New Delhi: Civil servants in Odisha are caught in a political storm over the visit of a delegation to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s residence to congratulate him for the Biju Janata Dal’s landslide win in panchayat and municipal polls.
The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has registered its protest with Governor Ganeshi Lal, calling the state’s IAS, IPS and senior officers “politicians in disguise”, who are indulging in “blatant violation of service conduct rules” in the state.
“Taking advantage of the prevailing situation in Odisha, serving bureaucrats in the state have become politicians in disguise to wield huge political influence because of their unholy nexus with the ruling party. Such has been their indulgence in political affairs of the state that many seasoned politicians of the ruling BJD have found it suffocating to be in the party,” the state unit of the BJP said in its letter to the governor Tuesday.
The BJP has demanded a probe into the “misuse of power by such bureaucrats, collection and amassing of wealth disproportionate to their known source of income”.
The letter came two days after Odisha Chief Secretary Suresh Mohapatra, Director General of Police Sunil Kumar Bansal and Development Commissioner P.K. Jena led delegations of civil service officers and over a dozen service associations to Patnaik’s residence to congratulate him for his electoral victory.
The chief minister’s office (CMO) acknowledged the “goodwill gesture” and thanked the officers by issuing a press statement. “Senior IAS, IPS officers and members of a number of service associations today met Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik and congratulated him for the spectacular success at the recently held panchayat and urban local body elections,” the statement read
Odisha Finance Service, Odisha Police Service Association, Odisha Secretariat Service, Revenue Service, and the Constables and Habildar Association were among the bodies represented.
However, asked about the controversy, Chief Secretary Mohapatra denied that the visit was to congratulate the CM.
“We went to the chief minister’s residence to meet him. We met him after two years as this was the first physical meeting with the CM since the shutdown caused by the pandemic. We did not go there to congratulate him, but to apprise him about several developmental projects and administrative matters,” he said.
However, the incident has caused discomfort in bureaucratic circles nationally, with several senior IAS and IPS officers calling it an “undesirable” instance that “does not fit in the norms of political democracy”.
According to the senior officers, while the action was not a “violation” of conduct rules per se, as any officer can congratulate the CM in their individual capacity, but marching to his residence in groups and highlighting it makes it “improper”.
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What the conduct rules say
The All India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968, which guide the conduct of civil service officers in India, mentions “political neutrality” that officers must adhere to.
The rules detail what the term means, saying a member of the service should “not place himself under any financial or other obligations to any individual or organisation which may influence him in the performance of his official duties”.
Under the sub-rule on “taking part in politics and elections”, the rules state: “No member of the service shall be a member of, or be otherwise associated with, any political party or any organisation which takes part in politics, nor shall he take part in, or subscribe in aid of, or assist in any other manner, any political movement or political activity.”
On canvassing for a political party, it says: “No member of the service shall canvass or otherwise interfere with, or use his influence in connection with, or take part in, an election to any legislature or local authority.”
Senior retired officers said the incident didn’t directly violate the conduct rules, but it didn’t fit into the “norms of political democracy” and was unprecedented.
“This was really unnecessary. Congratulating a chief minister in individual capacity is something, but leading delegations to his residence and highlighting it was improper. Civil service officers cannot show such marked preferences towards the ruling party. It was undesirable, and it did not fit into the norms of political democracy,” said V. Ramani, a retired IAS officer.
“The chief secretary, DGP and other senior officers keep meeting the chief minister so many times a day, and they can congratulate him anytime, for that the officers do need to queue up at CM’s residence. It is a strange incident,” said Praveen Dixit, a retired IPS officer.
“This only speaks volume about the extent of sycophancy. Over a dozen associations and all senior officers meeting the CM at his residence shows that no one wants to remain behind. The CM should have raised an objection saying it was unnecessary. Instead he released a press note,” Dixit added.
Another retired IAS officer, Gopalan Balagopal, said: “This is so surprising to see the officers lined up at the CM’s residence this way. Congratulating the chief minister for an electoral win is fine, but it should not have been done in such a ceremonial way. This vitiates the atmosphere and questions the integrity of the civil service.”
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)
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