Lucknow: Is it possible for an upright officer to work honestly in Uttar Pradesh? With there being so many cases recently of officers being hounded for daring to say no to their political bosses, the most recent judgment of the Supreme Court in case of an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer has once again brought the issue into focus.

The Supreme Court has ordered the UP government, headed by Akhilesh Yadav, to pay Rs 10 lakh to Ram Lakhan Singh, retired Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, as compensation for undue harassment of Singh at the hands of – ironically – Akhilesh’s father Mulayam Singh Yadav.

SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. PTI

SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. PTI

Ram Lakhan Singh says he believes he had been a victim of circumstances, “because at that time, Mulayam wanted to oblige the then minister Raghuraj Pratap Singh (Raja Bhaiya) by getting the Benti land denotified, since Raja Bhaiya had helped Mulayam form a government with the help of some legislators brought over from the other party. And I happened to say no to Mulayam, therefore his ego was hurt so badly that he wanted to punish me. Interestingly, I met Raja Bhaiya several times but he never asked me to denotify the land under question, whereas he could easily have said so, being a powerful minister at that time.” Interestingly, he recalls his experience with three politicians in the past to whom he said ‘no’ and all the three respected his decision. These are the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Rajnath Singh when he was the national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the former UP Chief Minister Mayawati.

“Not only this, I have very good relations with the present Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. I met him four-five times in the last two years, and most recently a few months ago when he called me for discussion over the Etawah Lion Safari. He never talked about anything else, even though he knew that I had filed a case against his father.”

He feels the government cannot compel its officers to do something which is wrong in law. “And if an officer does so, he does it to curry favour with political bosses, or under duress, or because of personal interests such as eyeing a political career. I feel the government takes good care of its officers, with decent salary, pension and other perks, and therefore they are duty-bound to protect its interests.”

But he also feels there is no need for a public servant to turn into a crusader. “Anyone who is aggrieved need not commit suicide or pick up a gun. Our system has sufficient forums to correct a wrong. In my case, I approached and got support from the Press Council, the Bar Council, the Lower Courts, the High Court, the Supreme Court and even the President of India.”

He says it is not a government officer’s job to eradicate corruption. “That requires multi-layered actions not in their domain. You are not obliging anyone by being honest, doing your job honestly is what is expected of you — no more, no less. Public servants can dare to say ‘no’ to illegal demands of politicians and they must do so with leaders of every political party,” he said.

In the last three years, there have been many cases of officers earning the ire of the Samajwadi Party and the government who refused to toe the line. One of the earliest examples in this regime was that of woman IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal who was suspended for cracking down on the sand mining mafia in west UP. She ultimately took a deputation to the Centre. Surya Pratap Singh, a senior officer who is suspended for the last several months because of his face-off with the SP regime, agrees by saying that “unscrupulous politicians will always try to put pressure on the executive. But it is up to the officers to stand up for the right thing,” he said. Welcoming the Supreme Court judgment, he says the bureaucracy needs to work in the interest of the people, rather than in the interest of some politicians.

Amitabh Thakur, an IPS officer currently under suspension for filing a complaint against Mulayam for having allegedly threatened him (Thakur) over phone, said Singh’s case “has once again given me complete faith that sooner or later I shall also get full justice against the harassment being meted to me by misusing Vigilance agency.” He said he had congratulated Singh on the Supreme Court judgment and also on Singh’s courage in presenting his case personally before the Supreme Court against the state government which had “used lakhs of public money to hire top advocates like Kapil Sibal and Rakesh Dwivedi against Ram Lakhan Singh.”

Incidentally, the Supreme Court had in September 2014 ordered the UP government to pay Rs 5 lakh as damages to IAS officer Vijay Shankar Pandey, against whom disciplinary proceedings were initiated after he joined a campaign to bring black money back.

A retired IAS officer who has been vocal on the issue of transparency in public life feels that government officers today prefer to swim along the tide, and there is no premium for honesty or neutrality in government service. “Bureaucrats should jointly oppose such attempts to browbeat them. Unless we fight this malaise together, the rare honest ones will continue to suffer,” he said.

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I was vindicated, but I’m no crusader: UP officer who dared to stand up to Mulayam