Friday June 21, 2024

DC’s suicide shakes other colleagues

By Usman Manzoor
June 16, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The recent death of a deputy commissioner who committed suicide in Gujranwala has shaken many senior officers who blame stress and depression, arising out of institutional failure, as the main reason for the DC’s act and say many other officers are also facing similar issues.

Sohail Ahmad Tipu, DC Gujranwala, committed suicide in March this year. There are many factors that surround his death but the main reason is that he was suffering from acute depressive illness and was denied leave despite producing a medical certificate of mental illness as well.

In discussion with The News, many civil servants have expressed their concern over their job stresses and institutional failures leading to incidents like the one that the DC Gujranwala underwent.

The civil servants, names not being disclosed, said openly discussing mental illness was a taboo in our society. They said: “The deputy commissioner was suffering from acute depressive illness, as was evident from the medical certificate he presented along with his application for leave.

One may, however, make a safe guess here that he would not have been openly sharing his illness with others, nor getting required medical check-ups and treatment in this regard.

The fact is that there is a taboo attached to mental health issues and those suffering from such diseases fear from being labelled as lunatic or crazy and ridiculed.

It is thus high time to raise the awareness that mental health issues are also diseases like all other physical problems; have underlying causes such as hormonal imbalance; and that they are controllable, if not fully treatable. Had it been the case, no wonder the deputy commissioner might have been consulting mental health specialists openly and repeatedly, and saved from the sorry fate he eventually met.”

“The higher authorities generally discourage, if not disapprove, a deputy commissioner from seeking any leave, no matter how short, what to talk about a full-fledged rest and recreation leave. In fact, it would be considered a lack of sense of responsibility on his part if ever a deputy commissioner seeks such a leave. Moreover, since there is no security of tenure in place, there is a likelihood that he might even lose his posting if he proceeds on a relatively longer leave.

In case of the deceased deputy commissioner too, it is a well-known secret that he had been trying to seek leave for quite some time but with limited or no success.”

Regarding the salary structure of civil servants and subsequent corrupt practices being done to meet the ends, the bureaucrats hold that in this era of high inflation, the salary structure of government servants is both inappropriate and inadequate, and the deputy commissioners are no exception. There seems to be a silent understanding somewhere that with other resources at their disposal, salary shall not be an issue for them. Such a salary structure is in fact a recipe for corrupting our officers as many of them start relying on unfair means to meet their legitimate demands, but then there is no end to this beginning.

The officers who still try to live within honest means thus have to face immense stress on this count too. Still worse for the deputy commissioners and the likes who, with so many responsibilities attached to their offices, cannot even resort to other acceptable means of income, for example delivering lectures as visiting faculty in educational institutes, which many of the officer do, or have been doing, to make their [both] ends meet.

“Over and above the aforementioned factors, no security of tenure is attached to the office of deputy commissioner anymore. As a result, he holds the office during the pleasure of the higher authorities. This brings additional and unnecessary stress on the office as the deputy commissioner feels if he would fail to please his high-ups and the political bosses, he might lose his job. True that an upright officer would, and shall, still refuse to extend undue favours or comply with illegal orders without thinking of the consequences but that is easier said than done. Furthermore, why to leave it to an individual and not provide an institutional mechanism to address his concerns? With security of tenure comes another prerequisite too, and that is appointing officers at such sensitive and important positions after due grooming. In good old days, an officer used to serve as assistant commissioner of at least 2 tehsils in junior grades, and then mostly as additional deputy commissioner on promotion, before finally assuming the position of the head of district administration as deputy commissioner. By then, an officer used to become amply mature and adept at handling multifarious issues, and coping up with job related stress at the same time. Not anymore. With the demise of institutional mechanism behind the transfer and postings of officers, appointments these days are made without taking into account previous postings and career path of the officers.

The deceased deputy commissioner had also not done enough field assignments before having taken over as head of the administration of one of the most populous districts of Punjab. If he had been more experienced, he would have been in a better position to cope with job-related stress, if not with the personal one.

It would be pertinent to mention here that the deceased officer had worked in a staff position in the office of the (now former) chief minister.

Another example is that of as important a city as provincial capital, Lahore, where a grade 18 officer was appointed as deputy commissioner against a grade 20 position, who had also served as personal staff officer to the chief minister. And the list goes on.”

The system has failed to save a precious life; it may now be fixed at priority if we truly want to ensure no one else falls victim to it, the civil servants held.