An advice of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to the Prime Minister’s Office that the government can only make policy decisions and not intervene in cases of frequent transfers or spoiling of Annual Confidential Reports of Central officers such as those in the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Forest Service, working under State governments, has put the Centre in a bind.
If accepted, the position could render the Centre relatively powerless to intervene in cases such as those of the 2009 batch IAS officer, Durga Shakti Nagpal, posted as sub-divisional magistrate at Gautam Budh Nagar in Uttar Pradesh and controversially suspended by the State government recently.
The DoPT advice came in the case of whistleblower and Haryana-cadre Forest Officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi in February 2012.
It has been challenged by the officer before the PMO as well as the DoPT but the latter has deferred replying to the matter for more than a year, claiming the issue has been referred to the Attorney-General for his views. The PMO too has sent repeated reminders to the department to clarify its position but has not received a finalised response as yet.
The DoPT intervened in the case of the whistleblower after the cadre-controlling authority for forest officers, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), came to Mr. Chaturvedi’s rescue upon his complaint of harassment by the parent Haryana government.
In 2010, the MoEF set up a two-member inquiry to investigate if the officer was wrongly charge-sheeted by the State government for following Supreme Court orders and preventing misuse of Central funds. Based on the probe report, it revoked the charge sheet and quashed all disciplinary proceedings against him.
The State government accepted the MoEF’s orders, but subsequently protested to the Centre against the inquiry report, which recommended a CBI inquiry into the case against senior State government functionaries and politicians.
CVC favoured probe by CBI
The MoEF referred the matter to the Central Vigilance Commission, which too recommended a probe by the CBI.
The State government rebutted the position and came back to the MoEF with the DoPT advice to the PMO, catching the ministry unawares. The advice was sent with the personal intervention of Minister in-charge of the DoPT V. Narayanasamy, but was not forwarded to the MoEF. The Minister himself wrote in the case that the charges levelled by Mr. Chaturvedi (against the actions of the State government) fall ‘primarily within the jurisdiction of the State government and hence, the Centre was not competent to order an inquiry into a representation received from the member of service working in connection with the affairs of the State government.’ He held the inquiry ordered by the MoEF ‘ultra vires’.
Based on his file notings, the DoPT advised the PMO, “As regards the frequent transfers of the officer and violation of cadre rules, the role of the Central government is restricted to formulation of cadre rules only. With regard to spoiling of ACRs of the officer, there is a laid-down procedure for conveying the adverse entries in the Annual Appraisal Reports, considering the representation of the officer reported upon and expunction of the adverse entries. In these matters, the Central government does not have a direct role except formulation of policy.”
The Haryana government quoted the file notings of Mr. Narayanasamy and the advice of the DoPT to the MoEF to defend its position that the Centre could not intervene to help Central services officers if they were working under the State government.
But when the whistleblower asked the DoPT under RTI in how many cases it had intervened to expunge remarks from the ACRs of Central government officers, it came out with a contrary position. In its reply, the department said it had entertained 18 ‘memorials’ from IAS officers against entries in their ACRs by State governments over a period of five years and in one case it had expunged adverse remarks.
A plain reading of the service rules shows that under Section 16, officers can appeal to the Centre against an order of suspension or any order of the State government penalising them. Officers are also permitted to appeal to the Centre for redress if they claim that they were posted on lower grade posts than that they are eligible for. The Centre is also empowered under Section 4 to make alterations or review the strength and composition of the cadre of a State government.