Security of tenure is important for a bureaucrat to work efficiently. There has to be some rationale behind posting a bureaucrat to a particular department, says former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian
Earlier this week, acting on a public interest litigation, the Supreme Court issued a verdict that is expected to reduce the political pressure which bureaucrats work under. The court ruled that a minimum tenure should be assured to bureaucrats so that they can perform their duties without the fear of being shunted out of their post for not working in the interest of their political masters.
The court also empowered the bureaucrats to record, in writing, the oral instruction of their political bosses so that they are not hounded or harassed later. Former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian, who had filed the PIL along with 82 other retired bureaucrats, speaks with Veenu Sandhu about the verdict, its implications and the challenges ahead.
How will the Supreme Court verdict facilitate the bureaucracy to work better?
The verdict will empower the people because on this issue, public interest is involved. A bureaucrat is a public servant. To serve the public better, he needs to understand the functioning of the department to which he has been posted. For example, if he has been posted as district magistrate, he needs to familiarise himself with the problems and concerns of the district and gain local knowledge. He needs to visit the towns, blocks and villages that are part of the district.
All this takes four to six months. Or, say, he has been posted in the civil aviation department or in the coal ministry; again some months go into understanding the basics of the department. Now if this bureaucrat is transferred within six months of being posted to the department, he is able to work for only 25 per cent of his capacity. His work capacity comes to peak after about six months once he has properly educated himself about the department he is part of or the post he is holding. Which is why, security of tenure is important.
What about the issue of oral orders coming from political bosses?
A lot of work is done through oral directions and this needs to stop. We are not running a domestic affair here; this is a public affair. The orders have to be put on record. The problem is that politicians want authority without responsibility.
Some are of the view that the court has overstepped its jurisdiction with this verdict.
The court entered the picture due to Article 32 of the Constitution [under the right to constitutional remedy, a person can move the Supreme Court for legal remedy it he feels that his fundamental right has been infringed upon]. Nobody can say that the judiciary overstepped. The judiciary is the final arbiter of the Constitution. The interpretation of Article 32 is not for the MPs and MLAs to decide on TV channels.
They have no locus standi to question this. The Supreme Court has followed the recommendations of the Hota Committee (on civil service reforms) and the Administrative Reforms Commission. Even Veerappa Moily, when he was chairman of the National Administrative Reforms Commission, had pushed for reforms in civil services. There have been repeated demands for better management of civil services, their security and transparency.
Rules aside, how can the civil services be managed better?
There has to be a scientific basis to the way the services are managed. There has to be some rationale behind posting a bureaucrat to a particular department. When I was cabinet secretary, we would ensure that the superintendent of police and district magistrate were not of the same caste. This is very important. If there is a corrupt minister, then post a strong secretary to counter him. You have to balance things out. There has to be some kind of understanding of the people, their skills and the domain knowledge they have. Minister will always want to have their own people around them who will not challenge their empire.
The court has directed the Centre and the state governments to pass an order within three months on giving fixed tenure to bureaucrats. What happens next?
That's difficult to say.
There is an opinion that even this verdict might not help free the bureaucracy from political clutches. What more needs to be done?
Well, we just need to produce more honest bureaucrats and more honest politicians.