Alongside doctors and health professionals, the nation’s babus have emerged as the principal force of resistance against the coronavirus pandemic. They are not in the news but working behind the scenes to tackle the unprecedented public health crisis.
Besides taking salary cuts, babus across the country are also taking other steps in the efforts to fight the novel coronavirus. Leading from the front, associations of civil servants have formed an initiative called Civil Associations Reach to Support Natural Disasters (CARUNA), a collaborative effort to support the government’s efforts. The platform is represented by IT professionals, industry leaders, and NGOs, besides IAS and IPS officers.
Sources say that since civil servants are spread out all over the country, CARUNA is an ideal platform to assist and supplement the government’s efforts by generating a database of information about migration, medical equipment, ventilators, masks, essential supplies, augmenting human resources, facilitating supply chain, disseminating information, public awareness, welfare measures and so on.
New guardian of the forests
While not as fashionable as the IAS or the IPS, the Indian Forest Service (IFoS) is a service of competent and motivated cadre of officers, charged with the grave responsibility of conserving our threatened forests and wildlife. Nature has got a helping hand from corona, but their tasks are difficult and often dangerous. In a time when the environmental challenge is mounting amid climate change concerns, the service faces several challenges.
It is certainly a challenge that 1984-batch forest service officer Sanjay Kumar will face as the top forester. Mr Kumar, who belongs to the Jharkhand cadre, has been named Director General of Forests replacing Siddhanta Das, who has joined the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
According to sources, the search-cum-selection committee appointed by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change presented three names to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for its consideration. Besides Mr Kumar, the other two contenders were foresters Dr Savita and Dr Dinesh Kumar Sharma. Kumar emerged as the PMO’s choice, though it is said that the contest was a close one.
The new national forest policy announced last year empowers the forest bureaucracy considerably but Mr Kumar and his fellow forest officers will have to tread the fine line between protecting forests and the rights of forest-dwelling tribals and the impatient demands of economic development.
Though this is still some time away, here's something coming from the off-side.
Arvind Panagariya’s exit as vice-chairman of the government thinktank Niti Aayog in 2017 coincided with the Centre’s change in economic policies. Though he denied it, many observers at the time felt that the noted economist left because he was not aligned with the changes that the Modi sarkar was introducing.
Now rather unexpectedly, Mr Panagariya, who is teaching economics at Columbia University, has claimed in his new book that it is the bureaucracy that is responsible for the slow pace of reforms. In India Unlimited — Reclaiming the Lost Glory, he says that Indian babus continue to suffer from the socialist hangover, which has slowed down the pace of reforms the Modi sarkar wishes to introduce.
Mr Panagariya claims that the government’s attempts to privatise several PSUs remained stalled for long despite Prime Minister Modi’s push to get Cabinet approval for the list of PSUs drawn up by the Niti Aayog.
Another instance he cites is Mr Modi’s initiative for lateral entry at the top levels of the bureaucracy. According to the author, the babus slowed down the process to the extent that at the very end of his term only nine officers could be inducted from outside.
He cites several other examples and believes that the real reason is that most babus studied in Indian universities, where faculty members are still wedded to anti-business and anti-market ideology.
Mr Panagariya’s claim is bound to be contested, not the least by the “Indian university-educated” babus themselves!