‘Influence peddling’ has long been dealing a blow to the office administration in Assam. What The Sentinel has laid bare in its front-page report on August 4, 2019 is indeed a bitter pill to swallow for those at the helm of affairs in the State administration. The news report headlined ‘Outside influence on transfer & posting!’ is all about ‘service matters’ – mainly transfer and posting – and ‘outside influence’ on them. According to the news report, 30-40 per cent workload of the State administration comes from transfers and postings that have been made quite messy by undue ‘outside influence peddling’ from ministers, MPs, MLAs and others. The slow movement of office files, leading to heaps of them pending for years and on, is a chronic ailment in the State administration. And such influence from ministers, MPs and MLAs does add to the problem. In fact, there had/has been ‘outside influence’ on all matters, let alone ‘office matters’ in the State administration.
The Sentinel report depicts in no uncertain terms that the 21st-century administration in the State is left with a legacy of undue ‘outside influence’ on ‘office matters’ from its predecessors in the 20th century. It was on December 3, 1984 when an office memorandum (ABP.94/84/1) regarding representation on ‘service matters’ was issued by the State government. The then Chief Secretary AK Palit said in the office memorandum, “Government servants should desist from bringing outside influence to bear upon any superior authority to further their interest in matters pertaining to their conditions of service…Some government servants are in the habit of sending copies of their representations to outside authorities, i.e., authorities who are not directly concerned with the consideration thereof (e.g. other minister, secretary, Member of Parliament, MLA and others). This is a most objectionable practice, contrary to official propriety and subversive of good discipline, and all government servants are expected scrupulously to eschew it… The claim of a government servant that he himself did not ask an MP or MLA or any other person to interact on his behalf will not be accepted and there will be presumption of officers’ involvement in the matter unless the contrary is proved by him. Government servants are cautioned that an adverse entry will be recorded in their ACR (annual confidential report)…”
This statement from the former Assam Chief Secretary depicts as to what the problem of ‘outside influence’ on the State administration was like in 20th century. In his honest admission as stated in The Sentinel report a minister said, “Employees often come to us to get their transfer orders stayed or modified. Sometimes, such matters don’t end there. Even MLAs put pressure on us on behalf of officers and employees. When we don’t succumb to their pressure, some even go to the Chief Minister. Getting arm-twisted, we’ve no way out but to stay or modify such transfer orders. Sometimes, MLAs come to us seeking transfer of officers to some particular places. For reasons best known to them, the same MLAs come to us after a year or so seeking re-transfer of the officers whom they had got transferred to their desired places. They ‘make us undo’ what they ‘made us do’ earlier.”
This admission from the minister lays bare the crux of the matter that needs no elaboration. A question that makes many rack their brains is – why do some MLAs move to ministers seeking transfer of some particular officers to their desired places of posting and seeking their re-transfer by the same MLAs after a year or so? Such a practice is laden with a whole lot of ‘unfair means’ that lend credence to the theory that over the years the menace of ‘outside influence peddling’ has metamorphosed into ‘influence peddling’ in the State. Maybe, this is one of the reasons why a section of MLAs in the State has been locked into such a situation under which they may end up without getting their MLALAD (Member of Legislative Assembly Local Area Development) funds released unless they submit the utilization certificates of funds released in 2016-17 by September this year. The State Finance Minister has already issued such a warning on the floor of the State Assembly that the schemes under MLALAD funds and untied funds will be foreclosed (rule out or prevent a course of action) if the utilization certificates of funds for the year 2016-17 are not submitted by September 15 this year. Schemes under MLALAD funds in the State, as often as not, get delayed as a section of legislators keeps poking their noses into matters which they are not supposed to.
Oughtn’t the present dispensation at Dispur to have done away with such a rot in the State administration by now? Over three-year rule is by no means a short period for any government to get rid of a rot in an administration. Such an evil in any administration can never be fought out unless the administrators have gritty determination and political will to get something done. Will the new blood at Dispur get it done or continue to carry forward the evil legacy?