S.N. Shukla
S.N. Shukla | By special arrangement
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Unlike many former IAS officers, he does not have a cushy post-retirement posting. Instead Shukla, 75, is busy taking on the government.

Lucknow: It has been 15 years since S.N. Shukla retired from his service in the Uttar Pradesh government. Unlike many former IAS officers, he does not have a cushy post-retirement posting. Instead, the 75-year-old is busy taking on the government, and coming on top.

Earlier this month, he was successful in his decade-and-a-half-old battle to get former UP chief ministers out of government bungalows – a provision he believes was in complete violation of citizens’ right to equality.

On 7 May, the Supreme Court quashed an amendment passed by the previous Samajwadi Party government allowing former chief ministers to retain sprawling government bungalows for life.

“I had filed a petition in the Supreme Court back in 2004, soon after my retirement…It was absurd to me why the government must continue to pay for the accommodations of chief ministers after their retirement,” he said.

While the likes of Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati are among those directly affected by the top court’s order, Shukla and Lok Prahari – an NGO in which he serves as general secretary – have a history of taking on the powerful when they are suspected to be abusing power.

Formation of Lok Prahari

In 2003, 20 retired bureaucrats, police officers and other government officials, including former chief election commissioner and Gujarat governor R.K. Trivedi – who was also Shukla’s father-in-law; DGP and chairman UPPSC J.N. Chaturvedi and retired Allahabad High Court judge S.N. Sahai, came together to form Lok Prahari.

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Since its inception, the NGO has filed several significant petitions in the Supreme Court – all of which seek to make the powerful in the country accountable.

“We are guided by the principle that we ought to make the powerful and mighty more accountable,” Shukla said.

“All our members thought that we should put our administrative experience and knowledge of the inside working of governance to some good use…We realised that nobody is in a better position than us to put governance on the right track,” he added.

A history of taking on the government

In 2013, a petition filed by Lok Prahari, along with lawyer Lily Thomas, resulted in the apex court barring any convicted person from continuing in office either as a legislator or parliamentarian.

“This was our first big victory…It went a long way in building our morale since the Supreme Court had struck down a 62-year-old provision,” Shukla said.

The NGO had challenged certain provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 on the grounds that if a convicted person cannot vote, they should, by extension, not be allowed to hold office.

In February this year, the NGO won another case when the top court ruled that politicians, their spouses and associates would have to declare their sources of income, along with their assets, in order to qualify for contesting elections.

Lok Prahari had filed a writ petition in this regard in 2015. “We fought the case on the premise that under Right to Information Act, citizens must know the source of income of those fighting elections, and not just their assets to make informed decisions,” Shukla said.

Still to be heard by the court is another petition to create an All-India Judicial Service along the lines of the All India Services.

A former bureaucrat-cum-lawyer-cum-activist

Shukla worked closely with several chief ministers of UP, including V.P. Singh, Sripati Mishra, N.D. Tiwari, Kalyan Singh, Rajnath Singh and Mayawati, during his career as an IAS officer.

While he didn’t always have a smooth working relationship with politicians — he claims to have been “dumped in two-three random postings” during his career — by and large, he was sufficiently rewarded.

Having worked in major state departments such as PWD, excise, revenue, irrigation, state vigilance commission, among others, Shukla’s most significant project as a bureaucrat included the creation of the state of Uttarakhand. He was in-charge of the erstwhile Uttaranchal Development Department in the UP government when Uttarakhand was carved out of the state.

“The entire arrangement was done by me at the time of Uttarakhand’s creation,” he said.

Shukla, who is also a law graduate, argues Lok Prahari’s cases himself. “When I was going to argue my first case in 2004, I was very nervous,” he said. For almost 30 years after completion of his law degree, Shukla had never practised.

“But in most of the cases I fight, the attorney general himself argues for the government…I’m happy I’m in a position to take on the government,” he said.

Shukla, who belongs to the 1967 batch, was pushed to complete his degree in law from Agra University by his father. “I had completed my masters and started to teach when my father told me I can work later, but I wouldn’t get a chance to complete my studies in law later,” he said

“Who knew that it would bear fruit after my retirement?” he said.

If not for Shukla being a lawyer himself, Lok Prahari, which runs from the contributions of its members, would have a hard time engaging a counsel. “We wouldn’t have been able to spend so much money,” Shukla, who runs the NGO from his own house, said.

Asked why he turned an activist after nearly three decades of service as a bureaucrat, Shukla said, “I was an activist even in service. You see, even back then, I was not a blue-eyed boy of the government.”

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