Bengal: 'Dangerous Precedent' of Bureaucrats Toeing Ruling Party Line Concerns Ex-officers
New Secretariat Building. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Kolkata: “Unlike earlier times, when there were many bureaucrats who had a spine, bureaucrats toying with ruling party diktat have now become the fashion in the state,” said Dr Sukhbilas Barma, former senior IAS officer and Principal Secretary of Agriculture, while speaking to NewsClick. “A bureaucrat is expected to follow the rule book when it comes to working for the government. However, times have changed a lot. For plum postings and other perks, many bureaucrats now do not maintain the bureaucratic dignity that is required from an IAS or a WBCS officer and mingle their work directly with the day-to-day activities of the ruling party,” Barma said.
Recalling the Shah Commission constituted after the Emergency, post the excesses on Indian democracy done by Sanjay Gandhi, he said that back then as well the question of bureaucrats maintaining too much nearness with their political masters had come to the forefront.
Barma also cited the instance of Bharati Ghosh, former IPS who used to call CM Mamata Banerjee her “mother”, and used her office to slap a murder case against the then Congress leader Manas Bhuiya to force him to join the ruling Trinamool Congress. While Bhuiya had to join the TMC, Bharati Ghosh drifted away from the party, and after her resignation from service, she became a BJP leader, he said. “They do not maintain the minimum decorum of bureaucracy. The instances of Bharati Ghosh or Rajib Kumar are extreme ones,” Barma added.
It can be recalled that Rajiv Kumar was the blue-eyed IPS under Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as the Police commissioner of Bidhannagar Police Commissionerate. In 2019, the police had allegedly accompanied Rujira Narula, the wife of the CM’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, after she was allegedly caught by the Customs at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport for possessing gold above the permissible limit, and the police had intervened to get her out. Afterwards, Kumar was made the Police Commissioner of Kolkata, and then he had to leave the post due to litigation. But the IPS officer is now enjoying a plum posting as the Principal Secretary of the Information Technology department under the government of West Bengal. Kumar is also the first IPS to hold a secretary-level post in the state government.
Barma also drew parallels between Mamata Banerjee and PM Narendra Modi, saying that during the Left Front’s rule, there were no such instances of so much nepotism in government bureaucratic service. Taking sides so openly, as is happening in the present, were unheard of during that time period, he claimed.
Speaking to NewsClick, Nazrul Islam, former DIG of police and IPS officer, said that the seeds of the current behaviours of civil servants are sown during their childhood. “These officers’ parents had not taught them the need to stay honest. The same happens in the case of doctors or engineers. As the ruling party leaders now are apt at taking graft, the bureaucrats often toe the line of their political masters at taking bribes. They also get plum postings after toeing the line and becoming their graft-taking cohort. Now the political masters of the IAS and IPS officers are all dishonest people; any honest person at this level is an exception now.”
To back his comments, Islam gave the example of Alapan Bandhyapadhya, a former IAS officer who became the Home Secretary, Chief Secretary and now the Chief Advisor to the government. “His wife was made the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, and later, this appointment was cancelled on the order of the Calcutta High Court. His son, too, has been given a plum posting at the Presidency University. Corruption here comes in a package. Calcutta University, under the vice-chancellorship of Sonali Chakravarti Banerjee, the institute had given DLit to Mamata Banerjee, who used to write PhD after her name. When asked, she said that her degree was from East Georgia University, which is non-existent. Such a person, accused of forgery, has been given DLit by the first university of India due to her political clout; it was a deal entered in return for the benefits to Sonali Banerjee and her family,” he alleged while talking to NewsClick.
“The IPS officers who neglect duty and dither about punishing the guilty involved in chit-fund cases or the education scams are being given lucrative posts. At the thana level, many good police officers are now terrified because of the meek surrender by the IAS and IPS officers to their dishonest political masters. Those near the ruling party get lucrative postings even after retirement. A retired DG is running the Human Rights Commission, which should be ideally headed by a former justice of the high courts or the Supreme Court. Such postings are regular in West Bengal and add up as an impetus to do dishonest acts during the in-service period of the civil servants,” Islam rued.
There have also been exceptions like IAS Mira Pande, who fought tooth and nail with the government to hold impartial panchayat elections in 2013. She faced huge obstacles as the state’s Chief Election Officer but ultimately prevailed over the system and even arranged for central forces to guard the booths during the polls through a court order. However, officers like Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay had to resign when he tried to emulate Pandey in the next panchayat election in the state in 2015. Alapan Bandhyapadhya was entrusted with the duty of completing the poll process following Upadhyay’s resignation after constantly being targeted by the TMC.
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