Ridding Bureaucracy Of Deadwood

A former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), John Lobo, died in Mumbai a month ago. According to another CBI Officer of unimpeachable integrity John Lobo was one of the three most respected Directors the Central Investigation agency ever had, the other two being its first two Directors, D. P. Kohli and Frederick Arul.

I was invited by Lobos family to deliver the eulogy at his burial. While repeating what my friend and ex-colleague had opined I wondered aloud whether John Lobo would have been chosen for the job in 2017? Very, very unlikely! A stickler for truth and justice would hardly fit into the present scheme of things. The need of every political Party today is of one who is willing to bend a few rules and bottle up ones conscience to satisfy its hunger for power and dominance. In such conditions John Lobo would be a complete misfit.

I accept that Lobo was appointed in an age when merit and decency still had some place in the choices that those in power made. Morals, ethics, values have all changed in tandem with similar changes in the body politic. Officers like John Lobo would be kept out, and if by chance they did step in they would soon find themselves out on a limb.

I was asked to go to Punjab and fight terrorism in that State in 1986 when none was willing to undertake that life-threatening task. Would I have been chosen for the job in 2017 if there was such a situation there or in any other State and I was 32 years younger? Most probably yes. A Government with its back to the wall and both hands tied would have few options available. If a K. P. S. Gill was around he would have been preferred by a strong and muscular government, the only snag being its ally the Akalis, who could have demurred!

An article in an e-journal following Gills death caught my attention. There were many who eulogized K.P.S., but this middle-ranking I.P.S. Officer from the J&K cadre, Basant Rath, was the only one who dared to criticise Gill and his methods. The same J&K cadre officer writing again in the same e-journal bemoaned that no senior police officer post-Independence had stood up to the government of the day! He bemoaned that irregular, even illegal, orders were handed down by seniors to their juniors without an iota of protest!

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Related: Indian Bureaucracy – A Kafkaesque Drama by Venkatesan Ramani

John Lobo came to mind as one who would not countenance illegal instructions of politicians. There are many other such officers I can list who would never compromise their juniors in the way Rath had accused them of doing. In the first two or three decades after Independence, the political leadership itself was of a different mould and would itself hesitate to suggest anything wrong. Later things did change, but still there were officers who stood up to the shenanigans of their political masters.

Unfortunately, Rath has joined the Service when the political class has abrogated to itself the task of directly enforcing their own diktats through pliable officers who have unfortunately proliferated. The power of appointments and transfers has been misused by politicians to make even honest and conscientious officers fall in line. Many such men and women have packed up and left the Service, keeping the field wide open for the adventurers.

It is indeed a great loss to the public when good men and women decide that enough is enough! In the present prevailing atmosphere of ‘getting rich quickly at any cost’, officers like Rath who, by his writings appear to belong to different class, were the saving graces of an administration shorn of justice and the Rule of Law. Personally, I tried to dissuade some of them from quitting but had to accept failure. My own view was that the people needed officers with consciences and it was imperative that the good did not throw in their towels so easily.

I have heard of the 360-degree policy of Prime Minister Modi. In this policy the Annual Confidential Reports (ACR) are not the only vehicle of deciding the fitness of an officer for higher office. Inquiries are made about an officers integrity and his or her public image. Even subordinate officers who have served under the candidate for higher office are sounded for their experiences since they are the best judges of the honesty and performance of the man or woman who led them.

Personally I will go along with the Prime Ministers policy of making discreet inquiries about an officers integrity and acceptability to the public before assigning him or her to higher office. The age-old system of ACRs has not been able to separate wheat from the chaff. Unworthy people have been catapulted to the highest office in different departments of government to the detriment of good governance. Corruption in any department multiplies four fold when a corrupt man or woman is at its helm!

Our NGO, the Public Concern for Governance Trust, has written to Maharashtras Chief Minister commending the Prime Ministers initiative of weeding out the inefficient and the corrupt in the senior echelons of the IAS and IPS and requesting him to introduce similar measures in the State. There has been no movement in that direction and that is sad. While missing no opportunity to laud Narendra Modi, BJP Chief Minsters in States hesitate to emulate this good initiative of his which will send the right message to the bureaucracy.


The author, Julio Ribeiro, is a retired IPS Officer and former Indian Ambassador to Romania. He served as the Commissioner of Mumbai Police, DGP Gujarat, and DGP Punjab.


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6 thoughts on “Ridding Bureaucracy Of Deadwood

  • September 11, 2017 at 4:21 PM

    As always, sir has nailed the truth in a very precise manner. Enjoyed

  • September 11, 2017 at 7:51 PM

    I had the good fortune of working under Shri. Lobo during the period 1983-86 when he was posted as the Jt. Director in the C.B.I and later promoted as the Director there.
    His high sense of integrity, objectivity, professionalism and independent judgement influenced the organisational culture of the C.B.I. With him as the controlling and guiding force, no complaint was ever heard about the impartial approach of the C.B.I. in cases, irrespective of the vested interests and motivations of the parties that initiated the case.
    I recall a case in which In which he, as a Jt.Director had over ruled my assessment of the action to be initiated in a particular matter, but when the file came back to him, with his superior authority approving my recommendation and over ruling his, he rang me up to congratulate me on my analysis of the issue under consideration. I was overwhelmed by his sense of humility and modesty even as he found himself
    in a position where his subordinate’s opinion was upheld over his own.
    Nor can I forget the scene at the Varanasi Guest house at 2 a.m. some time in 1982-83, pacing up and down when I was delayed in returning from a mission of arresting a person against whom we had evidence of being involved in a political murder. He as Jt.Director was supervising the investigation when I was the Dy. Director in charge of the case. The accused was backed by influential forces, and his anxiety about the safety of the party who were on the job, rendered him sleepless. His professional reserve deserted him and he hugged me on my safe return, with the mission accomplished. His generosity extended to commending our work to the Director to the point till we were complimented by him.

  • September 12, 2017 at 7:21 PM

    This is indeed a very incisive article by an exemplary former police officer known for his courage of conviction, not to speak of his accomplishments. I agree that there is a lot of merit to weed out the plenty deadwood in bureaucracy. Mr. Ribeiro puts much credence on the 360-degree policy of Prime Minister Modi. While it is true that the APAR today is no true reflection of a person’s merit (the disclosure of the same to the officer reported upon hasn’t exactly helped matters; the APARs oftentimes are inflated because the Reporting/Reviewing Officers dare not give anything less than what the officer-reported-upon expects/wants for fear of future nuisance/reprisal from him/her and his wonderful lot of active networkers holding sway over the important functionaries in the government) because most officers today are graded Outstanding in numerical assessment. It is a different matter it is often not substantiated in the assessment drawn up in words. On the other hand, the so-called 360-degree assessment, prima facie laudable, in reality is far from laudable. A group of senior retired officers meet, go through APARs, speaks with people they know about them and judge and empanel. Running through the entire exercise is quite the same nepotistic streak which the 360-degree seeks to disavow. I’ll rather seek out a complete openness in APAR disclosure. Why disclose only to the officer reported upon? This engenders a cozy relationship between Officer-Reported-Upon and the Reporting/Reviewing Officer(s)! This isn’t a medical case history, why mustn’t all APARs then be put out in the public domain for all to see? Openness is the perhaps the best prophylactic against demerit, the networked, and the nepotistic – with everyone acting as automated ombudsman for the other!

    A case now comes to my mind unbidden. It happened not too long ago, when I worked as the Additional Secretary & Financial Advisor in the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. I had unreservedly given an officer a 10/10 grading for his outstanding ability and performance, professional conduct and official dealings with colleagues after a careful evaluation of his performance against a larger population of his peers evidenced from the files/interactions/discussions/meetings of sundry Divisions of the Ministry. Inter alia I had mentioned that he was a rare youngster so endowed with qualities of head and heart hardly seen in government parlance, and doubtless one of the most outstanding officers I’ve come across in my long career. Unfortunately the Reviewing Officer, the Secretary, downgraded it to a pitiful 7-point something, with a sense of malice and ill-will, born from his own inadequacy, low self-esteem, and a sense of tremendous inferiority – because the young officer wasn’t one to toe anyone’s line and always believed and indeed did call a spade a spade. Later, much later, while processing his representation I got to know that my assessment was echoed in his earlier four reports in the same ministry by different Reporting/Reviewing Officers when he worked in the Climate Change Division! On reflection now, I recall so egregious the Secretary’s actions were in one case that even I was constrained to report him to the Ministry of Finance and the PMO. In my 37 long years in bureaucracy, I never had come across anyone so despicably bereft of the moral fibre, so essential for a civil servant and a person in high perch.

    Given the scenario, I guess, with all the imponderables, subjectivism and intellectual dishonesty bristling in today’s Indian bureaucracy, the only answer (though only partial but largely mitigating!) is openness and complete transparency.

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