‘I Bribed Odisha CM’: 1964 IAS Topper Says it Took Rs 50 Cr to Get Oppressive Law Against Tribal Women Scrapped

In India, not too many influential persons write candid memoirs. Bureaucrat Naresh Chandra Saxena’s What Ails the IAS and Why it Fails to Deliver – An Insider’s View is a tell-tale and a fascinating account chronicling how he had to ‘bribe’ a chief minister to scrap oppressive laws against tribal women.

Earlier, while serving as joint secretary, Minorities Commission, Saxena claims to have exposed the communal bias of the district administration in handling riots in Meerut; he was punished for bringing to light the killing of innocent Muslim women and children by the police.

In his autobiography, Saxena insists that administration, throughout decades, has been grossly unfair to Muslims. Quoting from various Commissions of Enquiry reports such as Madon Commission on Bhiwandi (Maharashtra) riots, 1970, he writes, “Discrimination was practised in making arrests, and while Muslim rioters were arrested in large numbers, the police turned a blind eye to what the Hindu rioters were doing. There was discrimination in the distribution of food and water between Hindu prisoners and Muslim prisoners.”

Similarly, the Bhagalpur Inquiry Commission Report in 1995 remarked: “We would hold Dwivedi, the then superintendent of police, Bhagalpur, wholly responsible for whatever happened before 24 October 1989, on 24th itself and after the 24th. His communal bias was fully demonstrated by his manner of arresting the Muslims and by not extending them adequate help to protect them. The manner in which the search was conducted was reminiscent of the searches in occupied Europe by the Nazis.” Dwivedi later rose to be DGP of Bihar.

Saxena writes extensively about the Meerut riots in 1982, five years before more deadly rioting took place in the city. As joint secretary, Minorities Commission, he wrote his own report stating how inside the Feroze Building, he met Shabana, aged 11, who bore many marks of knife injuries on her body.

“I visited the houses of Abdul Rasheed, Sheru, Anwar, Sherdin, Zafar Ali, Abdul Aziz, Irshad, Kalwa, Moin, Salim Iqbal, Abdul Zayyam and Wali Mohd., all deceased in the unfortunate police action on October 1. I was shown bullet marks on the walls, blood-stained clothes belonging to the deceased and many photographs of the houses which were taken soon after the incident which prove not only the fact of entry of force inside the houses, but also looting and wanton destruction of property. After detailed enquiries I was convinced that at least the killing of 80 innocent people by the PAC were not accounted for in the police records.”

Saxena says the central government, which was under Indira Gandhi, did not like the frankness of his report. “I received a written warning from the then home secretary, MMK Wali, a Kashmiri Brahmin of 1953 batch from Rajasthan cadre. I was verbally told that I could not continue in GOI.” Saxena was sent to Afghanistan, which was then under the USSR control.

The IAS topper of 1964 batch regrets that had the union government acted upon his reports and taken action against the culprits, a similar, even more horrendous atrocity against Muslims might not have taken place in 1987.

Twenty-eight years later, on March 21, 2015, the verdict on the crime was pronounced and all the accused were released. Fortunately, the Delhi High Court overturned the acquittal of police personnel involved. However, for Saxena, what was more relevant was the role of VN Rai as SSP Ghaziabad and Kamalendu Prasad as Addl SP -- both shining examples of integrity and impartiality expected from leaders.

“These cases need to be discussed in training academies so that young officers are aware of the pitfalls in following illegal directives by prejudiced superiors. A portion of the high court order makes pertinent reading, ‘How do we check the abuse of police power?’ Transparency of action and accountability perhaps are two possible safeguards which this court must insist upon. Attention is also required to be paid to properly develop work culture, training and orientation of the police force consistent with basic human values. Training methodology of the police needs restructuring.”

Saxena reminds readers how the Union Home Ministry has admitted in a confidential internal report that during riots police were not sincere in meeting the important objective of protecting minorities, or the people who were in a weaker position and were either victims or targets of killing during a communal disturbance. “There were serious allegations that the police remained passive on many occasions. In many instances, police remained idle while looting, arson, and murders were committed in their very presence. In certain cases, police were an active participant in the violent mob”.

Giving lucid details of giving ‘bribe’ to Congress chief minister of Odisha (Orissa then) in 1998-99, Saxena recalled how while visiting in the eastern state, he discovered to his horror that many women had been prosecuted and jailed because they had kept brooms in their houses. As per Odisha government’s policy then, the processing of hill brooms could only be done by a government parastatal called Tribal Development Cooperative Corporation (TDCC) and its traders. Gatherers could collect hill brooms, but could not bind them into a broom, nor could they sell the collected items in an open market. Thus, the poor were prevented from both, doing value addition through processing and their right to get the best price for their produce. “In one particular case”, wrote Saxena, “assurance was given by the collector of Raygada to a women’s cooperative society that it would be allowed to collect and market hill brooms so that the primary gatherers, who are mostly poor tribal women, could get the benefit of higher prices in the market. The society started functioning, but without a valid licence.”

Then came a twist. The collector was transferred and the state government machinery decided to launch prosecution against the women and their organisation at the instance of TDCC. Their stocks were seized, and even after a court order for release, the full stock was not released, causing a huge financial loss to the women.

Saxena took it as a personal challenge to get this law changed. For the next four years, he kept writing to various secretaries in Odisha but nothing happened. “Ultimately, I had to do what all Indians did to bend government in their favour—resort to bribing! I bribed the then CM with Rs 50 crore!” Saxena wrote, adding, “ I was secretary, Planning Commission and when the CM came to us for funds, I said, ‘Sir, please get this law changed, I will give you Rs 50 crore extra in your plan outlay this year as advance, and the same amount next year after my work is done.”

Gomang, himself a tribal (now in BJP) deeply empathised with the issue. He subsequently announced that the system of royalties and long-term leases in minor forest produce (such as kendu/tendu leaf, sal seeds and bamboo) trade would be abolished and that MFPs would be put to free trade. Actual orders were, however, issued after the elections in March 2000 when Naveen Patnaik took over as the new chief minister.

About IAS, Saxena concludes that despite their high integrity, hard work and competence, IAS officials do not exercise sufficient control over the field staff who collude with the junior staff in reporting false figures on hunger deaths, malnutrition, and usage of toilets, leading to erosion of accountability. “Not only do many welfare programmes such as NREGA, ICDS, and PDS have design flaws, governance in India at the state and district levels is also quite weak, manifesting itself in poor service delivery, uncaring administration, corruption, and uncoordinated and wasteful public expenditure”, he observes.

Analysing the present Indian situation, Saxena suggests policy changes in all cross-cutting systemic issues such as the role of politicians, tenure, size and nature of Indian bureaucracy, accountability, monitoring of programmes and civil service reforms, which will transform individual competencies of IAS officers into better collective outcomes.

Saxena says throughout his career, he tried following the economic philosophy of ‘socialism for the poor and free market for the rich’. However, the political and administrative system in India seemed to believe in ‘indifference to the poor and control over the rich to facilitate rent-seeking,’ he concludes.

Saxena retired as secretary, Planning Commission in 2002. He was the topper of his batch (1964) in the Civil Services Examination.

(The author is a visiting Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation. Views are personal)