Why Bihar government wants this dabangg officer gone

Jitan Ram Manjhi government has been generous with erring officers, but Kuldip Narayan is an exception for coming down heavily against the builder lobby of Patna.

 |  5-minute read |   22-12-2014
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When the Jitan Ram Manjhi government suspended Patna municipal commissioner Kuldip Narayan last week — an order subsequently stayed by Patna High Court on Monday — it cited some rare reasons to do so. The government has blamed Narayan - a 2005 batch IAS officer who has come down heavily against builders lobby by ordering demolition of illegally constructed buildings in Patna - of non-execution of a solid waste management project, insufficient fogging leading to spread of dengue in Patna and non-utilisation of funds. Remember, its non-utilisation and not misutilisation.

By these yardsticks, most of the IAS officers in Bihar, who regularly surrender unused funds worth several crores at the end of every financial year, should find their necks in the guillotine.

Narayan's suspension has made headlines since he has been an unrelenting officer against erring builders. Also, because successive governments in Bihar have been extremely forgiving with the bureaucrats in the past.

The same Jitan Ram Manjhi government preferred not to punish anyone after the October stampede that killed 33 people in Patna. It continued looking elsewhere even after a probe committee headed by principal home secretary Amir Subhani pinpointed specific administrative lapses behind the stampede.

kuldeep_122214015832.gif Kuldip Narayan has instituted vigilance cases against more than 450 builders

But Manjhi cannot be faulted for following a see-no-evil policy that his predecessor Nitish Kumar practiced and perfected during his regime. No suspension was ordered when a stampede crushed 19 to death in Patna in November, 2012, or when poisoned midday meal killed 23 schoolchildren in July 2013. The bureaucrats were spared the rod even when a series of blasts rocked Mahabodhi temple in July 2013 and when seven died in October 2013 Gandhi Maidan serial blasts.

Generous is a word that has so far best described successive JD-U government’s approach towards bureaucrats in Bihar until it fixed eyes on Kuldip Narayan. The government apparently needed to get rid of Narayan. He was finally suspended, as the government could not have transferred him because of the Patna High Court’s July 2013 stay on his removal.

In November 2013, Bihar government had also approached the Supreme Court, seeking it to set aside the Patna High Court's stay on Narayan's transfer. But, the apex court had refused to intervene then, leaving the government with the sole option of suspending Narayan to get rid of him.

It only helped that Narayan’s departmental boss, Bihar urban development and housing department minister Samrat Choudhary was not very pleased with him either. Narayan, in his earlier stint as district magistrate, Munger, in November 2012, had cancelled the settlement of 1.40 acre of land that Samrat’s politician father Shakuni Chaudhury had illegally sold. Incidentally, Samrat Choudhary played an instrumental role in Narayan’s suspension order.

Known as an upright officer, Narayan has been seen relentlessly working against the powerful builder lobby of Patna. His orders in the past have adversely affected many high and mighty, including JD-U controversial MLA Anant Singh. Narayan’s crackdown against builders has also left the state government, considered soft on builders, unhappy with the officer.

In July 2014, Narayan had declared Hotel Buddha Inn, a hotel owned by Anant Singh’s wife Neelam, illegal and recommended snapping of power supply to the hotel. Narayan issued the order after finding that the hotel was built by illegally transferring a lease in favour of the JD-U legislator’s wife.

The officer also issued orders to demolish two floors of Patna central mall, another property owned by Anant Singh in downtown Patna. Now nobody can tether the formidable Anant Singh, who enjoys in Bihar similar if not greater clout what Mohammad Shahabuddin had during the RJD’s tenure in Bihar.

Known as "chhote sarkar", Anant Singh’s influence has only grown with time. Even during Lalu raj, Anant Singh had sided with Nitish Kumar and even publicly weighed him in coins during an election campaign in 2004. Though Nitish may not be comfortable explaining his weighing ceremony even now, it clearly stamped Anant Singh’s hold over him. Incidentally, Anant Singh has acquired the property in the posh Fraser Road after Nitish Kumar took over as Bihar chief minister. The MLA, who moves in the company of gun-toting men, inspires such fear in Bihar that even top bureaucrats prefer not confronting him on any issue.

Overall, Narayan has instituted vigilance cases against more than 450 builders and landowners on the charge with constructing high-rises in violation of building laws. The builders’ lobby has alleged Narayan of blocking construction projects worth Rs 15,000 to 20,000 crore in Bihar’s capital city. Now, if builders sneeze, governments everywhere catch a cold. The dictum sounds truer in Bihar where elections are just nine months away; and government looks hopeful to bag truckload of goodwill from them.

A section of IAS officers, tongue-in-cheek, suggest that the case study of Kuldip Narayan - should be included in the training guidelines for the IAS recruits. It can appropriately be called - what not to do as an IAS officer.

“The IAS officers are called 'steel frame'; but Kuldip seems to have forgotten that even steel has a great tensile strength, which saves the alloy from brittle failure,” a senior IAS officer quipped. "We all need to bend and stretch the rules to accommodate political masters. If we don’t, we would become Kuldip Narayan and face the music.

But, Narayan perhaps does not have the skills to bend and accommodate. He has resumed charge as Patna municipal commissioner and started issuing demolition orders against illegally constructed buildings after the Patna High Court stayed his suspension. Though case has taken a new turn on Wednesday when acting chief justice Iqbal Ahmed Ansari directed a full bench of the high court to hear his suspension, which means the final word on his case is still awaited; for the moment it is bad news for the powerful builders.


Amitabh Srivastava Amitabh Srivastava

The writer is a Senior Associate Editor with India Today Magazine.

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