Back in 1996, Srivatsa Krishna, too, was just 28. The 1994 batch topper, SDM in west Delhi, took his job seriously. In just a few months, he got his comeuppance.
Reclaiming government land worth hundreds of crores in Delhi got the Indian Administrative Service officer in the bad books of land sharks and politicians.
And after two died during a clash with a demolition team, he was quickly made the fall guy and shunted out by the Capital's BJP government.
Nearly 17 years and 30 km away, the politicians were far less sparing.
Greater Noida SDM Durga Shakti Nagpal, 28, was suspended for demolishing a wall of a mosque — as a local Samajwadi Party leader Narendar Singh Bhati notoriously bragged — within 41 minutes of his phone call to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav last month. (READ: Who is Durga Shakti Nagpal? )
Nagpal might just have ended up as a figure in the statistics of suspended officers that the All India IAS Association compiles. Over the last two decades, there have been 200; half of them in UP alone. But there was something about the woman officer standing up to the mining mafia that struck a chord within and without the bureaucracy, triggering a furious debate — and demand — to let the civil service work, and in peace. That, however, may be easier said than done.
The IAS Association has asked the Centre to bar suspension of officers without giving them an opportunity to explain, strip chief ministers of their powers to suspend unless they first get the Centre's clearance and the like. (READ: Interview | Sanjay R Bhoosreddy: Corrupt IAS aren't getting punished. Honest are )
But some government officials caution against knee jerk reactions. "Let us not forget that for every Durga, there are two rotten eggs in the basket. It should not become impossible to punish them," a senior official said.
The coveted job
The IAS — that occupies the top slots in India's civil service — certainly does have its share of crooks. Around the same time that Durga was fighting to uphold the law, UP's two former chief secretaries Neera Yadav and Akhand Pratap Singh were fighting the law to stay out of jail after a CBI probe.
And the Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy does already call the Indian bureaucracy Asia's worst civil service in its reports.
Sanjay R Bhoosreddy, Secretary of the All India IAS Association, suggests this may be an exaggerated view. "Today, the states have to get the Centre's confirmation for its suspension orders within 45 days or the order lapses. How will the corrupt benefit if this is done before suspension, and not later?"
AN Tiwari, who played a key role as secretary of the personnel department in the UPA's first attempt to build safeguards for civil servants way back in 2006, wonders if independent panel — and not politicians — should have the power to decide transfers. "Our systems are not designed for the current crop of politicians in many states," Tiwari said.
Academic-activist Shekhar Singh calls the suggestion "a middle class fantasy"; to bypass the system and hope it works.
"We are in a parliamentary democracy where the minister must have the right… At least, the political executive is accountable to the people who will hold this panel accountable," says Singh, calling Akhilesh Yadav dismissing voices of reason a reflection of the "rising arrogance" in the political class.
It is the same sentiment that prompts politicians to amend the RTI law when one information seeker reached its backyard. Or to run down the Supreme Court's decision on barring convicted jailed politicians from contesting polls. (READ:The other 'Durgas' )
Tiwari agrees. Civil service reforms may not make a world of a difference — to civil servants or to the people — unless there are political reforms. That means the kind of bureaucrat you get depends on the kind of politicians you elect.