The Centre vs State tussle over IAS postings

India needs a stable system of civil services to bolster responsive public administration

August 18, 2022 12:15 am | Updated 01:00 am IST

It is now official. The Government of India (GOI) painfully admitted recently to what some of us already knew. Fewer and fewer All India Services (AIS) officers working in States were coming forward to opt for a tenure with the Centre. An overwhelming majority would like to be in the comfort zone of their State cadres and vegetate there rather than migrate — albeit even for one short spell of three to five years — to the country's capital and its neighbourhood to work for the Union Government.

This is no reflection on the Centre’s ability or willingness to offer incentives to maintain the morale of Indian Administrative Services (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS) officers who choose to work for it on deputation. 

Rigour routine of GOI

There are many positives in working for the GOI. These include a psychological satisfaction of contributing to the formulation of national policy on many critical issues, such as education, health care or preservation of the environment. This throws up many opportunities for foreign travel and a chance to be deputed to work for international agencies. These prospects do not, however, seem to be attractive enough for many officers to crave for a posting in Delhi. Several factors account for this reluctance. These include the rigour of the GOI routine — long hours of work and the need for extreme clinical care in the preparation and submission of reports going up the hierarchy — sometimes up to the Prime Minister himself.

Compound this with fewer creature comforts than what is available in a State environment as also the need to operate sometimes far away from one’s native State. There are only a few who are fortunate enough to be allotted to their home State or closer. Not surprisingly, many willing to go to Delhi on deputation are those assigned to the Northeastern States.

Officers shying away from going to Delhi is not a new phenomenon, but is one that has lately assumed grave proportions. This is a serious situation if one reckons that the manpower demands of GOI ministries (at the level of Deputy Secretaries and Directors who generally come from the IAS) are growing. There is no doubt now as there is a lateral entry scheme meant for qualified personnel from the public and private sectors. Their number is too small to make even a marginal difference to the deteriorating vacancy position at the Centre.

The case of the Indian Police Service (IPS) is equally bad. There are far too many vacancies in the Central Police Establishment comprising the paramilitary forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), and investigating agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and National Investigation Agency (NIA).

One organisation particularly affected is the CBI. When this is the case, ironically, the non-IPS direct recruits to the para military forces are permanently at war with the Home Ministry (MHA), demanding a greater share of the jobs in the higher echelons. The Cadre rules now in place do not permit such expansion of opportunities for the non-IPS officers. A major grouse of the latter is that none of them can ever rise to head the forces. The rationale is that they lack the experience at the grassroots of policing essential to operate in unison with the local civil authorities.

Editorial | Wrong remedy: On IAS, IPS deputation rule changes

The AIS structure is unique to India and is too delicate to handle during a crisis. No public administration practitioner or scholar abroad can comprehend its nuances. 

The AIS appointments

The selection of AIS officers is done through the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), which holds an annual examination that attracts 3,00,000 to 4,00,000 young aspirants, competing for less than 1,000 positions. The appointing authority for those shortlisted from the written examination, followed by an oral interview, is currently the Central government. 

Appointment officers are allotted to various States, the number of officers depending on each State's requirement. Thereafter, they spend most of their career in those States, intervened by short spells of deputation to the Centre. While they are functioning under a State government, disciplinary authority is vested in the former, except that a State cannot impose a major penalty on a delinquent AIS officer for any misconduct.

Suspension of an officer from the service by a State government will have to be ratified by the Centre before the end of three months. This is meant to be a safeguard against any arbitrary action by a State government.

I, however, know of a case of a totally unjustified harassment of a distinguished police officer who was harassed for reporting to the Indian government after the State went back on its earlier promise to relieve her to join a Central organisation. There was a short-lived tussle between the State and the Ministry of Home Affairs over this issue.

A few years ago, we also witnessed such battles in other States too, especially West Bengal, where senior officers such as the Chief Secretary and Commissioner of Police were greatly embarrassed because the Chief Minister and GOI were out of steps with each other. It is in situations like these where the canons of prudent and mature governance are ignored that pose a threat to the foundation of All India Services.

Empowering the Centre

Crass politics triumphing over enlightened public administration has become the order of the day. It is in this context that the Centre's dialogue with the States over amending the AIS rules assumes importance. Such amendment would empower the Centre to commandeer the services of any officer serving in the States to work for the former, with or without the concurrence of the State concerned or the consent of the particular officer.

However, it is debatable whether the States will agree to this change. Intriguing times are, therefore, ahead of all of us who are convinced that we need a stable system of civil services to bolster democratic and responsive public administration in our country.

R.K. Raghavan is a former CBI Director and a former High Commissioner of India to the Republic of Cyprus.

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