Government must have a ‘human face’: Ask Dr Manmohan Singh

A few days ago I read what is generally known in journalistic parlance as a ‘human interest’ story in News Trail titled ‘Orissa High Court orders reinstatement of physically handicapped teacher’ or what we call a teacher “disabled”.

The teacher’s name is Santosh Kumar Padhi. He had previously served in a school (Kokodaguda) for three years as an assistant (SikshyaSahayak). The school is located in the Nabarangpur district of Orissa.

He was later appointed as a junior teacher at the same school effective April 28, 2014. However, he was ‘disengaged’ from the service on February 5, 2018. Santosh Kumar Padhi then appealed to the High Court to challenge the dismissal order.

The High Court issued the order on April 5, 2022, declaring that the applicant’s “disengagement” from the service is not lasting in the eyes of the law and quashed the order.

The judgment rendered by Judge SK Mishra was tempered with such mercy that he ordered not only the reinstatement of the teacher in service, he also ordered the payment of the full salary arrears and all other services from the date of Padhi’s disengagement. More importantly, the judge’s order must be executed within four weeks.

This time-limited payment for services order is specifically passed, probably because, as we all know, bureaucrats usually delay the implementation of such orders for one reason or another. We call this “bureaucratic red tape”. Apparently, the learned, wise and compassionate judge knew the state of mind and bewilderment of the bureaucrats, no matter that the beneficiary was a disabled person.

The school authorities had raised an objection (after so many years) to the disability certificate, saying it was not in the proper legal form. However, the school authorities had overlooked the fact that the content of the said certificate had proven to be accurate. The amiable judge had observed that “mere technicality cannot prevent conferring appropriate advantages on the person concerned”.

The officer, who was the cause of Santosh Kumar Padhi’s problems, was the state commissioner for the disabled. I wonder how many other disabled people like Padhi must have suffered under this bureaucrat.

The judge is so gentle and humane that he observes “obviously the teacher cannot be blamed for the same (handicap)”. Padhi was twice tested by the medical board and on both occasions found the disability to be the reality.

What Justice SK Mishra said further should be a revelation to all government officials and elected representatives and of course ministers. According to the report, Justice Mishra said: “It should be kept in mind that the state is supposed to be a model employer and as such cannot be allowed to take arbitrary and contrary to law.

As I read this report, I remembered what our former prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, said as prime minister. He assured the nation that “my government will have a human face”. Of course, that assurance evaporated into thin air. He also had a second term in 2009 and his term ended in disaster for other reasons.

The report on this disabled teacher clearly shows the ‘human face’ of the judiciary when we could not find the ‘human face’ in government as promised by the then Prime Minister himself.

It is interesting to know the timeline of service timeline of Santosh Kumar Padhi in this school. He joined the school as a SikshyaSahayak on April 29, 2011, under the premiership of Dr. Manmohan Singh, who has spoken of a “human face” in administration.

This “human face” continued to work its magic on April 28, 2014 (Dr Manmohan Singh was still Prime Minister), when Padhi was appointed as a junior teacher at the same school.

Yet, paradoxically, Padhi stepped down on February 5, 2018, when Narendra Modi was prime minister. What happened to the “human face”? Probably the bureaucracy thought that the concept of “human face” only applied to the period of the government of the then Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and did not apply to the government of Narendra Modi!

However, fortunately for Padhi, Justice SK Mishra was there to uphold the “human face” principle in the administration.

These types of incidents bring us to a more serious question of the availability of legal protection for the bureaucracy even when it makes mistakes, knowingly or unknowingly, for reasons of corruption or revenge.

When a citizen feels they are being treated unfairly by a government official and reacts in an abusive, violent, or resentful manner, the official is protected by law. The Officer may lodge a complaint with the police against the victimized citizen on the grounds of having prevented an official from carrying out his duties.

Interestingly, today’s Deccan Herald publishes a news article that says a local court in Mangalore has sentenced farmer Sai Giridhara Rai of Sullia taluk to two years simple imprisonment under Section 353 of the IPC (for deterring an official from carrying out his duties) and other relevant articles. .

The reason for the condemnation is that farmer Sai Giridhara Rai had expressed his anger over the frequent load shedding and low voltage to the then Minister of Energy, DK Shivakumar, over the phone. Beware of officials and ministers.

If a government official makes a mistake in their decision or action, they cover themselves up on the pretext that it was an honest mistake.

This brings me to that lofty precept engraved on the massive granite facade of our VidhanaSoudha, the Legislative Assembly building. The formulations are: “The work of government is the work of God” ( ಸರ್ಕಾರದ ಕೆಲಸ ದೇವರ ಕೆಲಸ). Really?

Cordier: An article in the Deccan Herald titled “High Court questions undue sympathy for delinquent officer” also discusses the “sympathy” these officials get from various constitutional and governmental circles. We have judges and Soloman type officers to deal with these delinquent officers, but their numbers are negligible.

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