The controversial suspension of young Uttar Pradesh IAS officer Durga Sakthi Nagpal has triggered a major national debate on the "arbitrary and whimsical ways" of an incumbent government and how a system should be in place to restore dignity to the civil service that was once known as the 'steel frame' of governance.
Eminent, retired and serving bureaucrats have come in full support of the officer, suspended allegedly for demolishing the wall of a local under-construction mosque during Ramzan. 28-year-old Nagpal, a 2010-batch IAS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre, was suspended on July 27.
Critics of the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh have said the reason for the officer's suspension was not the mosque wall but her tough line against the rampant sand quarrying on the Yamuna river bank.
They called for reforms of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) to ensure that upright officers, who do not kowtow to the politicians in power, are not harassed by way of frequent transfers and unreasonable actions including suspensions.
Former CAG Vinod Rai, who himself recently demitted office after a considerable amount of criticism from the ruling establishment for his reports on various scams, supported Nagpal.
"Suspension of an officer is a serious issue. It is done when there are grave charges against him or her. She has been denied natural justice as she was not given an opportunity to present her case before being suspended," Rai told PTI.
He said Nagpal's seniors should have stood by her. "Chief Secretary and Secretary (of the department concerned) should have not succumbed (to any kind of pressure)," said Rai, a former IAS officer who demitted as the chief of country's top auditing body.
Former Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) N Vittal saw political vendetta in Nagpal's suspension and called it as an example of "very unhealthy tradition" established in the country's bureaucracy.
"It is one more example of very unhealthy tradition we have established since independence. Suspension and transfer have been two ways by which politicians feel they can break bone of civil servants.
"There should not be arbitrary suspension of any officer. It is a political vendetta," said Vittal, who had served in various key posts as a former IAS officer before becoming head of anti-corruption body.
He demanded a mechanism to check on such whimsical transfers of bureaucrats.
"There should be a procedure of review of transfer by Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) in case of officers serving at Centre. Whereas, State Vigilance Commissions or Lokayuktas should review any such transfer in case an officer is posted in states. Only after confirmation from CVC or Lokayuktas, as the case may be, such suspension should continue," he suggested.
Vittal said the central government must intervene in the matter. "Durga is a young officer. She should be reinstated immediately," the former CVC said.
Former Cabinet Secretary T S R Subramanian wondered the way such transfers are taking place in various states across the country.
"Transfers in bureaucracy are taking place at the drop of the hat. It is happening across the country, especially in Uttar Pradesh," said Subramanian, a former IAS officer who has served in various key posts.
He said there are two versions on her transfers in media reports seen by him.
One-- she was removed as she tore down a wall of religious structure which according to authorities was a potential cause to have caused communal tension and second, she took on sand mafia which were active in the area.
"There has been a number of order by Supreme Court saying that any structure coming out on government land illegally has to be removed... As a sub divisional magistrate she was also supposed to check on illegal mining activities which might be on in that area.
"Going by both the versions, her job was to follow apex court's order (which was to check on unauthorised construction) or do her job of checking on illegal mining activities. Has she been suspended for following her duties?," he asked.
Subramanian said the state government should not make it a prestige issue and her suspension should be revoked immediately.
Serving IAS officer of 1991 batch Ashok Khemka, who was frequently transferred by Haryana administration, termed Nagpal's suspension as a "brazen colourful exercise of power".
"In my personal opinion it was totally unwarranted. It is a brazen colourful exercise of power. A very very few officers can take such a bold and courageous step to check on any illegal activities. As a young brave officer she has taken a correcting step towards improvement in bureaucracy," he said.
Former IAS officer Dr G Sundaram called Nagpal's transfer as humiliation and an act of discouragement to civil service officers.
"She should have not been suspended. It is a humiliation for young officer. If at all she has done something wrong, she could have been transferred," Sundaram told PTI over phone from Chennai.
Sundaram, who has held various key posts during his tenure in the centre, also said that younger politicians should take a lead in exhibiting integrity in public service.
Another former IAS officer E A S Sarma said there was a need to bring reforms in the administrative service.
"Transfers, suspension and promotions and all other matters must be done by independent agency in a transparent manner without any political vendetta," Sarma told PTI over phone from Vizag.
Her (Nagpal) suspension is wrong. She should be reinstated immediately, he added.
Reacting on the matter, Chairman of market regulator Sebi, U K Sinha, has called for a soul searching.
"It does not arouse our collective consciousness if a young officer is suspended for taking action against a group of people who are organised criminals, (who are) stealing natural resources," Sinha said.