Can Yogi Adityanath align the bureaucracy of Uttar Pradesh with his vision and plans?
The death of over 70 patients in a matter of few days at the BRD Hospital at Gorakhpur allegedly due to disruption in oxygen supply has left the Adityanath Yogi government shaken. So much so, that even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh itself chided the government for its explanation It’s Awadh prant’s Sar Sanghchalak, Prabhu Narain, said in a Facebook post that the government cannot shy away from its responsibility and must atone for the tragedy.
While it was now for the Chief Secretary-led inquiry committee to find out if the shortage of oxygen caused most of the deaths, it is the other part of the inquiry concerning delay in payment to the liquid oxygen supplier against his legitimate dues, which would be of interest. That would reveal the shady manner in which the bureaucracy in Uttar Pradesh and the medical and health departments function.
Over decades the bureaucracy in the state has become highly politicised with a large number of officers owing allegiance to the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). There is a small breed of pro-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) officers too but they were sidelined during the successive SP and BSP rule.
This politicised bureaucracy compromised governance in the state as accountability was reduced to almost zero.
Chief Minister Adityanath blamed the bureaucracy for the non-implementation of his government’s schemes. “(bureaucracy was to blame for the failure of our schemes),” the Chief Minister said, addressing a conclave in July.
To purge those loyal to the previous government, he removed over a dozen bureaucrats, many of whom were retained by the previous government post-retirement in March to tone up the administration.
Nine officers were put in waiting. Among them were Mulayam Singh Yadav’s favourite and former chief minister’s principal secretary Anita Singh, and Navneet Sehgal, who was favourite of both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav.
More transfers followed even as he warned officers that they should now prepare to work 18-20 hours a day, which left many of them grumbling.
A senior IAS officer said that there was no doubt that the Chief Minister himself was honest and well-meaning “but the same cannot be said of the system”. There are elements in the bureaucracy and in the BJP who were finding it difficult to accept his style of functioning.
Poor governance and rampant corruption in the medical and health department was being partly blamed for the tragedy at Gorakhpur. The state’s Director-General of Medical Education, Dr K K Gupta, seemed to suggest that when he claimed that Rs 2 crore were transferred in the BRD Medical College’s account on 8 August, yet a payment of Rs 43 lakh against dues totalling over Rs 60 lakh was made to the liquid gas supplier only between 10 and 11 August. Why was the payment delayed is what the inquiry going to look into.
Adityanath himself was upset that he was not informed about the dues and shortage of funds during his visits to the hospital on 9 August and 10 July last. The bureaucracy, it was alleged, even kept the Chief Minister in the dark about the crisis. This happened after almost a complete overhaul of bureaucratic machinery and induction of some senior officers who were on deputation to the Centre.
The view in the government was that the stranglehold of Akhilesh Yadav’s loyalists in the higher and lower bureaucracy, police force and engineers in the PWD and Nirman Nigam were trying to be a drag on its performance. What it expects from them is a change in mindset.
Some of the bureaucrats who are not rated highly by their peers are holding important positions. This situation has arisen because, according to reports, a senior functionary of the party was responsible for their postings. Housing is only one department where the problem lies. A lady officer who is not counted among competent officers is well entrenched thanks to her proximity with a former senior minister.
According to some retired bureaucrats, the chief minister's problem is finding efficient officers and trusting them.
In summary, the problem in front of Yogi Adityanath is this. He has to overhaul the state’s administration and deliver on the governance front at the same time. The engine has to repaired while the car is moving. And his success or failure of it will be judged sooner than 2022. Because the BJP won 71 of its 282 seats from UP, the test would come in 2019. Just two years from now.