Chhattisgarh's Peon Culture
The state battling Naxalism has no recruitment policy for its lower-bureaucracy. And with a flawed promotion policy in place, many undeserving candidates are increasingly occupying positions of power, says Anil Mishra
Two months ago the law department of the Chhattisgarh State Secretariat advertised vacancies for the post of seven peons in the secretariat, a relatively low-level, administrative position in the state services. More than five thousand youngsters responded. Many of them were diploma holders in engineering and computer sciences. When asked why they aspired to become peons, the queue of applicants reply, “If we become technicians, we will not get promoted to more than a sub-engineer. If we became peons here, instead, then after 10 or 15 years we can even boss the chief engineers!”
While the recently formed state of Chhattisgarh has struggled to realise the aspirations of its residents, it has become the dream state for state-officials and other employees who came here after the state was carved out from Madhya Pradesh. The state, since its creation in 2000, has had no recruitment policy for lower-bureaucracy, and has been successively promoting its existing-staff, on deputation from Madhya Pradesh, to fill new vacancies. As a result many who started out as peons in the Madhya Pradesh cadre rub shoulders with IAS officers in the state.
“It was because no one wanted to work in a tribal state that the promotion policy was made,” says N Bajendra Kumar principal secretary to chief minister, “They have the experience and whatever responsibility they are given they perform very well.”
A case in point is Devendra Varma, who works as a secretary in the Vidhan Sabha. Varma joined the Chhattisgarh state services on deputation from Madhya Pradesh as an upper division clerk. Cashing in on the promotion policy in the state, Varma jumped three grades above his original post to become a secretary. A Right to Information (RTI) application to the MP assembly filed in January this year revealed that Varma officially, still, holds the position of a research officer in MP state assembly.
Varma got his first out-of-turn promotion in 2001, when all the employees who came to Chhattisgarh from the Madhya Pradesh cadre were given an out-of-turn promotion in the state. He then became a deputy secretary on 6 July 2001. And in another three years, he rose to the rank of secretary.
The official rules lay down that an official should hold office for at least five years before being eligible for promotion.
Former BJP MLA Veerendra Pande says the promotional steps that Varma availed of are a one-off event. “None of other government employees got promotion after promotion like Varma got.” He says, “He is making the salary of an upper grade officer, for which he is not eligible but even after government complaints no one is taking action against him.” Varma on his part claims, he has always conducted himself with honesty, and says he got his promotions systematically and fairly to become secretary.
Now Pande is trying to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the high court against Varma. It is not yet clear whether the high court will accept the PIL or not.
The Secretariat reflects similar procedural irregularities. In a state that is battling Maoist insurgents, the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) ranked officer enters the chamber of Deputy Secretary of the Home Department Vilium Kujur and salutes him. Kujur, who is only a higher secondary school pass, enjoys the position of an IAS officer. He had joined the Madhya Pradesh state services as a peon.
In Chhattisgarh there are two types of officers—the secretariat cadre and the state service cadre. At the under secretary level the ratio of secretariat cadre and state service cadre is 60-40, at deputy secretary level the ratio is 80-20. The secretariat cadre is now demanding an increase in the cadre since few posts of the state cadre are vacant. Government records reveal that out of the eight deputy secretaries under the secretariat cadre only one officer is a graduate. While at the under secretary level out of 46 officers only 12 have a graduate-level education. According to the Central government’s rules, even the section officers get the job after clearing staff selection commission exams, after having fulfilled the minimum criteria of an undergraduate degree.
Kujur says, “I have worked hard to get this position. How much can one hope from an under-educated officer in a state where Naxalism is a big issue?”
Nepotism and graft encourage well-educated youths in the state to aspire to become peon because of the illicit riches that the position promises. An officer from state cadre who wishes to stay anonymous says, “If we open our mouth against it [the peon culture], we will be expelled and sent to the Naxal areas.”