Working of a civil servant

B D Sharma

Acareer in the civil service is a boon. On the one hand one is able to earn his livelihood and on the other hand one gets an opportunity for serving the fellow human beings. Furthermore it provides a platform for enjoying the challenge of navigating complex problems or systems. In the process of performing routine work and even while taking small steps the civil servants add up as a team to do big things. Every government servant is required to uphold the basic requirements of serving the people, observing core values of ethics, transparency, promptness and politeness etc. The common man, however finds many Government servants falling short of fulfilling these requirements. Many times a Government servant is well intentioned and makes genuine efforts but fails to make a headway for no fault of his. At other occasions he succeeds only if he deviates from the beaten track. Occasionally he finds a mentor who holds his hand or provides him the guiding light in finding the solution of the problem being encountered. Performance of majority of the Govt employees including your present author(who had the good fortune of being a civil servant), can be rated as mediocre and consequently they are left with few pleasant memories to cherish of that period. Since he belonged to the family of average stock of officers, he would find himself satisfied in just pushing the cart of his responsibilities in a routine way. He had, of course, dozens of ruses, subterfuges and explanations to justify normality in his performance. One of the plausible justifications of course, would be his posting for much of his career in the Revenue department, one of the most tradition bound departments in the Government where innovation and ingenuity had not much of a place. Employees in the department felt satisfied with the percepts and procedures evolved over the centuries right through the benevolences of Raja Todar Mal to Cornwallis- of Permanent Settlement of Bengal fame, to James Douie, famous Land Settlement authority, to Walter Lawrence, of The Valley of Kashmir fame and few others. These employees would always conclude that the last word on the subject had already been said leaving, consequently no further scope for improvement to be made by them. Simultaneously at the start of his career, he chanced upon to have the company of some senior colleagues who were votaries of “Kumm ni kar te Ghumm ni kar::Fikar kar te bar bar Zika kar” meaning not to put much effort in the discharge of official duties. At the start of his career he did also happen to interact with a senior colleague, who was working as Deputy Secretary. The latter would never go through the contents of the office notes serialized on the file before him. He just opened the file, located the words Dy Secy, struck it and marked the file to his boss if it had come from below and to the Under Secretary if the file came from above ensuring in the process that his eyes didn’t catch a glance of the contents of the notes. One day it so happened that the Commissioner/ Secretary, his boss recorded in a file that the Dy Secy urgently ‘spoke’ to him and marked the file to Dy Secy. In official parlance when the boss desires that the subordinate is required to speak to him(the boss), the former takes file with him personally to the boss to clear some doubt or elaborate some point to the boss. But as was the wont of our friend, he did not have a look on the instructions on the file and simply struck the words Dy Secy and marked the file downwards to the Under Secretary. The Under Secretary resubmitted the file to Dy Secy making the endorsement that the Commissioner had desired the Dy Secy to speak to him. Our friend again rose to the occasion and didn’t bother to read the contents of the note of the Under Secretary. He simply struck Dy Secy and again sent the file to the Commissioner/Secretary. The boss’s wrath obviously knew no bounds on going through the proceedings on the file and took our friend roughshod and let him off only after giving him a proper dressing down. With inspirations from such glorious senior colleagues, your author was destined to remain a “Lakeer ka Faqir” for much of his career. It doesn’t, however, mean that many employees are merely evaders. Many officials work devotedly to provide thoughtful policy guidance, draft emergency legislation, provide evidence-based advice to leaders, design and implement extensive new programs to maintain services even in the most challenging situations, steward natural resources, look after vulnerable populations etc. Once in a blue moon the likes of your author also happen to stray from their beaten track and manage to do some useful work, how insignificant or small it may be. One such opportunity came your author’s way during his posting as Labour Commissioner. The location of that office was not suitable as there was a slaughter house adjoining to it. The horrible shrieks and screams of the animals being slaughtered were not only nauseating but sickening and disgusting too. He approached the higher authorities for getting an alternate building allotted for the office but didn’t succeed. In the meantime he was also engaged in acquainting himself with the Acts and Rules being administered by his new department and in the process came across a Central Act, The Building and Other Construction Workers(Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act and the adjunct legislation, The Building and other Construction Workers’Welfare Cess Act, 1996. Anumber of welfare measures are envisaged under these pieces of legislation for the welfare of labourers. One important provision relates to imposing a cess of one percent on the cost of all the construction works being carried out in the erstwhile State. The amount thus collected is to be spent on various welfare measures for all categories of workers engaged in the construction activities. It was inquired from the dealing assistant of the availability of the funds collected under this Act as I wanted to expend some part of it in hiring a private building for the office because the Act had the provision for spending five percent of the collected amount for administrative purposes. But to my dismay the dealing assistant told me that not even a single paisa had been collected so far. The Act had been notified many years back and formalities like the constitution of the Board and other preliminary work under the Act had been done. The duties under the Act had been assigned to the employees of the Labour Deptt till posting of the regular employees in the Board. The matter regarding depositing the one percent Cess had repeatedly been taken up with the concerned departments but to no avail. In the monthly meeting of the District Officers it was stated that the field officers of the departments executing the construction works, were not paying the cess as they had not been provided with the funds required for the purpose. Correspondence had also been made with the higher authorities of the concerned departments by my predecessors without any result. I thought over the matter and decided to take up the issue with the Administrative Secretaries of the Public Works, PHE/Irrigation and Rural Dev Departments. Since the letters, being written were losing their way in the labyrinth of the official lanes and by lanes, so I decided to approach these officers personally. The first administrative secretary with whom I decided to hold a meeting was AK Angurana with whom I had very friendly relations since the days we used to prepare for the competitive exams and who was reputed to have a very positive attitude particularly in the matter of taking steps for ameliorating the condition of the poor. He was posted as Principal Secretary PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control. Accordingly I prepared a DO letter spelling out the background of the framing of the law, its scope and the difficulties in collecting the funds from his department for the welfare of the workers and enclosed all the relevant papers with the letter which I handed over to him when I met him in his office chambers. He called the officials concerned and the issue was discussed threadbare. As is the practice in the Secretariat his subordinates opined that they would examine the issue and put up the note through him for the approval of the Minister in charge. They further pointed out that the discussion for the Work Plan for that year had already taken place with Planning Deptt and they had no option but to incorporate the instant requirement of funds in the following year’s plan. Furthermore the field agency would have to work out the exact amount of funds required for this purpose. This course of action would definitely had taken much time as against my desire for quick outcome so I felt a bit dejected. But Mr Angurana rose to the occasion and circumvented all the secretarial hassles and overruled his subordinates. He gave dictation for the draft of a circular addressed to all the field officers to ensure paying Cess under the Act. He further told his staff that there was no need to put up the note on the file for taking the approval of the Minister because the action was obligatory on them through the force of statutory law. So far as the availability of funds was concerned, he found an ingenious solution and directed that the funds for this purpose be utilized out of the “overall savings” from the already allotted funds till the regular provision for the same was made. In this way he promptly came out with the solution of the payment of the cess and issued directions to the field officers there and then to release the amount of cess to the Labour Deptt. Since one department had issued the circular instructions so it became easier for us to get similar instructions issued from the other departments who were undertaking construction works. With the instructions from the secretariat in hand the District Officers of our Deptt pursued the matter vigorously with the field officers of those departments and the cess amount started pouring in the kitty of Labour Department. Simultaneously the matter was brought to the notice of the then Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Govt of India, Madam Sudha Pillai, who was a very assertive lady almost like our own Madam Sushma Chaudhary who tolerated no nonsense. She took the dealing assistant of her office to task and spared me with a mild rebuke for not bringing the lapse to her notice earlier. She issued directions to the organizations of the Central Government such as Railways, NHPC and National Highway Authority etc. to release the amount of cess immediately. By the time I was posted out of the Labour Deptt after about three months a sum of about one Crore of rupees had been received by the Department as Cess under the said Act. Policy on the pattern of other states to provide compensation on untimely death of labourers, scholarship and other benefits to their children, medical expenses and a host of other welfare measures was framed. It was a matter of lot of satisfaction that by taking a little interest and by devising a modus operandi for accomplishing it, an important welfare programme of the Government had been got operationalized. Now whenever activities of the Board are reported in the press, it is seen that the Board is flushing with funds, more than 1200 Crores already collected as Cess in the course of fourteen years. About four lakh families of poor labourers have been registered and are getting a swathe of benefits under the scheme. It may not be out of place to mention that something extraordinary was not done in this case because every Govt employee is supposed to find a solution of the problem to which he is confronted with. Even if the issue had been dealt with in routine manner, it would have been resolved though a bit belatedly. But with my giving an undivided attention to the problem and identification of the proper course of action, the receipt of Cess as well as its availability for the welfare of labourers got expedited. My role in speeding up the process was not that paramount. In fact it were the other authorities particularly AK Angurana who played significant role in streamlining the process yet it gave me a lot of satisfaction because I played the role of driving and channelizing the efforts. Though I myself lacked adequate quantum of passion for work during my service career yet I can not hold myself back from suggesting the young officers in Service that they should not deal with the issues before them in a routine, summary and slipshod manner. One must apply one’s mind properly and ponder and ponder over them time and again. Some way-out is definitely going to be found and when the same is found, it is bound to give you a lot of satisfaction and happiness. Similarly if you miss to accomplish some task due to the lack of devotion and dedication on your part, then the same shall be leaving you with a sense of repentance and guilt. It may further be mentioned that in the whole effort of this sort, goodwill of your seniors and cooperation of your colleagues and subordinates is very important. So one must always maintain respectful and cordial relations with all of them. This will make a difference in the achievement of your goal and in the process you will get the gift of job satisfaction. You will simultaneously enjoy the feeling of giving something in return to the society. (The author is a former Civil Servent)