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Because There Is More To The IAS Than What Meets The Eye: The Problem Of Being An Honest Officer

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By Sanchita Srivastava:

Imagine a career option that lets you live in a king-size bungalow replete with gardens at a nominal rent, along with domestic helps and a chauffeur-driven car available round the clock. Sounds like heaven, right? On the face of it, the Indian Administrative Service seems like a lucrative career option, what with the hefty pay package, perks and status that it comes with. But materialist benefits aside, there is also the opportunity of serving the country and making difference to the society as a whole, which ensure that all the efforts that go into qualifying for one of the most competitive selection processes in the world is worth the pain. Or does it?


No, I am not talking about those so-called civil servants who equate clearing the exam to winning a lottery, opting to serve their vested interests instead of the nation. It is because of them that the very thought of an honest officer seems laughable. But much as the idea of an ‘incorruptible’ IAS officer with strong ethical beliefs appears Utopian, there are fortunate instances that prove otherwise. Who can forget Mr Ashok Khemka, who in his 22 years of service as an IAS officer, has been transferred over 40 times? The man came into limelight for cancelling the sale deed of a property belonging to AICC President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, Mr Robert Vadra, and that too at a time when proclamations of “I-can-do-anything-for-Soniaji” are commonplace. And now another IAS officer, Ms Durga Shakti Nagpal, clamped down on illegal mining and resolutely dealt with the powerful sand mafia in Uttar Pradesh, she has been rewarded with a suspension letter. But why, you ask? She has been suspended precisely for her take on the mafia, which by implication, means that she has been punished for continuing with the tradition of not conceding with her ethos.

Is it really too much to expect that a person selected for one of the most coveted government jobs be allowed to execute his/her duties with conviction, or more importantly, without an imminent threat of losing the job or worse still, losing his/her life altogether? The suspensions and transfers not only hinder the officers from instituting or sustaining reforms but also have a demoralizing effect. They are increasingly faced with the dilemma of either standing by their integrity and working for the betterment of the society in lieu of frequent relocations or death threats; or completely destroying the halo around the IAS officer (and other government services too, for that matter) in order to live a cushioned life.

The treatment meted out to officers such as Mr Ashok Khemka, Ms Nagpal and others of their stature, has made me wonder if it is time to change the term civil servant to mean a politician’s slave. I fail to fathom so as to how on earth we plan to wipe out corruption from our society when this is how we choose to reward the acts of honesty and integrity. It is because of such apathy from the government and (I say this at the risk of generalizing) the people alike that honesty no longer remains the best policy, especially in the public service sector. Since there is no such provision of a minimum tenure to be served by an IAS officer in a given area, hereby throwing them at the mercy of the ministers, it can be only idealism, passion or as some believe, foolishness that makes them opt for the road less traveled. And despite all the sacrifices, sufferings and struggles, that the Khemkas and Nagpals continue to exist and perform their duties with commitment is laudable and miraculous indeed.

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  1. Raj

    Actually the problem is not about “Being An Honest IAS Officer” but “Being An IAS Officer” !! The bureaucracy in India or elsewhere sucks because (to quote Milton Friedman) government programs are “A(Politicians) and B(bureaucrats) deciding what C(tax-payers) should do for D(beneficiaries) – and A and B get a cut”.

    We should drastically cut-down on the size and powers of Govt. automatically we’d have less corruption

  2. ashok jangid

    I heads off for this lady…

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