IAS POSTINGS: Distortion of cadre rules to accommodate junior officers in senior posts is at the root of graft in the IAS

In recent days, in Hyderabad, no news item has attracted more attention than the one of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)’s probe into the misdeeds of certain Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers.

It all began when the CBI arrested two IAS officers and charge-sheeted another two for malafide and illegal decision making for illegal gains.

What incensed the IAS officers was that while the agency went after secretaries and heads of the departments involved in such decisions, it avoided, at least openly, investigating the role of Ministers concerned or those in the cabinet who took such decisions. Adding to their ire was that while ministers were interrogated in their chambers, IAS officers were summoned to the office of the CBI.

In the process the CBI betrayed its ignorance of decision making processes in the government, or deliberately overlooked them, or exposed its lack of knowledge of the Constitution of India, particularly Article 14 which guarantees equality before the law to every citizen.

Before discussing the CBI’s action, it would be advisable to look into the business rules, which govern the movement of files in the Secretariat and the respective decision making roles of ministers and their IAS secretaries in Andhra Pradesh.

Legal provisions

To summarise, the legal provisions in this regard are:

The Minister-in-charge of a department alone is competent to take a decision on any file of the department.

The Minister can delegate any subject to the Secretary but even in such a case, can call for any file and pass final orders.

The Secretary can give his opinion on any file but a Minister is not obliged to accept his opinion.

In case a Minister passes an order against the opinion furnished by the Secretary, the Secretary may circulate the file only once to the Chief Minister through the Chief Secretary.

If the Chief Minister still agrees with the opinion of the Minister, the Secretary shall forthwith implement the orders of the Minister.

The Secretary shall implement the orders of the Minister/Chief Minister even if the orders are patently illegal.

The Secretary shall not talk about or disclose the illegality of these orders in any other forum.

Thus, it is obvious that the decision making authority rests with the Minister and if the IAS officers have helped him or her in taking the malafide decisions, then the IAS officers have to be proceeded against only as an abetter of the offence. The Minister remains the perpetrator.

By fixing the responsibility on the abetter and letting the perpetrator go scot-free, it may even be argued that the CBI is helping the IAS officers indirectly. It does not require any profound knowledge of the law to understand that if the main perpetrator of an offence is let off, the abetter cannot be punished. So by leaving the Minister safe and going after the Secretaries, the CBI is ensuring that in the end, the case falls flat and nobody is punished.

The argument given by the IAS officers that they were compelled by the Minister to sign on the dotted line is too ludicrous to even discuss. It was a simple case of consensual partnership and crying hoarse after getting caught.

However one thing that has not been talked about is why this type of partnership takes place in the first place.

Corruption and mismanagement of the IAS cadre are directly linked. If the cadre is managed properly, corruption can also be significantly reduced.

Over the years, the power of transfer and posting has been transformed into a veritable tool to reward the pliable, and in the process proliferate corruption. Now let us try to look at the problem in this perspective.

Let us assume for analysing the proposition, that there are five important positions in the government. There are only five senior officers who could be posted here. In such a situation the competition for these posts will be almost nil as every officer is assured of the posting. Contrast this with a situation of five posts and a 100 officers: naturally, there will be a mad race where every unethical method will be used to bag one of these posts.

The whole scheme of cadre management of the All India Services was devised to avoid the latter and ensure the former. Cadre rules provide that each post will be earmarked for a particular seniority of officers after objective assessment of the status and responsibilities of the post and a limited number of officers of that seniority alone will be competent to hold the post earmarked for their level of seniority. But this whole arrangement was deliberately distorted by a section of the bureaucrat-politician nexus by either blurring that identification where any post can be held by a bureaucrat of any seniority, or, alternatively, making indiscriminate illegal promotions, bringing juniors on a par with seniors thus making a large number of officers eligible for five posts. The natural consequence is that the officers who are ineligible are willing to render everything, right from money to self respect, to grab the post for which they are not eligible. This undermines the system in more ways than one. The unethical officers who get posted to ineligible posts by illegal methods have a reason to indulge in and encourage corruption to make money to recoup the expenditure and also more money for future contingencies and dole out illegal favours to their benefactors. Coupled with this, the political bosses who have the responsibility to review and monitor their activities have to keep their eyes shut because after all he is “their man.”

On the contrary, if officers are posted on merit, they will be under no compulsion, of course barring their personal greed, to make money. Secondly, they will be under the constant scanner of their political masters who again will be under no compulsion to protect them.

Thus following the rules in transfers and posting remains the only solution to end this nexus.

(The writer is an IAS officer. The views expressed in the article are personal and not those of the government.)

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