IAS POSTINGS Officers in sensitive posts, such as a district collector, a head of a major department and an apex post like that of the chief secretary work under the tenure of insecurity.

This is with reference to the article “Hyderabad blues,” by Md. Shafiquzzaman (June 27, 2012). I would suggest that the primary woe of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is illegal arbitrary tenures in the States. This defeats the very purpose of the service as intended by the Constituent Assembly and its greatest champion, Sardar Patel, which is to provide stability and a uniform standard of administration across the Union and the States.

Senior government positions in the States are reserved for the IAS alone and posting others to these positions is not allowed. However, posting and tenure is mostly a matter of pleasure and convention. Officers in sensitive posts, such as a district collector, a head of a major department and an apex post like that of the chief secretary work under the tenure of insecurity.

N.C. Saxena who studied the performance of various centrally run developmental schemes, found that the prime administrative factor in ensuring that they work well is a rational tenure for the implementing and supervising officers. His efforts to convince the States to adopt a statutory minimum tenure did not wash with the compulsions of real politic. The late Home Minister Indrajit Gupta recollected that his cabinet colleagues laughed off his suggestion of this reform.

After the Supreme Court ordered the States to give a statutory minimum term to all police officers in the country to reduce arbitrary transfers, as in the Prakash Singh case, the same was argued before the court for the IAS. However the court was not convinced that successful implementation of important development schemes needs planning, continuity in office and accountability during tenure.

At the Centre, all IAS officers on deputation serve tenure posts. As a result, the administration of central departments is more organised. No officer is taken into the central service without a tenure of at least four years. It is extendable to seven years. The Supreme Court held in the Debesh Chandra Dass case that removal from central deputation before tenure is bad in the absence of proven misconduct or gross inefficiency. Besides the case for tenuring all positions in the IAS, both at the State and Centre, is bolstered by the fact that some key central positions such as home secretary, cabinet secretary and defence secretary have been tenured in relaxation of retirement rules. Here, posted officers serve for a minimum tenure of two years irrespective of their date of superannuation.

Progressive move

There is a world of difference between when an officer is posted as district collector or head of department with a minimum two-year term, and posting him on pleasure. If arbitrary removal is made a bit difficult in key positions, by providing for a process of hearing by a board comprising a retired judge, chief secretary and the minister-in-charge and making all appointments via cabinet notes and not “out of agenda,” the reasoning for making a posting and effecting a removal will be transparent. Nefarious casteist and communal interest, apart from the “my man” syndrome can be checked or at least documented. While the government must have the flexibility to effect personnel policy, its gross abuse can be reduced if not eliminated. Efforts to place such a minimal term in the rule book have so far been unsuccessful for obvious reasons and there is no hope they can be effected unless there is judicial insistence. This could be the single most effective progressive step in the management of the IAS in the States.

The other key weakness is the mad rush among retiring senior personnel to grab, post retirement, a constitutional or statutory position. Bureaucrats, especially from the IAS, have so far monopolised most constitutional and statutory commissions and organisations. The prospect of getting such an assignment numbs the higher echelons into submission. Even serving judges are snared into quid pro quo situations by dangling these assignments before them. A rule needs to be introduced to bar any public or constitutional employment for a period of three years, post superannuation. This would encourage officers to seek work with non-government employers rather than oblige political masters who make the statutory appointments. Currently, chairmen of public service commissions are prohibited from public employment after their tenure. It is a pity that higher judges and high executives are free to fish for post retirement jobs while trading quid pro quos that malaise the system.

Other steps

There are several other steps that can streamline the conditions in which the IAS serves. For instance higher positions in government of India can be advertised and filled by open screening rather than following the opaque procedure now. Empanelment as joint secretaries and higher do not involve the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) or a transparent procedure, which is required. When such selections without openness, personal suitability, in service training and domain experience are given the go by.

Except for punishment, there is no counselling or a chance for self improvement offered for delinquencies or misconduct detected early. There is no weeding out of those who are corrupt. In many cases, such officers, in tandem with corrupt politicians, rule the roost and determine the careers of the rest.

The result of all this is a beeline to political masters to ensure plum postings from them. In the final count it is pusillanimity and a moral crisis in the senior ranks which is responsible for the current jam. As Stephen Crane says in his “The Open Boat,” when engulfed by the raging sea, they tend not to know the “color of the sky.” The IAS needs to raise its head and see the colour of the sky — an intimidating grey — to realise the crisis it finds itself in.

(B. Ashok is a civil servant. The views expressed are personal.)

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