Updated: February 18, 2021 12:00:40 pm
The Arrest and Controversy
A Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Patna Police recently arrested the chairman of the Bihar Staff Selection Commission (BSSC), Sudhir Kumar, an IAS officer of the 1987 batch, in connection with the leak of questions and answers of a competitive examination conducted by the Commission last month. The police accused Kumar of breaching confidentiality on the printing of question papers and OMR (optical mark recognition) sheets, which, they said, led to the leak of questions and answers during the second phase of the exam in the first week of February. About 17.5 lakh candidates had appeared for the BSSC preliminary test for posts of clerks and assistants. After questions and their answers went viral on WhatsApp an hour before the exam, the state government cancelled the entire exam and set up the SIT, which has so far arrested 30 people including Kumar and five of his relatives. The officer is accused of providing the set of questions in advance to five close relatives who were candidates.
The Protests and Reasons
IAS officers are upset for two reasons. First, the manner in which Kumar was arrested in the middle of the night from his Hazaribagh home when he was on sanctioned leave. Second, Kumar, who was Home Secretary when Jitan Ram Manjhi was Chief Minister, had faced no allegations in his 30-year career, and was widely seen as an upright officer. Kumar’s arrest has shaken IAS officers, who say they’re now afraid to take any important executive decision. The officers’ association has announced that its members would no longer act on verbal orders, even if they come from the CM’s office. The association has registered its protest with the CM, and IAS officers have been wearing black badges to work. As many as 125 serving and retired officers turned up for the IAS body’s meeting to discuss the way forward — among them were at least 30 District Magistrates who drove to Patna from their districts for the meeting.
Anger and Disappointment
IAS officers say Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s success story owes a lot to the high levels of trust that he has shown in them. And that this fundamental understanding between the officials and the political executive has been given a body blow by the police action against Kumar. Not only has it made it difficult for an IAS officer to agree to head a body that conducts competitive examinations, Nitish’s larger “Badhta Bihar” mission too runs the risk of slowing down if officials refuse to take major executive decisions, says the association. They had not protested after cases were filed against two of their colleagues in the service in recent years, but Kumar’s arrest has shaken them, the IAS officers say. The IAS body is demanding a probe by the CBI in the matter.
A second aspect of the controversy concerns the latent hostility between IAS and IPS officers, which has often been seen as coming to the fore in a range of situations and states. Speaking in private, several IAS officers demand to know why the police had failed to arrest two IPS officers, who too faced cases. It is unlikely that an IAS officer of Kumar’s seniority would be arrested without clearance from the state DGP and, probably, the office of the Chief Minister himself, these officers say.
The Political Angle
While the RJD has so far not officially taken a position on the officers’ protest, some individual leaders of Lalu Prasad’s party have backed Kumar, saying the police may have shown haste in arresting him. The RJD is aware of Nitish Kumar’s dependence on the bureaucracy, and sees an opportunity in the officials’ anger with his government. The CM may delay a decision on the demand to hand over the paperleak case to the CBI, but that is likely to result in a protracted battle between the bureaucracy and his government. The opposition BJP is standing behind the IAS officers, especially on the question of calling in the CBI. After all, a weaker Nitish Kumar suits both the RJD and the BJP.
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