The decision of the IAS officers to withdraw from the move for a mass casual leave is welcome. There should have been no such protest from IAS officers; they are trained and should be mentally oriented to face any tough situation. Whatever be the provocation, the IAS officers should remember their crucial position in the administrative system, as the leaders of the civil services with wide functions and vast responsibilities. Even the Ministers may resort to strikes and demonstrations, but the IAS officers are not expected to. And when they are in doubt, they should re-read the speeches of Sardar Vallabhai Patel in the Constituent Assembly where he defined the importance of the All India Services in the Constitutional system.
Having said this, I have to add that the IAS officers in Kerala have a genuine grievance. The spate of vigilance cases against senior officers is unsettling. The counter question is – when there is a complaint, should it not be enquired into? Yes, complaints should be enquired into, but there should be no cognisance of frivolous complaints or those with vested interests; there are ways of low key verification of facts without publicity and consequent maligning of the officers. The recent cases all appear implausible based on the material that has come out in the public domain. It is never smart for the top government authorities to give pin- pricks to its key officers in insignificant matters even if there has been an error on the part of the officers. If the government prosecutes an officer for acting on a Cabinet decision, or on the valid orders of a Minister, it clearly leads to demoralisation, not only of that officer, but of his peers as well.
This is where the role of the Vigilance Department has to be examined. The vigilance machinery consisting of police officials has no responsibility to think philosophically about the demoralisation of the top administrators; their job is to build a case which will stand judicial scrutiny. When vigilance registers a case against a Minister who issues a legally valid but imprudent order for appointing a person related to him to a senior position, they might include the Secretary as a fellow conspirator although he would never have known about the relation between the Minister and the new appointee. The Government claims to have given the Vigilance a free hand in investigations, which is certainly the right approach. However, the IAS officers feel that the Director of Vigilance Investigation himself is directing a maligning campaign against them, initiating enquiries and giving wide publicity; and unfortunately, this allegation cannot be dismissed as frivolous. The Government has a duty to allow independent investigation of vigilance cases, but when there are specific allegations against the vigilance chief, these must also be enquired into.
This is where there is need for a mature moderator in vigilance cases against senior officers, like the Central Vigilance Commission in the Central Government system. The morale of the administrative system has to be high if the government really wants to perform, and for this, punish the corrupt, but avoid harassing honest officials.
(Published in the Deccan Chronicle, January 10, 2017)