On Monday, Assam Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal reportedly issued a veiled warning to all bureaucrats and government employees asking them to improve their work culture or face action. The warning was issued during two separate meetings that he had with bureaucrats and government employees. In the first meeting, while addressing top officials of all departments in the presence of Chief Secretary V.K. Pipersenia, the Chief Minister spoke of the murmur among the people against the slow pace of work relating to the implementation of various government schemes. Sonowal said that his government, which had come to power to bring about the much- desired change in the functioning of the State’s administrative machinery, was disturbed by such public angst and wanted to evolve a mechanism to promote work culture, so that voices of resentment did not grow louder. He said: “You (bureaucrats) have to work hard because the people’s mandate for my government was for an active and accountable administration. There are reports that movement of files in different departments has slowed down and that piles of files are pending, for which common people are suffering. I want you to play a crucial role for smooth movement and timely disposal of all files.” He added that the people of the State were keeping a sharp vigil on implementation of various schemes and use of government funds, while the media was playing the role of a sentinel on these public issues.
There is no denying that during the last 14 months that Sarbanda Sonowal’s government has been in power, he has done much to tackle corruption and to provide efficient administration. Unfortutely, what he has possibly failed to appreciate is that there is no dearth of corrupt bureaucrats within the system that he has to rely on to achieve his objective of a clean and efficient government. It is idle to imagine that administration within the government can function without bureaucrats. There is also the erroneous general impression that any officer belonging to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is far more competent than any officer not belonging to the IAS. All said and done, the Chief Minister has to deal with a body of bureaucrats that is well aware of its power and ability to derail measures directed at rooting out corruption within the bureaucracy. Therefore, he can expect co-operation from this group only as long as his crusade against corruption does not include corruption within the bureaucracy. After all, the execution of all orders emating from the Chief Minister and other ministers will have to be done by the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy acquires additiol strength from its awareness that it can instantly stall all administrative functioning within the government. That is the obvious reason why all inquiries into scams and swindles of the government announced earlier seem to have come to a dead end. In such circumstances, the most important task of the Chief Minister would be to initiate immediate pel action against five or six of the most corrupt IAS officers and to ensure that there is no delay in their punishment. To keep saying that the law will take its own course means absolutely nothing in a scerio where many of the officers who would be required to make the law take its course would be better off sabotaging all such initiatives. Every single day’s delay in initiating action against corrupt bureaucrats due to fear of consequences makes their organization even stronger.