Amit Kataria, who was served a notice by the state government for wearing a sunglass while receiving prime minister Narendra Modi in Bastar recently, choose to react? He refused to talk to media in his defence, but as The Times of India reported on Sunday, the officer reportedly clarified his position in a Whatsapp group of IAS and IPS saying that wearing bandhgala for hours while looking after arrangements is not practical particularly when Bastar’s temperature in May is above 40. Kataria is district magistrate in Naxal-hit Bastar district. He reportedly said in the social media group that he was dressed in formal dress -- blue shirt, black trousers, black leather shoes. So, the question remains: will wearing sunglasses make an officer “unbecoming of a bureaucrat”? It’s however not clear whether PM actually called him (sarcastically) a “Dabang collector” as reported in a section of local media which many thought prompted the state administration to send him a formal notice. But as the state chief secretary clarified later it was a mere warning, meaning that the episode would end at this stage only.
For Shakuntala Gamlin, 1984 batch AGMUT cadre IAS and Delhi’s new acting chief secretary, the situation is even trickier. Till two days ago, she was probably a “well-meaning” bureaucrat and power secretary of Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government. There has been no vigilance case against her. But if someone listened to what Delhi chief minister said publicly about her on Sunday in a north Delhi public meeting, the listener would get an impression that Gamlin probably adopted corrupt practices to work in favour of rich corporate houses!
According to Kejriwal, Gamlin wanted to trick the government into signing a document which would have given a guarantee of whopping Rs 11,000 crore to power firms and resulted into a hike of power tariff. No doubt, it’s quite a serious charge against the officer. But the question is: should the officer come out and tell her part of the story publicly? Shouldn’t she defend her openly if she is shamed publicly? Many civil servants find it a disturbing trend, as unlike politicians who come forward to defend themselves in front of the camera, the supposedly anonymous civil servants can’t interact with media and talk against political representatives, forget a chief minister.
For those who have not tracked the sequence of the event, here is why Kejriwal chose to shame the officer in a public gathering. The Delhi CM wanted another IAS officer to be acting chief secretary during the 10-day-long absence of incumbent KK Sharma who is currently in US on a personal visit. Incidentally, Gamlin’s name also figured in the list of nominees. But Lieutenant Governor chose Gamlin over the CM’s candidate, something which could be possible because Delhi is not a full-fledged state. As reported, CM’s office asked Gamlin not to assume charge, but she took over as Delhi’s acting chief secretary on Saturday saying that not obeying the order of the LG would mean dereliction of duties. The CM then said he would keep a tab on the files that she would sign as the chief secretary. Also, the principal secretary (services) Anindo Majumdar, who had issued the appointment letter to Ms Gamlin following the LG’s order, was removed by Delhi government from the post, but the LG intervened and declared that order null and void.
Many a bureaucrat is upset over the fact that senior civil servants could be collateral damage in a war between political rivals. The question that remains unanswered is whether bureaucrats would be risking themselves for public shaming if they refuse to toe a particular political line. After all, Gamlin was considered as a well-meaning bureaucrat only till a couple of days ago. No one in the Kejriwal government ever accused her of any corrupt practices.
But in just one day, as she refused to toe a particular political line, she turned out to be a “corrupt officer”. So, the question is how should she defend herself? Should she hold a press conference to clear her position? And if that happens, will it be seen as an open confrontation between a state chief minister and chief secretary?