Time to wind up ‘briefcase administration’ in J&K

Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo
Ever since India achieved independence, the Government and the administration evolved a working culture suited to the taste of a few at the top. This practice continues up to date in many areas. The north-eastern states and the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir were categorised as special states for many reasons. Their special status unfortunately proved a bane for them than a boon in the long run.
The issue of development, running of administration and addressing the people’s immediate, genuine and urgent concerns were left to the bureaucracy to take care of. The politicians usually kept themselves busy in the frivolous political theatrics, amassing of wealth and assets in and outside the state and electioneering in order to be able to remain in power without any public accountability.
Both the areas of north-east and Jammu and Kashmir were given a belief that they were always on top priority in regard to various developmental scenario, but the facts speak otherwise. Since the politicians banked upon the bureaucracy and the officialdom more than their own keen interest in their areas of public concern, the bureaucracy also developed it’s own style of functioning.
The survey of governance and working of administration for the initial six decades after independence in these two sensitive areas suggests that a typical type of working culture was adopted by the administration in these two areas. Every posting and transfer of officials was taken as an adhoc measure, the major policy matters would be at once linked with the central grants and fundings regardless of their feasibility, plausibility and compatibility. Politicians would make it sure that the central funds are taken for various purposes on one pretext or the other without any accountability and serious or sincere audit. Submission of utility certificates was construed as an affront by both the politicians and the rulers but grant of funds was considered a matter of right.
Seeing this trend of politicians during the early years of governance during the fifties of the 20th century, the bureaucracy also introduced and developed a culture of “briefcase administration”. The people who were posted in these two areas in the capacity of IAS or IPS officers or the higher ups in Banks, GoI offices, Insurance sector or other public sector undertakings would prefer to keep their families outside the states of their postings, preferably in Delhi or Kolkatta. This would pave a way for the officers to shuttle between the nation’s capital and their place of postings in these states often and sometimes even on official tours with flimsy official work. With this, developed the culture of briefcase administration where an officer, higher or lower, would keep a suitcase always ready to move from his or her place of posting to the place where his or her family would be settled.
The ruling elite never took this issue seriously and allowed dilution of bureaucratic focus on development, issues of governance and redressal of people’s concerns. In Jammu and Kashmir state, there was a proverb used that “the officers from outside would come with a suitcase and leave ultimately with a truck load of assets while they would be transferred back”. This all happened for a long time under the glaring view of the ruling elite. It was believed that since they had also an ‘interest’ in the booty, so they would not raise objections to the systematic loot and exploitation of the institutions of governance.
There was a very typical thinking construed as an “underlying principle” that postings to J&K and north-east are an opportunity of tourism and to earn money. In J&K, people in the administration so posted would be actually ‘trained’ in corruption and minting of money by their superior political elite initially taking it as a part of their “customary trainings” so that they take their “diploma/degree certificates in corruption” with them ‘ceremoneously’ at the time of their repatriation back to their home towns or other places of posting.
With the passage of time, the adhoc style of functioning encouraged to keeping mum on major issues of public concerns, be it the encroachments on water bodies in the state, illegal conversion of residential areas into commercial malls, conversion of agriculture lands to residential and commercial areas, illegal mining and sand collection from rivers and nallahs, spread of commercial areas in tourist places, squeeze of green patches in mountainous and hilly tracks, misuse of charity money of temples, shrines and religious endowments, willfully allowing NPAs’ spread in banks and financial institutions, false window-dressing of government schemes connected with the development, deliberate silence on mismanagement in education and health sectors leading or compelling people to go outside the state for relief and continuing with rather encouraging the “percentage partnership formula” in the working divisions of all public works departments at all levels.
It is a matter of shame and disgust that the medical administration and the concerned doctors in the state are duly taking their “cut” consequent upon supply of medicines and equipment for use of the patients on deathbed from small and big medical firms and companies. Foreign tours and financing of marriage functions of the kids of the doctors and bureaucrats are also sponsored by these medical enterprises in order to win favours. Higher or highest officers including the teaching staff in schools, colleges and universities were and are involved in purchases of books, stationary and scientific and sports material from their “own enterprises” to get the due cut for themselves. There is a share in the purse even in the mid-day meals and this all is happening right under the nose of the ruling elite, bureaucrats and responsible officialdom.
Briefcase administration spreads a feeling of unconcern, distantly-related sense of attachment, what-to-me attitude and fill the pockets wherever and whenever possible. Hardly has Jammu and Kashmir seen any officer withstanding to his principles on issues of concern and public interest and taking cudgles with the ruling elite. Unfortunately, there was no culture of that sort neither in their education nor in their trainings and also not during the on-the-job training while on probation.
Briefcase administration has done its damage far more and larger than expected. The governments need to ensure that the bureaucrats live in the state of their postings as a part of that particular State, UT or place.
It is important to change the psyche of the administration particularly when there are no politicians around in the areas of governance. Bureaucrats and officials as an integral part of the system are responsible for changing the fortune of the people, area and environment. They are well trained and paid for the same. Let us shun this briefcase administration attitude in the governance and assume a sense of belonging to the people’s sufferings woes and pain. The changed situation in the UT of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir paves way for creating a new Jammu and Kashmir in tune with the national mood.
The administration, bureaucracy and officialdom in the state/UT are so integral with the system that the expectations are real and the expected ones. With the introduction of the work culture introduced by the Modi led government at the centre over the last five years, time has come to say good bye to the briefcase administration and adopt measures to shun adocism in governance. With the scrapping of provisions of Art370 and dessolution of Art35A, bifurcation of J&K state and creation of UTs, a new environment needs to be put in place revamping the old one. Fortunately, the old guards are out and so is most of the dead wood.
The new government in the UT of J&K is expected to create a new hope pregnant with a promise of reform ab intio keeping in view the people’s aspirations and demand. A review and introspection is always a healthier state of mind leading to overhaul, repair and new look. The people of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir await the expected and the desired both eagerly and earnestly.