Surinderjit Singh Sandhu
The Himachal Pradesh High Court’s order on fair distribution of water to all, not just the VIPs, reminded me of some fearless officers who enforced law in complete fairness and merit.
Over three decades ago, the final match of the Punjab senior football championship was being played. Since the CM was the chief guest, all officers, including the divisional commissioner, were watching the match. The divisional commissioner signalled me to come to him. It was for the fifth time that I was called for petty work by the officers. (This was generally the fate of an assistant to the DC.) I went to him and he said: ‘Tell the Superintending Engineer sitting there to ensure uninterrupted electric supply to my residence from 6 pm to 9 pm as an important meeting of the Film Society will be held there.’ I walked over to the tall and handsome officer and told him as directed. Nonchalantly, he said: ‘Yesterday my mother was serious and had to be operated upon. I did not deviate from the professed government policy. I will not be able to help.’ I conveyed it to the commissioner, who was known for his proximity to the Chief Secretary and the CM.
Another incident pertains to the early 1980s. Complaints were made to the Bathinda DC that when the entire city was subjected to powercuts, the only area that was spared was the colony of PSPCL officers (erstwhile electricity board). The officers had, on their own, installed a hotline in the area. The DC called the seniormost officer of the department and asked him for details. ‘DC saheb, we have to work round the clock to ensure power supply. What is the harm if we have allowed ourselves a little relief?’ The DC said, ‘Do you think we sit idle? The police sits idle? All of us work for the public. The government has not allowed you this facility. How can you become a law unto yourself? The powercuts have to be shared by all. From today, you will have to snap the hotline.’ The meeting ended on a bitter note. In the evening, the DC sent the SDM and the DSP to inspect the area and ensure his order had been implemented. In spite of resistance, the DC stood his ground.
At another time, I was present in the office of that very DC, when two MLAs and office-bearers of a political party entered. The middle-aged president of the party said, ‘DC saheb, aap nu pata e hona a ke Sanjay Gandhiji Mansa aa rahe ne, aapan sara programme vadhiya karna hai’ (Sanjay Gandhi will be visiting Mansa, so we will have to make elaborate arrangements). Some people began suggesting that a huge pandal would have to be built and roads would have to be repaired. Without showing any sign of exasperation, the DC remarked, ‘Karenge, zaroor karenge, pehle protocol guidelines dekh loon ke Pradhan Mantri ke bete ko kya-kya allowed hai’ (Sure, but let me first check what all is officially allowed to the PM’s son). Alarmed, all started speaking in unison, ‘Nahinji, prabhand tan karne painge.’ He again replied, ‘Dekhenge, dekhenge.’ He did not budge till the state’s political department issued the programme of the VIP.
Sadly, such officers are now rare.
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