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Grounding the Civil Service

It is probably time to revive compulsory touring for officers down to the level of BDOs and Tehsildars and District level officers
12:00 AM Feb 01, 2024 IST | KHURSHID A GANAI
grounding the civil service

In 2006 or 2007, I was the Secretary, General Administration Department (GAD) and Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad was the Chief Minister. We in the GAD prepared a scheme for training of Kashmir Administrative Service ( KAS) officers on the pattern of Bharat Darshan of IAS but it was more than that because it proposed to expose the visiting KAS officers to the working of reputed government and public institutions at various places in the country and visits to important project sites, the likes of which we didn’t have in Jammu and Kashmir, for example handling and treatment of municipal waste, success stories of municipal administration, construction sites of big projects, thermal power plants etc, this is what I vaguely recall.


By my standards and in my view, we had prepared a good proposal which was okayed by the Chief Secretary for submission to the Chief Minister. Azad Saheb called us to discuss the proposal (speak), as is common in government working. I and the Chief Secretary went to discuss the proposal with the CM. The CS asked me to explain and I began.


Lo and behold, Azad Saheb interrupted me rather quickly and asked whether these officers had been to (seen) Gurez, Ladakh, Karnah, Keran, Marwah, Warwan, Padder etc, the remote and far flung areas of the state, to which I replied frankly that most of the officers would not have visited most of these places ever. In his characteristic friendly manner he advised us to close this file and wait till the officers visit these remote areas within their own state first. He had a point.
The lesson from the story is that it is very important for the civil servants to become familiar as quickly as possible with the place where they are posted, its people, their concerns and problems.

Unfortunately, one of the down sides of the merger of J&K AIS cadre with the AGMUT cadre is that a large number of officers are getting posted to Jammu and Kashmir who have never worked here, although they are bringing in knowledge and exposure gained elsewhere, but that does not fully compensate for local knowledge and touch. Even those among them who hail from J&K but allotted to other state cadres or AGMUT cadre or central services, will take time to get adjusted and grounded in the local situation. I guess there is already a feeling among the public that J&K must have more local officers and officers of the erstwhile J&K cadre in field postings to be able to hear and redress the public grievances in a better manner, to the satisfaction of those from the public who represent with grievances. Online grievance redressal is very good but it will take more time for common people to get used to using the online system.


During our time most All India Service (AIS) officers of J&K cadre not belonging to J&K had over time begun to like J&K despite all the law and order and security issues, a case of ‘like what you do’, more than ‘do what you like’. And ,vice versa, the local people in both divisions had also begun to relate to these officers amicably and affectionately while giving them due respect. Because of predominance of English language in government work in J&K, AIS officers from outside J&K were able to overcome the handicap of not being able to read and write Urdu, the official language, and of not being able to speak Kashmiri and Dogri languages as most people in both divisions understand Hindi, Urdu or Hindustani, the popular language of conversation in much of north India. I personally know of some officers who went out of way to learn Urdu and even Kashmiri.


Parvez Dewan, IAS, mastered Urdu language like none of us, K. Rajendra Kumar, former DGP learnt to read Urdu at an early stage of his IPS career in J&K, S.S. Rizvi, IAS (1965) and S. D. Singh IAS (1968) became fluent speakers of Kashmiri language. Over time and due to prolonged exposure, most in the AIS of J&K Cadre began to understand spoken Kashmiri and Dogri.


Because of lack of full knowledge about the language heroics of my old colleagues and seniors, I must have left out some names who tried to learn Urdu, Kashmiri and Dogri (my apologies to all of them), but Anil Goswami (from Jammu) and Bharat Vyas come to my mind because I have seen both trying Kashmiri with the local people. Among the present lot, I know Shailendra Kumar understands Kashmiri and also speaks more than the smattering, while his daughter who studied in many schools in Kashmir during her father’s postings, spoke fluent Kashmiri.


A few years back LG accompanied by senior officers had started visiting the districts for public darbar but it seems that is not happening now with the same frequency or schedule; haven’t read about such darbars last one year or so. In the continued absence of a democratically elected government and now with panchayats and municipalities without elected persons at the helm, touring and hearing of public grievances at higher levels of administration has become all the more necessary.

Doubtless, Deputy Commissioners are touring and hearing the public in their own areas, but single handedly he or she cannot simultaneously transact office work and do touring and then show the requisite results. May be some of them do. But generally speaking, it is difficult for most.

Then there is the issue of delegation of powers. Can a DC take decisions which are in the domain of higher authorities in the secretariat or which require funding in addition to what is budgeted or where there are no provisions in the budget ?

Heads of Departments (HODs) are also expected to tour in their jurisdictions. This was one area which was problematic even during democratically elected governments, HODs generally not doing adequate touring and often leaving out remote areas because of difficult access, poor connectivity, long distances requiring night stays etc. Distance and time factor must be holding back many HODs from visiting remote areas even now although connectivity is much improved since then.

It is probably time to revive compulsory touring for officers down to the level of BDOs and Tehsildars and District level officers as was ordered in 2018-19, if I recall correctly.

Coming back to trainings, it is another matter that in subsequent years, KAS (now JKAS) began to be trained outside the state with great advantage to their work back home. However, there is need for more exposure to the success stories in other states and in the central government. A big miss in J&K government’s training policy has been the comparative neglect of training of our engineers and may be other technical departments also like Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Floriculture, Sericulture etc.

But the work of engineering department would have been much better in quality, innovativeness and cost, had engineers of the state been subjected to periodic training both within and outside the state. May be Health and Medical Education also although our doctors are highly regarded all over the country and abroad.

Tail piece: A visit to any hospital in Jammu and Kashmir at the district level or at Jammu and Srinagar will clearly show the general status of health of poor people reporting at these hospitals, which is a matter of concern. The recent cold wave demonstrated the slender thread by which poor people are holding on to life. Fortunately, Covid didn’t hit although there were a few alarm bells. Now, if covid had actually hit, the death rate would have been abnormally high this time in the cold wave, the reason being the status of health of poor middle aged and older men and women in J&K and consequent inability of their bodies to fight back covid in cold conditions. The Health Department must do a fact check on the status of health of the population and do much more in social and preventive medicine. There is enough talk, sans matching results.

There is also much to be done about government schools. Although truancy among teachers has been reduced due to biometrics, the teaching and learning outcomes are reportedly still not up to the mark. In the absence of elected reps in Panchayats, there may be a slide back in the rural areas which the education department will be well advised to watch out for.

There is need to evaluate the present condition of the infrastructure in government schools created some years back, like toilets, drinking water, electrification in some cases, smart class rooms, computers etc. A realty check is over due here also since there is some murmur in the public domain that the infrastructure raised earlier is falling apart for want of maintenance and funding.

Lastly, in view of grossly deficient snow and rain this winter, there is likelihood of drought in certain traditionally water deficient areas even if rains don’t fail in April-May. Checking on the ground situation is therefore necessary to plan for combating the drought and this requires a multipronged approach and effort. The State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) will be well advised to anticipate, plan and prepare a contingency plan to reduce the adverse impact of a possible drought.
Khurshid Ahmed Ganai is a retired IAS officer of J&K cadre and former Advisor to the Governor