WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
The first time I ever had anything to do with the Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) was more than half-a-century ago. As an applicant for a lectureship in Cotton College I had to appear for an interview conducted by the APSC. The Chairman of the august body in those days was the late Aghore th Bhattacharjee and the interview board had other members like the late Dr Hiranya Chandra Bhuyan, the late Sharada Kanta Sharma, Prof. Amaresh Dutta of Gauhati University and other eminent persolities. The very mes should have been enough to intimidate any young candidate quite wet behind the ears, but I do not recall that I was frightened. If anything, the gentlemen present did everything possible to make candidates comfortable. For me, the outcome of the interview suddenly became less important than the fact that I was privileged to be in the presence of a very eminent group of persons and that such an opportunity would probably never come my way again. They were all men learned not only in the subjects of their choice, but also in other disciplines. For instance, Chairman Aghore th Bhattacharjee, who had done his postgraduate studies in Philosophy, asked me extended questions on Romantic poetry to get the proceedings started.
I am deeply saddened to talk about the APSC because of the degradation it has suffered in the space of just 50 years or so. I am particularly saddened by the thought that this decadence of the Assam Public Service Commission has not come about by accident, but rather by the machitions of our leaders who ought to have known much better than to have systematically wrecked a very important agency of the State for cheap and transient persol gains.
The Assam Public Service Commission not only selects people for the civil service of the State, but conducts examitions for selections to other services of the State as well. But even if it did no more than recruiting people to the civil service and to allied services like the State police service, it deserves to be regarded as a key organization of the State. However, over the years, due to serious compromises having been made on the selection of successive chairmen of the APSC, we now have an organization that is far from being unimpeachable in the matter of just and fair selection of candidates to the civil service and other services of the State. At some point, nepotism became a serious corrupt practice within the APSC. And no matter how the government of the day might attempt to ratiolize such reprehensible conduct within such a vital organization, corruption is corruption, regardless of how hard some people might try to make sleaze look acceptable even in high places. And because the APSC is no longer clean and transparent about its activities, it is beginning to take longer and longer to hold competitive examitions and to declare results. Such things generally happen when organizations begin to adopt corrupt practices and make futile attempts at hiding such practices from the public.
It is difficult to say with any degree of certitude as to when the downslide in the affairs of the APSC began. But the most visible catastrophe of the APSC was during the chairmanship of Tara Prasad Das in the 1990s. There was clear evidence of the fact that he used to take money for selecting candidates to the Assam Civil Service and allied services. After his infamous removal from office and the Income Tax raid on his house, his role in the business of selling jobs was quite evident. The raid on his house revealed assets far in excess of his known sources of income. What is interesting, however, is that Das contested the Assembly elections after this and won. His victory in the elections constitutes a sad commentary on public behaviour. Even though people knew about his activities, they chose to elect him as their representative in the Assembly.
After being elected Chief Minister of Assam in 2001, Tarun Gogoi set up a one-man committee under the late Tapan Lal Baruah, Home Commissioner, Assam “to clean up the APSC”. Unfortutely, like most other chief ministers, the Tapan Lal Baruah committee’s recommendations were accepted only partially as and where it suited the whims of Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. This is the typical response of most politicians to the recommendations of commissions appointed by them: they accept only what is convenient for them and reject the bulk of recommendations regardless of how worthwhile or desirable they may be in public interest. Perhaps the most important recommendation of the TL Baruah Committee was that a committee should be constituted to select the Chairman and other members of the Assam Public Service Commission, and that the committee should be constituted with the Chief Minister, the Speaker of the Assam Assembly and the Leader of the Opposition as its members. Unfortutely, the Tarun Gogoi government, despite its tall claims about ensuring transparency and accountability in governce, did not accept this recommendation of the TL Baruah Committee that would have brought transparency in selecting the APSC chairman and other members. There are those who allege (not without some justification) that Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi threw out this key recommendation because he wanted to retain the power to appoint the APSC Chairman and members exclusively in his own hands. The other important recommendations were that the commission had to be manned by competent, honest and independent persons of outstanding ability and high reputation who commanded confidence of the people and who would not allow themselves to be deflected by any extraneous consideration from discharging their duty of making selections entirely on merit. The TL Baruah Committee had also recommended that the Secretary of the APSC should undergo training in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in order to acquaint himself with the method of work in a constitutiol body like the Public Service Commission. Another important recommendation was that the commission should prepare a detailed office manual like the one of the Rajasthan Public Service Commission for the guidance of its staff in the conduct of their duties. The committee was of the opinion that the Combined Competitive Examition of 1998-99 had been mismaged and that the list recommended by the commission suffered from favouritism, bias, manipulation and violation of established rules and procedures. The committee had also recommended that the Chairman/members/Secretary/Controller of Examition should, before the commencement of the process of examition, declare if any of their relatives were appearing in the examition and dissociate from doing any confidential work relating to the examition. Another recommendation was that the commission should give proper weight to academic achievements of the candidates, his/her past experience and professiol attainment while allocating marks in the interview. The committee was of the view that any delay in sending recommendations to the government after the completion of interview would leave scope for manipulation, and should be avoided.
By the look of things, it would appear that Mr R.K. Paul, the present Chairman of the APSC has taken perverse delight in flouting all the important recommendations of the TL Baruah committee in the matter of conducting APSC examitions to the satisfaction of every single political leader who had candidates needing to be shoved into the civil service of the State because they could not get there on merit. People like Tara Prasad Das and Paul who have wrecked the APSC and got away unscathed deserve capital punishment in a country where the death sentence still exists because they have been responsible for the killing of not just one or two individuals but for the death of an institution that is so vital to clean, transparent and honest selections of a State’s civil service. A civil servant who has to buy his job cannot be expected to be free of corruption. After all, anyone who has had to bribe someone like the Chairman of the Public Service Commission has had to pay a very hefty price to become a civil servant. It is idle to expect that he will not want to recover what he has paid in the form of bribes and that he would not make bribery and sleaze a repertoire of his style of functioning as a civil servant. That is precisely what happens when political leaders decide to subvert major institutions of a democratic structure.