Officials told not to act on oral orders from political executive

To insulate the bureaucracy from political interference and to put an end to frequent transfers of civil servants by political bosses, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre and the States to set up a Civil Services Board (CSB) for the management of transfers, postings, inquiries, process of promotion, reward, punishment and disciplinary matters.

A Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Pinaki Chandra Ghose, giving a series of directions while disposing of a public interest writ petition — filed by former Union Cabinet Secretary T.S.R. Subramanian; former CECs T.S. Krishnamurthy and N. Gopalaswami; former Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Abid Hussain; former CBI Director Joginder Singh; former Manipur Governor Ved Prakash Marwah and 77 others — also said bureaucrats should not act on verbal orders given by politicians and suggested a fixed tenure for them.

Writing the judgment, Mr. Justice Radhakrishnan said “the CSB, consisting of high ranking service officers, who are experts in their respective fields, with the Cabinet Secretary at the Centre and Chief Secretary at the State level, could be a better alternative (till the Parliament enacts a law), to guide and advise the State government on all service matters, especially on transfers, postings and disciplinary action, etc., though their views also could be overruled, by the political executive, but by recording reasons, which would ensure good governance, transparency and accountability in governmental functions.”

The Bench asked Parliament to enact a Civil Services Act under Article 309 of the Constitution setting up a CSB, “which can guide and advise the political executive transfer and postings, disciplinary action, etc.” The Bench directed the Centre, State governments and the Union Territories to constitute such Boards “within three months, if not already constituted, till the Parliament brings in a proper Legislation in setting up CSB.”

The Bench said “We notice, at present the civil servants are not having stability of tenure, particularly in the State governments where transfers and postings are made frequently, at the whims and fancies of the executive head for political and other considerations and not in public interest. The necessity of minimum tenure has been endorsed and implemented by the Union Government. In fact, we notice, almost 13 States have accepted the necessity of a minimum tenure for civil servants. Fixed minimum tenure would not only enable the civil servants to achieve their professional targets, but also help them to function as effective instruments of public policy.”

Deprecating repeated transfers, the Bench said minimum assured tenure ensures efficient service delivery and also increased efficiency.The Bench directed the Centre, States and Union Territories to issue appropriate directions to secure providing of minimum tenure of service to various civil servants, within three months.

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