Mr. Sarvesh Kaushal has retired on August, 31st, 2018 after serving in IAS cadre for 37 years. He was selected in IPS in 1981 and next year he joined IAS in 1982. He worked in many departments, which gave him wide administrative experience. He was Chief Secretary to Government of Punjab for about three years. Despite being controversial remained with his style of governance, he was considered to be punctual, intelligent , efficient and hard task master bureaucrat . We spoke to him at length about various aspects of life, governance etc- Babushahi Bureau
Here is the complete interview:
Q: You belong to a family of servicemen for three generations. Does that help?
A: My answer is both yes and no. Yes, because one is groomed all through the formative years about the work and conduct essentials. No,
because one is exposed only to a particular section and not the different hues of the society on a level platform. In India, services mostly handle the supply side, and not the demand side of the sea saw. One must have a taste of the receiving end to calibrate one’s responses to correct perspective.
Q: Why do people feel dissatisfied when it comes to dealing with the government offices?
A : Yes, particularly the youth. Hard working people are generally stressed out because they face cut-throat competition in their daily routine. Apathy of public authorities at the cutting edge levels is the last straw which pushes them against the wall.
Q: Where does the remedy lie?
A: The civil servants need to pace up and cover real ground in providing citizen-centric administration. Ease of living for the citizen is the first and foremost thrust area which is not getting the desired amount of priority, attention and efforts. There are no authentic benchmark indices for ease of living rankings. Ease of living is the core remedy for making a vast population relatively more satisfied and happy. Their day to day lives need to be de-complicated.
Q: What are salient thrust areas for improving ease of living?
A: The first and foremost, a fundamental change is required in the mindset. Bureaucrats must trust the citizens. They should step into their shoes and respect them for the desperate effort they make day in and day out to keep themselves afloat. Unfortunately, many bureaucrats are still steeped in the colonial legacy of rulership, and therefore invite backlash of contempt, disrespect and distrust by the people in a democracy. The governance narrative must change, there is no place for attitudinal kinks now.
Q: What measures should we take for improving ease of living?
A: Cent percent digitisation of citizen related government records and their automatic online retrieval under well notified Standard Operating Procedures for domicile, caste, physical capacity, education and employment related certifications is the first and the foremost. Online submission of all applications and exchange of correspondence with government and it’s entities, and a very strong date bound Management Information System for concurrent forensic breakup and analysis of pendency in government upto the last man.
A: Of course Ease of doing Business, quality of health, education and transport infrastructure. Skill development, employability and employment generation. Safety, security, rule of law.
Q: You mentioned rule of law. What are the systemic corrections required in policing for ease of living?
A: Let me clarify that ease of living should be for honest law abiding citizen. The system, without suspecting everyone, should automatically
make the life of a dishonest, manipulative, law breaking criminal’s life extremely difficult. There should be certainty of punishment for such elements. Only then the vast majority of right minded citizens will have ease of living. Police investigators should be highly qualified professionals and third degree physical torture which is an obsolete tool which should be effectively discarded. Law should provide for a full audio- video footage of every second of police custody and custodial investigation, and it should be legally mandatory to supply a certified copy of that to the person in custody. There should be a Board to study the acquittal cases, and if they have symptoms of malicious prosecution, the criminal and departmental liability should be inescapable. This should apply to all institutions empowered to arrest and carry out custodial investigations. The fear of wrongful arrest and torture in custodial investigations is the biggest worry that a normal law abiding citizen suffers all through his life. Lots of police reforms are being enforced, a lot more needs to be done.
Q: There is a feeling going around that bureaucrats shirk taking difficult decisions?
A. To answer this, we should understand the decision making process. It's a universal fact that time changes everything and life is like a
flowing river. When a bureaucrat takes a decision, it's a snap-shot of circumstances based on which he takes decision at that point of time.
But as I said circumstances keep changing, and when they change, some decisions may appear wrong later. Secondly, in a democratic form of
government, there is always counter opinion on the table and a bureaucrat always keep that in mind - which renders decision making process reticent and slow. Thirdly, our system doesn't allow any scope for genuine mistakes and realising that, fearful for not taking right decision without an iota of doubt, bureaucrats avoid taking any decide at all. Some develop a fear of the unknown over the years. Finally, there is very little incentive to be pro-active.
Q: Isn't this decision paralysis a serious governance issue?
A: Yes it is. But blaming civil servants alone for that is not fair. In a system where even an imaginary allegation through ‘source reports’, anonymous and pseudonymous letters etc. can render a bureaucrat guilty till he proves his innocence, which may take a decade, what confidence do we generate in them? Even during a preliminary enquiry or disciplinary proceedings, the vigilance clearance is withheld for any foreign posting, foreign training, central deputation and almost everything. Even if bureaucrat is fully exonerated, he has already after lived long years of tainted life, and perhaps dubbed as ‘controversial’ all through his life despite having proved his innocence.
Q: There were media reports highlighting allegations of corruption and misuse of authority against you ? How do you react to these reports ?
A: Being a no nonsense person causes problems. The vested interests hit hard, and below the belt. I also suffered a couple of patently
false and motivated allegations from dirty vested interests as part of conspiracies, which fell flat one by one after the authorities inquired and realised that they were unsubstantiated. It takes time to vindicate oneself. Like a river flows, the lost time and opportunities do not return to greet you.
Q: The new amendment in Prevention of Corruption Act would provide some protection for bonafide mistakes. Isn't it?
A: Of course at the prosecution sanction stage. It all depends whether the competent authorities have the moral fibre and guts to be fair and
just in denial of the prosecution sanction where it merits disapproval. If they are self-image conscious, they will tend to mechanically grant the sanction saying that ‘what has the officer to fear in trial if he is innocent’? We must never forget that it is equally important to restore the dignity of a falsely accused officer, as much as it is to bring a rightly accused officer to book.
Q: Why are the inquiries allowed to linger on endlessly?
A: Fishing and roving inquiries and do not close sometimes even when there is no prima facie truth in allegations. Blocking a fishing and roving inquiry sometimes invites a risk of allegation of complicity. At the top of it, some institutions, I don’t need to name them, have been found indulging in sensationalism in pointing out highly exaggerated hypothetical losses and culpability, leading to medial trials. Everyone knows about them. This has vitiated bold and independent decision making in bureaucracy.
Q: What should be done?
A: It is imperative that the political executive and senior bureaucrats provide the right type of leadership to their juniors, and encourage them to take well reasoned, well documented, bonafide and proactive decisions. Without tolerating and sheltering corruption at any cost, they should introduce confidence building measures for pro-active decision making without any fear of uncalled for retribution later.
Q: You studied law and graduated while you were in service. How is that useful to you?
A: Anyone in government must study the laws as thoroughly as possible, because the entire governance has to take place as per law. Ignorance
of law is no excuse, and acts of omission are as serious as the acts of commission. I feel merely studying law and obtaining a degree in law serves no purpose unless one becomes a perpetual student of laws, and keeps on regularly brushing up one’s knowledge of the emerging
laws and their interpretation by the Supreme Court and High Courts. if one is able to develop the mental faculty of legal analysis and
legalistic thinking, it’s a remarkable administrative quality. Secondly, I feel very confident and reassured that the doors of my second profession are wide open after my retirement from service.
Q: Your message?
A: Truth and righteousness. Never say Yes to the vested interests, you must say No, whatever may the consequences be. Never say No to a
citizen when a citizen is entitled to a Yes, howsoever difficult may it be. Be citizen centric and go all out to make their lives comfortable through efficient delivery of services to them. Tour extensively and remain in touch with the people to understand their issues. Always be fair, just and kind to all fellow human beings. State should be a truly welfare state, having a sacred obligation for the welfare of the last man on the street. Always wish and work hard for peace and prosperity of all citizens. In them one should see the reflection of God!
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