Civil Services, Uncivil Transfers

Kamal Kant Misra IAS

During our training as probationers at Mussoorie, we were told of a senior ICS officer on deputation to Central Government who was repatriated to his home State unceremoniously. Since the party in power at the Centre was also in power in the State, the officer was treated badly on his return. He was not given any posting. Because he had no post, he was neither allotted an official residence nor could he draw any salary. He retired about a year later, still awaiting a posting. And ‘a transfer is not a punishment’ is what we are told.

Premature shunting (thinly disguised as transfers in “public interest”) is bureaucrats’ nightmare and therefore a very potent weapon in the hands of political executives to tame bureaucracy. And this certainly is not a new phenomenon. M. G. Pimputkar the Director of the Academy when we were at Mussoorie, held the record for largest number of transfers during his career in ICS. Of course, the present record holder perhaps is Ashok Khemka (44 transfers in 23 years) but in nineteen sixties, Pimputkar reigned supreme.

Out of sheer curiosity, I googled “M. G. Pimputkar” and got 7380 results in 0.54 seconds. May be a few relate to some other M. G. Pimputkar, but I have a feeling that most of them are about our Pimputkar.

Pimputkar was the director of the academy between September 1965 and April 1968. T. P. Sreenivasan an Indian Foreign Service Officer, in his book ‘Words, Words, Words: Adventures in Diplomacy’ writes, “The director of the academy M. G. Pimputkar, a strict disciplinarian who took pride in having been transferred 20 times in as many years, had a fancy for disciplining new recruits. Pimputkar imposed a reign of terror…” (With respect, Sreenivasan wouldn’t know what disciplining is. However, all he has to do is to spend mere one month as a trainee in any police-training institute.)

It was difficult to stay neutral on Pimputkar. You either liked or disliked him. Some of us, I included, were earlier in the IPS. Discipline was therefore not an issue for us. In IPS, we had been toughened both physically and mentally, thanks to extra drills (awarded as punishment) and verbal lashings on parade ground, which included comparisons with other life species mainly ducks in family way. My friends and I therefore didn’t mind the disciplining part. We liked and respected the man. He was one who practiced what he preached and was perhaps stricter with himself than with others.

Stories about Pimputkar are legends. However, the one that was narrated to me by my senior in Karnataka, Shri K. S. N. Murthy is perhaps not so widely known and therefore worth telling. Pimputkar was in Home Ministry and KSN was his Under Secretary. One fine morning, when KSN went to see him in his office, Pimputkar appeared a little worried. He told KSN that Mrs. Pimputkar was unwell and had been admitted to Willingdon Hospital and that he wanted to go and visit her in the afternoon. However, there was a problem. He had not brought his car. KSN offered to drive him to the hospital, which offers he politely declined. “I will manage” he said. However, after lunch, Pimputkar rang KSN. “I will accept your generous offer” he said, “We will leave at 3 pm.” Sharp at 3 pm, KSN and Pimputkar left North Block for Willingdon Hospital with KSN at the wheel. “Incidentally” Pimputkar said “I hope you have applied for casual leave for the afternoon.” “I forgot” KSN sheepishly replied “but I would do so immediately after I get back.” “Don’t forget such things” was the retort that he got.

Our tryst with unfair transfers started rather early. We of 1967 batch in Karnataka were having our first postings as Assistant Commissioners. Adhip was Assistant Commissioner, Savanur. As Assistant Commissioner, he was also the Land Acquisition Officer responsible for acquiring lands for a very large industrial project being set up by a business house. For the project cost, the assumed price of land was taken as the market price at which transactions were being registered. Adhip however felt that the registrations were grossly undervalued with a view to save on stamp duty and registration charges and famers were entitled to a much higher price for their lands. He was preparing his award accordingly. The business house came to know of it and complained to State Government and the State Government, you got it, promptly transferred Adhip out.

Adhip, fired by his missionary zeal to help the poor farmers, worked overtime and passed the award before handing over charge. The business house retaliated by alleging that the award was passed in a hurry because the Assistant Commissioner had been bribed and that action should be taken against him. Adhip was naturally deeply upset and hurt and told us that he had decided to resign from service.

The senior most officer of 1967 batch of IAS in Karnataka was J. P. Sharma. He rang me up and suggested that we take Adhip to meet the Revenue Secretary, who was earlier our Divisional Commissioner and was rather fond of us, more of JP and to a lesser extent of me. Both he and JP were
Sanskrit Scholars.

JP fixed the appointment and the three of us trooped in the anteroom of Revenue Secretary’s chambers. The PA ushered us in. After giving us a hearing, Rev Sec asked Adhip to wait in the anteroom while he talked to us. “Do the two of you vouch for his integrity?” he asked us. “Unquestionable” we said in a chorus. “In that case” he said “advise your friend to cool down and not to do anything stupid. I will look into it.” And there the matter ended. But everyone is not so lucky.

I too had my own share of such transfers. As it happened, they came in quick succession towards the fag end of my career. I was posted as Advisor in the then Planning Commission in the rank of Additional Secretary. Generally, once a person was posted as Advisor in the then Planning Commission, it was almost certain that he would retire from there itself. Fellow Advisors called it the final resting ground. Therefore, many were surprised when I was thrown out of the Planning Commission and posted as CMD, NTC. Then I was thrown out of NTC also and repatriated back to my parent cadre Karnataka. I proudly claimed that I have developed this knack of getting thrown out of least sought-after postings.

All of us in service have faced such transfers and over a time period, we develop some defense mechanism to deal with them. Pimputkar reportedly used to tell his ministers that he was not deterred by the prospect of a transfer. “My children are in boarding Schools. It is only my wife and I who are here. When I get up in the morning, I roll my mattress, so that I am ready to move if I get a transfer order during the day.”

Premature transfers carry a stigma. The general inference drawn is that you are either incompetent or a troublemaker. We pretend that we don’t care and that it’s OK but as the saying goes, “There is always a little truth behind every ‘just kidding’, a little knowledge behind every ‘I don’t know’, a little emotion behind every ‘I don’t care’ and a little pain behind ‘It’s okay’.”




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