We often fault out bureaucrats for being excessively protocol conscious but our politicians are no less, as we found out last week. The Chhattisgarh government have sent ‘warning letters’ to the district collectors of Bastar (Amit Katariya) and Dantewada (KC Devsenapati) for not following the official dress code while meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to the state on May 9. This was not all: chief minister Raman Singh added fuel to the fire by saying that it is “necessary to teach new collectors about their protocol during a PM visit”.
The stifling rule book says that a collector must wear a ‘bandhgala’ when he receives an official dignitary and so the conduct of Mr Katariya and Mr Devsenapati was a ‘clear violation’ of the All India Service (Conduct) Rules 1968. The Bastar collector was also reprimanded for wearing sunglasses while meeting the PM. Mr Katariya was wearing a blue formal shirt and black trousers, the usual attire one sees in the corporate world these days. To say that the state government over-reacted would be stating the obvious. As many senior bureaucrats have said, it is an over-reaction and the notices are frivolous. Even if a bandhgala is the norm, who on earth would wear one when the temperature is 40-plus Centigrade and had spent much of the day in the sun organising the visit?
Tradition gives a sense of security and permanence, but they must be altered according to the requirements of the day and age. When the British government, which built our administrative structure, ruled India, district heads would often go out for inspections on horses, wearing a sola topee and breeches. But with time that has changed. A couple of years ago, former UPA Cabinet minister Jairam Ramesh called the practice of wearing the traditional coloured robe at convocation ceremonies as “barbaric colonial relics” and publicly removed his gown at one such event. Last year, a Supreme Court bench said that judges should be addressed in courts in a respectful and dignified manner and it is not compulsory to call them “my lord”, “your lordship” or “your honour”, because such terms are a “relic of colonial era” and “a sign of slavery”. While changing set rules is a cumbersome process, the government should review the service rules of officers and weed out such unnecessary protocols, in the same manner it is doing now with outdated and archaic legislation.