October 30, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether it is fair to use bureaucrats and army personnel to promote government schemes. We also look at farmers selling stubble for profit in Punjab, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is it fair to use bureaucrats and army personnel to promote government schemes?
In a fresh circular issued by the Government of India, the Centre plans to use its top bureaucrats and serving army personnel as agents to celebrate the government’s achievements in the past nine years. The plan is called the ‘Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra’ (Developed India Resolution Journey) and is supposed to ensure the penetration of government scheme awareness to every part of the country.
However, the usage of state machinery for political gains and its aftermath have a painful and dark past in Indian history going back to 1975. So, is the opposition right in claiming that the government is violating the principle of separation between political government and official machinery or does the government’s intention of ensuring maximum public good hold water? These questions become especially essential given the upcoming state elections and more importantly the 2024 general elections.
In a circular dated October 18 and tagged as ‘immediate’, the Union Ministry of Finance, Department of Revenue, Central Board of Direct Taxes has directed the nomination of officers of the rank of joint secretary or director or deputy secretary across various services as ‘rath prabharis’ (chariot in-charge). These ‘rath prabharis’ will be tasked with explaining the government’s various schemes and projects to the people in a programme to be launched in November and to last till January 25. In a similar order, the Ministry of Defence has also directed soldiers on annual leave to promote government schemes in their areas as “soldier ambassadors.”
The programme is likely to be launched on November 15 in Jharkhand. November 15 is celebrated as Dharti Aaba Birsa Munda Jayanti (birth anniversary) and the Jan-jaati Gaurav Diwas (Tribal Pride Day). The bureaucrats and the soldiers involved will be “showcasing” and “celebrating” the government’s “achievements”.
These prabharis will be visiting several districts in their ‘raths’ or Information, Education and Communication (IEC) vans to conduct activities like experience sharing by beneficiaries of the schemes; on-spot quiz competition; virtual question-answer sessions with the Prime Minister; provision of on-spot service such as health camps, Aadhaar enrolment, “MY BHARAT” volunteer enrolment, and activities like drone demonstrations.
However, the Civil Service Rules have no provisions for officials to work as prabharis. Defence service personnel are also not expected to act or be seen to be acting in support of any government. While the bureaucracy has the duty to implement the policies and programmes of a government, it should not be seen as supportive of or aligned to any particular government’s propagandists.
The Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging the order’s withdrawal as it potentially violates the Model Code of Conduct which aims to prevent the abuse of power by the ruling party by using State machinery to gain undue advantage in an election. The Election Commission has also stepped into action by prohibiting the use of these prabharis until December 5 in the five poll-bound states (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, and Mizoram). This has also led to the Centre back-stepping and renaming their rath prabharis as nodal officers instead. However, there are doubts whether a simple name change will be enough to prevent what the opposition calls politicisation of the military and the civil services.
VIEW: Ensuring effective deliverance
The Union government’s central point is that the involvement of bureaucrats in ensuring the delivery of schemes is unexceptionable. The government has countered the opposition’s outrage over the matter saying that public service delivery is the government’s task and duty, and why should anyone object to public servants reaching out to the grassroots to ensure schemes’ saturation.
Per the government, the task of the bureaucrats and the soldiers would be to “disseminate information, awareness and extend services” at the level of gram panchayats. Recently, Modi had urged his ministers to work harder and ensure that the deserving beneficiaries who are yet to receive the benefits of welfare schemes are reached out to faster. This ‘yatra’ then, only seems to be an extension of the government’s efforts.
The program aims to have a nationwide outreach to ensure that every eligible person is covered under the government’s 20 central schemes. Around 2.6 lakh gram panchayats and over 3,700 urban local bodies are expected to be covered by the program to ensure benefits such as sanitation facilities, essential financial services, electricity connections, access to LPG cylinders, housing for the poor, food security, proper nutrition, reliable healthcare, clean drinking water, and quality education. The Centre also aims to work in coordination with the state governments on a ‘jan-bhagidari’ (public participation) model disabusing notions of the Centre taking centre stage.
Moreover, the bureaucracy being devoid of pro-government inclinations is laughable in current social realities. Top bureaucrats have historically been deeply involved with ruling dispensations across the spectrum. A most recent example of such a relationship would be VK Pandian, a civil servant who’s alleged to be the de facto Chief Minister of Odisha by virtue of being CM Naveen Patnaik’s favourite. Cries against any breach of the Model Code of Conduct also do not hold any value as it is merely an agreement by consensus between political parties, and is not legally binding.
COUNTERVIEW: Abuse of power
Just as there is separation of powers between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature in the constitutional scheme, there is a clear line of separation between governments that come and go in a democracy and the permanent bureaucracy. Critics claim that the yatra is a political programme intended to publicise the government’s claimed achievements a few weeks before the 2024 general elections which amounts to using government machinery for election purposes.
The framing of the order – to “showcase” and “celebrate” government “achievements” – is also concerning as it goes beyond the work of implementation and monitoring of schemes which the civil servants do. Public servants taking part in any activity that is likely to influence the voters in an election violates the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules and the corresponding conduct rules of the other Central and All India Services.
Also, soldiers on leave would want to spend their time with their families or for other personal work, thus making it wrong to make them do political propaganda for the government. It is also a dangerous trend as defence forces do not owe allegiance to the government but to the State and the Constitution unlike in countries like China where the bureaucracy and the armed forces are extensions of the Communist Party.
In the case of Raj Narain vs. Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, the Allahabad High Court had found the erstwhile Prime Minister guilty of using state machinery for election purposes and banned her from contesting elections for six years, thereby triggering the Emergency. This yatra also appears to be an unfortunate march along a similar path.
Moreover, the Centre has a separate public relations wing to undertake these responsibilities of scheme promotions. Since 2019, the government has spent over ₹3,000 crore towards this purpose. Thus, it would be more ethical and wise to use its existing apparatus rather than weaponizing the bureaucracy and politicising the army for party gains. For governments may come and governments may go but the trust in these institutions must remain forever.
- Bureaucrats, soldiers are not BJP cadres – Deccan Herald
- BJP’s rath prabhari circular — the bureaucracy must be neutral and independent – The Indian Express
- ‘Irreparable Damage to Democratic Values’ if EC Doesn’t Act Against ‘Rath Prabharis’ Plan – The Wire
- What is the ‘rath prabhari’ controversy? – The Leaflet
- ‘Rath Prabharis’ now called nodal officers for outreach events – The Hindu
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) It is fair to use bureaucrats and army personnel to promote government schemes.
b) It is not fair to use bureaucrats and army personnel to promote government schemes.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Hunger is real, do not mock it
For the Left:
India could not have voted to weaponise Palestinian suffering to guilt ‘victim’ Israel
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Selling stubble bales (Punjab) – While stubble isn’t the most popular farming byproduct in the state, many farmers have resorted to selling it to biomass plants and boilers, making lakhs of rupees in the process. Some even collect stubble from several villages and sell them to power-generating companies. One farmer expects ₹15 lakh in revenues this year by selling stubble for ₹180 per quintal.
Why it matters: With increased demand for stubble bales, more farmers have begun buying balers. The state government has provided a subsidy to purchase baler as part of the ex-situ management of stubble. The state has also made it mandatory for brick kilns to use straw pellets for 20% of their total fuel needs. The state produces about 180-200 lakh tonne of straw every year.
Buses for Diwali (Tamil Nadu) – Given how busy Diwali is for travellers, the state transport department will operate over 17,000 buses from November 9 to 11 and between November 13 and 15 across the state. Of these, over 4,700 buses will operate from Chennai and the remaining from other districts. In Chennai, the special buses will be operated from six places, including Madhavaram, KK Nagar, and the Koyambedu bus terminus.
Why it matters: On average, 2,100 buses are operated from the city. For Diwali, that number will increase to over 10,000. There’ll be a 24×7 control room at the Koyambedu bus terminus and 20 ‘May I Help You’ centres to help people on bus routes and ticket bookings. Also, following a meeting with private omnibus operators, they’ve decided to reduce the maximum fares by 5% compared to last year.
Procurement date confusion (Odisha) – As farmers from the Baragh district are readying their kharif paddy harvest, there’s no consensus from the district administration on when the procurement process will begin. Farmers are unhappy with the confusion since they demanded a date before the proposed November 25 date. There’s concern from officials that if farmers aren’t ready when an earlier date is fixed, they’ll face inconveniences.
Why it matters: Last year, the procurement date was November 21, and paddy began reaching the market only after November 25. Some say a majority of farmers will be ready by November 15. Any delay in procurement will result in issues since farmers won’t have space to store the paddy bags. There’s also the risk of the produce being damaged due to the uncertain climate.
With help from farmers (Goa) – As the 37th National Games approach, farmers have come forward to help the state government organise the rowing tournament. The competition will take place at the Chapora River, about 20 km away from Goa. With less than two weeks left, 23 farmers help by giving away 30,000 square metres of land where a road will be built to the river bank.
Why it matters: While the state is known for its water bodies, the state government hasn’t provided proper infrastructure for rowing. The organisers were aware of the challenges ahead in hosting the rowing competition. The farmers’ help in building a technical official area and other facilities was appreciated by officials.
Subansiri River protest (Assam) – Several residents were shocked to see the Subansiri River in the North Lakhimpur district was dried up. It sparked concern among many. The reason for the river drying up is possibly the blockade in the No. 1 diversion tunnel of the National Hydro-Electrical Power Corporation (NHPC)’s Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Power (SLHEP) plant’s dam. It redirects the river’s water from the dam to downstream areas. The Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parichad (AJYCP) protested at the plant’s entrance and demanded a response from the state government.
Why it matters: The dam is expected to be operational in January 2024. It has been a cause of concern for residents in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh since it could affect the region’s ecology. They’re worried it could lead to disasters similar to what Sikkim and other states have faced. Some have alleged the company hasn’t built the dam properly by following the correct earth-cutting measures. It has led to landslides in Arunachal Pradesh.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$26.3 billion – Google reportedly paid $26.3 billion to Apple in 2021 to ensure it remained the default search engine for mobile devices and web browsers.