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Tuesday, August 07, 2001

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Police officers in a pickle

IN WHAT appears to be an exercise in stretching the letter of law to an extreme and explicit ejection of its spirit, the Union Government has created a piquant situation for some police officers of the Chennai Police Commissionerate and the Government of Tamil Nadu by issuing posting orders of these officers in the Cabinet Secretariat, Delhi, without the prior observance of the formality of obtaining the concurrence of the State Government as required under the rules. The Tamil Nadu Government has chosen to respond, true to its style, by letting every one know indirectly its unhappiness and possibly unwillingness to comply with the "orders''. The Union Law Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley, has, in an equally characteristic impetuous manner, declared that the Centre has "overriding powers''.

The resultant situation does not do any credit to the constitutional authorities on either side and may eventually render incalculable damage to the morale of the officers of All India Services, recruited by special procedures, provided special protection under Articles 311 and 312 of Part XIV of the Constitution and maintained at relatively high cost to the exchequer.

For a better appreciation of the case the legal and procedural background could be briefly stated. Formed under Act LXI of 1951 enacted "to regulate the recruitment and the conditions of services of persons appointed to the All India Services, common to the Union and the States'', the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Police Service and the Indian Forest Service have been a rather striking feature of the Indian federal structure, making it rather unique among the federations the world over. Members of the services are, after recruitment, allotted to the "Cadre of a State, and are governed by the AIS Act of 1951 and the various rules framed thereunder''.

Dual control systemIn what could be considered yet another significant feature different from other federal states, the All India Service officers can be called upon to serve both the Union and the State and are thus subject to a dual control system marked by "deputation rules'' and tenure policies.

In the several rules issued by the Union Government under the AIS Act, for observance by the State Governments and Union Ministries it has been clarified that "Government'' means in the case of a Member of Service serving in connection with the affairs of the Union, the Central Government and in the case of the Member of Service serving in connection with the affairs of the State, the Government of that State''.

Apart from State cadres, there are also, in the case of small States, what are known as joint cadres common to several States. In 1972, the All India Services (Joint Cadre) Rules were issued, constituting a joint cadre in respect of some States and the cadre authority in their case was Committee of Representatives of each of the Constituent States to be called Joint Cadre Authority.

Besides the rules, there have been conventions, and practices built over the five decades that place the AIS officer sometimes at an advantage and at others, at a disadvantage, in comparison with officers recruited to serve exclusively the Union Government (Central Services) or the State Government (the State Services).

The procedure for deputation

As part of these conventions, the procedure for the "deputation'' of an AIS officer borne on the cadre of a State, to serve in the Union Government, includes issue of a circular by the Union Government, and circulated by the State Government, seeking the willingness of a Member of Service to serve the Union Government. And a list of those officers selected by the State Government, from among those willing to proceed on deputation, is forwarded to the Union Government and the Department of Personnel of the Union Government, in its turn, scrutinises this offer list and picks an officer, on the basis of his record of service, confidential rolls, his aptitude and work experience and circulates a panel of names among the various Ministries. In their turn, the Ministries pick from the panel an officer for the post under its administrative control. An officer on the offer list may or may not be picked. Even after being picked by a Ministry, there is a process observed by the Department of Personnel for securing the approval of the Appointments Committee of the Union Cabinet (ACC). After the approval of ACC is secured and the selection is communicated to the State Government, the State Government issues an order placing the services of an AIS officer at the disposal of the Union Government, for appointment to a specific post.

This time consuming rigmarole often takes quite a few months time and rarely less than two or three months. The period of this appointment described as the `tenure' varies from three to five years in the case of middle level and senior officers. The tenure rules are strictly applied and extensions have got to be approved by the ACC. Officers deputed to the Centre are expected to return to the State and serve a cooling off period before they can return to the Central post.

In the normal course of events, an AIS officer serving under the State Government expresses his willingness, gets included by the State Government in the offer list and gets selected by the Union Ministry before the appointment orders are issued with the concurrence of the State Government. He should have been `empanelled' through the laid down process, by the Union Government, before being appointed by the Union Government to any specific senior post. In the past there have been cases in which the State Governments have declined to spare the services of an officer citing public interest or the need of the State, when the Union Government "requisitions'' his/her services or after the process of picking up an officer from the offer list is completed. In such cases, all that the Centre has been doing so far is to declare the officer ineligible for holding the posts under the Union Government - some kind of "blackballing'' in common parlance.

Relevant ruleThe rule relevant to the current case of Tamil Nadu IPS officers, kept in view by the Union Law Minister, is Rule 6 of Indian Police Service (cadre) Rules 1954 which reads, "(1) A cadre officer may with the concurrence of the State Government or the State Governments concerned, be deputed for service under the Central Government or another State Government or under a company, etc{hellip}, owned or controlled by the Union Government.'' That was the rule as originally framed. By way of a notification issued in July 1985, a provision was added indicating that "provided that in case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the Central Government and the State Government concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Union Government.''

It is not clear whether all the requirements of procedure have been observed by the Union Government while issuing the orders for the three IPS officers. From the reaction of the Tamil Nadu Government, one can only presume that the State Government has not been consulted. It is not unusual for the Union Government to seek the services of a particular officer for specific job if the officer is known to have special skills or knowledge that can be useful to it for carrying out official duties. Likewise the State Governments also recall an officer from deputation to the Centre, in case of a specific felt need. Correspondence and consultations on such matters between the Union Government and the State Government are carried out with both sides maintaining confidentiality, with a view to avoiding embarrassment. Even this minimum requirement does not appear to have been adhered to.

A matter of irony

It will also be a matter of great irony, if after the Union Government, particularly the Union Finance Minister, has gone on record on the need to reduce posts, the Union Government has found it necessary to create three posts in the Cabinet Secretariat without anyone getting wise on the need for such posts and to proceed further to pick three officers, all from one office in Chennai, to man these posts without obtaining the concurrence of the State Government under whom they are serving! All States and UT Governments have a deputation quota at the Centre and enjoy a right to have their officers considered for such posts. This is served by the procedure for circulating the post among State Governments. It must indeed be an extraordinary event and unusual circumstance for the Union Government to appoint at one stroke three officers from one cadre, serving in one office to posts in the Union Government.

When the Union Government frames rules for administering the All India Services and circulate them for observance by all State Governments, one expects that the Union Government itself should not be found wanting in adherence to the Rules and Practices.

In the given and publicised circumstances of the present case, there do seem to be well founded doubts on the intent of and observance of procedures by the Union Government. All that one can presume is that the Union Government was keen on sending a "signal'' that it was taking the DMK's complaint against the police officers seriously on the eve of DMK's general council meeting, while the AIADMK had appointed a commission to enquire into these complaints.

Whether such a political gesture to an NDA ally should be done at the expense of established conventions in the administration of All India Services, is a matter over which the Union Government should ponder. While the cases of three officers of the Chennai Commissionerate appear to raise questions of propriety and procedure, the case relating to the appointment of former DG of Police as the Chief of the NSG appears to be different, as the officer is apparently senior and experienced enough to be considered for the post. The Tamil Nadu Government would do well to relieve this officer for taking up the appointment in the Union Government, without further controversy.

The nation need not be presented with pictures of police officers in a pickle purely because political parties have their compulsions and some leaders bruised egos.


Former Special Chief Secretary,Government of Andhra Pradesh

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