If ministers and bureaucrats had played by the rules, there would have been no need for a revision of the code of conduct for ministers. But since there have been far too many lapses for comfort, the ministry of home affairs has undertaken a revision that suggests that ministers should not exert pressure on bureaucrats on the matter of taking certain decisions.
Similarly, bureaucrats are advised to desist from cultivating political patronage and to ensure that this does not happen they will be monitored. The matter is being taken up by the Cabinet and if it is taken further will go a long way in establishing a firm dividing line between the bureaucracy and the political establishment.
We have seen examples of extreme victimisation of bureaucrats who refuse to fall line with the wishes of their political masters. Durga Shakti Nagpal, the feisty officer who took on the Uttar Pradesh sand mafia is a case in point.
Arbitrary suspensions, witch hunts, transfers, postings to dead end jobs, these are all threats which dangle like a Damocles sword over the heads of bureaucrats who insist on doing their jobs without fear or favour. The case of Ashok Khemka in Haryana who have been at the receiving end of political retribution for exposing the deals of the influential is another one which comes to mind.
Now the politicians alone are not to blame for this. For there are bureaucrats too who see the merits in cosying up to politicians to further their careers. Bureaucrats have also been caught using their proximity to political power to aggrandise themselves.
All this has led many people to lose faith in what was once the steel frame of governance. It is only fitting that the code of conduct clearly defines the division of responsibilities among bureaucrats and politicians. But this alone is not enough.
If a politician is found guilty of trying to unduly influence a bureaucrat into taking a decision which is suspect, then there has to be a suitable punishment for it. Bureaucrats cannot be left to the mercy of politicians when it comes to their tenure. The fear of retribution could encourage not just wrongdoing but it could also encourage apathy.
A bureaucrat may well decide not to act on a particular issue for fear that he may have to pay a price for it later.
If indeed, the bureaucracy can be insulated from political pulls and pressures, we are likely to see a visible improvement in governance. In states, where bureaucrats have been given a relatively free hand like Tamil Nadu, the quality of governance is superior to that in many other states. With governance being the watchword today, we can only hope this revision will kick in soon.