chosen for important jobs if they belong to the same caste as the chief minister’s party base.

Ritwik Banerjee of Aarhus University, Denmark, and Tushi Baul of Iowa State University designed an experiment to find out the job preferences of those who are likely to be corrupt. They reported that in India the corrupt are more likely to opt for the bureaucracy than the private sector.

A few years ago the Centre drafted a Public Service Bill which sought to give bureaucrats a minimum tenure of two years in all posts. It was dropped after half the states objected. Civil society needs to press for such a law as it will free officials from undue political influence and help tone up the administration.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 18, 2013

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