Personal Account: What it takes to be a good bureaucrat in India?
I was reading my daily dose of news yesterday and saw a video of a IAS officer from a district in Chhattisgarh. See the video in the tweet:
This is the complete video first collector slapped him and broke his mobile. pic.twitter.com/suzy1RImDg— KUNAL (@Kkunal_The) May 22, 2021
This happens because we celebrate IAS officers much more than what is needed. We have over time made them responsible for much more than what the term “collector” stands for (which essentially is collecting revenue and keeping revenue records). But we have to keep in mind that they are just Magistrates. Nothing more than that.
And end of day, they are public servants. Not supposed to be political. And definitely not elected.
All the covid related data points are given out per-district by these bureaucrats and no matter how much you blame politicians for downplaying those numbers. A big contribution to that is from the lobby.
Do you know what happened to this Collector? -> Got transferred. And that’s it. Yes. That’s it.
Whenever I think of the bureaucracy, my grand father comes to my mind. Because he has always been an idol to me and a lot of people whom I meet to this day, say I resemble him. My father goes as far as saying I am the new S.B.Bapat of the family. I think he deserves a place here. And he deserves his story be told.
Late Sudhakar Baburao Bapat, IFS(Retd.)
He was born in the year 1929 in Dhar(M.P.). He was also a son of bureaucrat (Lol). His father, B.S.Bapat (M.A., L.L.B.) was Durbar and Council Secretary of Dhar state for Maratha Empire. You can imagine Durbar and Council Secretary as the top bureaucrat in a country. You can also find his name in the II2I page of the book “Who’s Who Among Indian Princes And Chiefs”. Of course, his early life was good. The family had a lot of respect. Interestingly, when his father decided to split his belongings in 3 sons, all three of them denied. One of them went as far as saying I will pay other 2 some money and will keep it if everyone denies. Hearing this angered my great grandfather and he sold everything he had, and just distributed the utensils to his sons. Till date, we have utensils having name B.S.Bapat on them.
Grandfather had a keen interest in Botany. He went ahead with pursuing B.Sc. in Botany. Post Independence, he was ~18 and he started his studies followed by writing exams for a good government job. He got into the prestigious Forest Research Institute, Dehradun in the process.
When he was 25 years old, he married my grandmother, Suniti Sudhakar Bapat (then Leela Gopal Deshmukh). She was from a very prestigious family, apparently the great granddaughter of “Lokhitvadi” Gopal Hari Deshmukh. At that time (1954), she was 18ish and studying in Poona English Medium School. There was no dowry involved in the marriage, and later she also did not take any inheritance from her father. I am told her father was very famous doctor in Bombay who completed his studies in England.
Everything both of them built, was their own effort. Even after coming from very decent backgrounds in those times. They could never buy a car in their lifetime.
Grandfather later cleared the IFS examination and was ranked 6th in the country. Before clearing the examination he was already in the State Service for Forests.
Nationalism and Ram Love
He was never a person who ever went to temples or anything like that. But he fondly read Gita, Ramayan etc. And had a very strong devotion for Lord Ram. I and my father are till date not sure what was the reason behind it. Most likely it was the concept of Ram-Rajya (Perfect Governance). He himself, was very famous for being an honest public servant. “Imandaari ki tooti nahi bolti sahab” was something everyone came and said to him. I personally have never seen an honest man like him. My father is not. I am not. He was the definition of honesty. Never took bribes, if someone offered (which was quite frequent) - denied. Faced multiple murder attempts because of his honesty and luckily never got harmed (We are talking bomb blasts in his car).
He was also a big nationalist. India was first to him, and that has mostly been the emotion in the family line. He along with his brothers, signed up for going to the 1971 war as a soldier (Was an IFS Officer. Could have just sat and watched the event happening). His brother, Lt. Col. Madhukar Bapat, a doctor by profession eventually joined the war and has multiple photographs in front of graveyard of Pakistani Patton Tanks, with Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw etc.
The IFS Officer who was never promoted
He was as some say “pain in the ass” for politicians. He never let anything wrong happen. He would never comply with what politicians asked him to do until that was the right thing to do. In his final stint in Gwalior (That’s precisely how I ended up here). I will not be naming, but he was threatened by multiple high end politicians (Union Ministers) for doing things he refused to.
Everyone always kept hearing “Get out, Get out, Get out”, whenever someone irritated him with bribes, wrong proposals etc. Till day, when my father has to throw away something, he uses exactly same tone and says “get out” multiple times :p
His approach was clear to the politicians. If you don’t like how I do things, all you can do is transfer me to some other place. Because I have no dirt on my hands. So, PLEASE DO.
He had 22 transfers in 30 years of service as IFS Officer. Retired as a Divisional Forest Officer, which clearly was not the position he deserved when he retired. Rarely got promoted. This was difficult specially for my father and my aunt, as every year (almost) he would get transferred to some other place (forest area) which did not have good schools. Nearest school used to be at times around 15-16 kms far away and would often only offer Hindi Medium of education. My grandfather would never allow usage of government vehicles for dropping my father and my aunt to schools. So they often walked all the way to get hindi education. Even their grandparents had english education.
The self dependence bug was also there, so he would often just give the fees and transfer certificate to my father who was in 6th-7th class and asked him to find a school for himself and get admission however the way he can. This is very tough parenting. Although my father has very deeply rooted problems with this and he hates all of this. But that made him something else.
I was also subjected to this, but in a much better way. I did a lot of things for myself which my friends often did not.
There’s a story where he got his leg in a very bad state and went to his father-in-law in Mumbai, who was a very big doctor. He suggested that there is a need for an urgent surgery otherwise he would lose his leg to which he agreed. Cost of a surgery in Mumbai was very high at that time. He went back and as he had a Medical Insurance, he submitted the bills to his department for reimbursement. The department replied with, “Why did you go to Mumbai? Why was this treatment needed? Why didn’t you first get approval for the treatment?”. He showed them the urgency, and how he did not had time to go through approvals, but they denied and started asking more questions. To which he replied, “Aapko nahi dena hai to mat dijiye shriman, aajke baad mujhe aapse kuch nahi chahiye”. And he returned. Post which he decided not to take LTA also. My family never went on vacations like other government employees do.
Post retirement, government denied to give him pension for some weird reasons. To which he had to go to high court and supreme court where he won the case and then the pension started to come.
Some of his amazing works can be seen in Ravines of Chambal, making sure that the ravines do not get bigger. And he also played important role in removal of dacoits from that region. Dacoit Malkhan Singh used to come to our house and give him utmost respect, for saving his life or something (We are not 100% sure).
All this resulted in a very temporary life for the family at all times. We still see the repercussions of that even today. A lot of furniture in house is foldable. No one likes to keep the house well maintained because it just became a habit.
Grandfather used to smoke Cigarettes. But he made sure my father did not. He left smoking in early 2000s and the reason was apparently me. After decades of smoking, when I came into his life, things changed xD. Now he always made sure that he smoked away from everyone, in private. So every-time, he had to smoke, he would tell me that, “I am doing something bad [chi-chi] and you should go into some other room and play”. The door was a metal door with wiremesh, so things were visible. I used to stand in the door and say, “Naka karu na aaba chi-chi” [Don’t do bad things please]. I have little memories of this.
After this happened for almost 10-12 days, he just stopped smoking. Just like that. I don’t know how he resisted the urge to smoke, but he just never did that again. Just because I was really adamant and stood in the door everytime that happened. Smokers have hard time leaving this, and he had this addiction for decades.
He made sure that he put all the important values in me, in whatever little time I spent with him. Sadly, he died of Lungs Cancer in 2012 which was expected only, shortly after my grandmother died of Liver Cancer in 2011.
He created a value system which we still have as a family. He mostly got that from his father and made sure to pass it on. I have a very deep respect for him. At times, he was selfish, very practical. But everyone has a negative side. What he also was a true patriot, honest and a nationalist individual.
When he died, father informed the District Forest Office. No one came to pay homage from the department he worked tooth and nails for.
This is me with my grandparents:
I aspire to be like him someday. I hope more bureaucrats can be like him. I hope the bureaucrats who are like him, face less troubles in life.
A family full of bureaucrats for so many generations, today has no bureaucrat in my generation. Most of my cousins don’t even stay here in India.
I hope a day comes when a brilliant IFS Officer does not have to ask his son and grandson to not be an IAS, IFS Officer because they also would be as honest and stubborn as him and would only face difficulties in their lives.
A few days back, my father got a text from his friend. He forwarded that to me. Closely captures what our society has made Beurocracy into. "Centralite" because I studied in a KV (Central School). pic.twitter.com/ByrEB8qgvD— shreyas.eth (@shreyasb94) May 23, 2021