A recent incident in Ganderbal in J&K should be a wake-up call for the bureaucracy. The high-handedness of a young IAS officer towards a local has demoralised the people of the state. Being the leader of a district, these officers must show humility towards those living there. But if a citizen is detained for six days just for asking questions from the government, what hope is there for democracy, asks RAJA MUZAFFAR BHAT reporting from Srinagar.
A SURVEY conducted a few years back by Azim Premji University and Lokniti revealed that more citizens approach a local sarpanch or councillor to get their work done than a local MLA or MP. The survey, conducted close to the 2019 assembly elections, was titled “Politics and Society between Elections”.
It revealed that 32% people approach a sarpanch, while 15% contact a local leader to get their issues addressed. The report also said that citizens in India had more trust in the office of the district magistrate (DM) or collector than that of the president or prime minister.
IAS officers from the time of induction have a leadership role to play. From a sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM), DM, secretary to the government, or chief secretary, IAS officers occupy leadership positions at all levels in their career.
This indicates that they need to be trained in such a way that they always exhibit leadership qualities and not act emotionally, which would not only hurt the sentiments of the people, but be disastrous for the entire system of governance.
A recent incident that took place in the Ganderbal district of J&K should be viewed seriously by authorities at the helm, particularly the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie where young civil servants, especially IAS officers are trained.
What Happened in Ganderbal?
On June 10, the advisor to the lieutenant-governor of J&K, Baseer Khan, went to the Manasbal area of Ganderbal district for a public outreach programme. He was accompanied by the DM of Ganderbal and had to meet several public delegations of the area. A civil society delegation from Safapora Manasbal in Ganderbal also came to meet Khan and was supposed to present a memorandum regarding local developmental issues. Incidentally, Baseer Khan is a Kashmiri who served in the state bureaucracy for many years until his retirement in 2019.
As per media reports, a 50-year-old man, Sajad Rashid, who was the spokesman of this group said: “I have expectations from you because you are a Kashmiri and can understand our problems. I can catch hold of your collar and can seek answers from you but what expectations can I have from the officers who are non-locals.”
The DM of Ganderbal, Krittika Jyotsna, an IAS officer of the 2014 batch, took strong exception to the remarks. She got up from her chair and objected. There was chaos and confusion and the meeting got disrupted. The advisor to the L-G and the deputy commissioner left the venue. That’s not all. The DM got the man arrested after a few hours.
Sajad was first asked by the SHO of Safapora police station to appear before him. From there, he was taken to the office of the superintendent of police, Ganderbal. In the evening, he was brought to Safapora police station and within an hour, released. At around 10 pm, Sajad was again asked to come to the police station. After going there, an FIR under Section 153A was registered against him and he was detained for six days in the police station. He was not set free even after being granted a bail from a local Ganderbal court.
To ensure that he remained in the lockup for some more days, another case was registered against him under Sections 107 and 151 of the IPC wherein an executive magistrate (tehsildar or SDM) is empowered to issue a preventive detention order citing reasons of apprehension of breach of peace.
Pertinently, these officers work under the command of the DM. It was only after huge criticism in the national media and social media that the police released Sajad on June 17. Ironically, the local media could not even criticise the incident fearing they would be targeted. Post Article 370 abrogation, the local media is under tremendous pressure as many newspapers have been deprived of government advertisements.
Skills of IAS Officers
IAS officers are primarily brilliant individuals with good written and communication skills, analytical powers and general awareness. What the UPSC tests is the examinee’s capability to “crack” the exam, and various coaching institutes assist them in doing so.
A leader requires much more than that. He has to be able to build a team and carry them along by motivating those working with him. This entails setting up examples and even a few personal sacrifices. He has to excel in communication skills beyond the written one. He has to be ethical and have a positive attitude. None of these are tested at the time of recruitment.
A civil servant should possess the acumen to make decisions that aren’t an afterthought. Being the leader of a district, he must show humility with the people living there.
If a 2014 batch IAS officer gets a man booked for nothing, what can we expect from such officers after they complete 20-25 years of service?
The IAS is one of the most esteemed professions in our country. It fosters high hopes for aspiring candidates. Aspirants imagine a good life with a big bungalow, a chauffeur-driven car, a spacious office and attendants at service, but in reality, the responsibility of an IAS officer is much more than these perks.
After recruitment, most IAS officers are posted in rural or semi-urban areas. Ganderbal is also a semi-urban district where Krittika Jyotsna was posted a few months back. She belongs to the UP cadre and was deputed to J&K on inter-cadre deputation along with her husband for two years early this year.
It was a great opportunity for this young officer to learn new things and understand the psyche of the people in Kashmir and to act as a bridge between the government and the people.
But the way she got an educated, upright civil society activist thrown into a police lockup for six days for no fault of his and getting him booked under various sections of the IPC has hurt not only the people of Ganderbal but the entire population of J&K.
Had Sajad’s intention been wrong, Baseer Khan should have lambasted him or got him booked for insulting him, but he didn’t. The advisor knew the psyche of the locals. At a time when we do not have an elected government in J&K and governance has crumbled at the grassroots level, people come to meet government officers with hope, but in the return, get humiliated.
This is not the case at the top. L-G Manoj Sinha meets several delegations of people at Raj Bhavan in Srinagar almost daily. He is not harsh with people.
But at the lower levels, some IAS officers need counseling and refresher courses. If people are not even allowed to express themselves freely, what kind of democracy are we living in?
In Parliament and in state assemblies, parliamentarians and legislators make a hue and cry. Will they all be sent to jail by the government for doing so? On the contrary, Sajad had gone to meet the L-G’s advisor and DM with hope. He had certain demands which included upgrading the primary health centre there into a community health centre, sanctioning of a degree college at Safapora, setting up of a sports stadium, construction of a panchayat house, setting up of a scientific solid waste treatment plant, etc.
But now his hopes are shattered, leaving him and the people of J&K demoralised.
(Raja Muzaffar Bhat is a Srinagar-based activist, columnist, and independent researcher. He is an Acumen India Fellow. The views expressed are personal.)