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'Amendments are like a sledgehammer to swat a fly'

By SHOBHA WARRIER
January 28, 2022 09:54 IST
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'I hope the Centre and the states will both act in the spirit of cooperative federalism and find acceptable solutions without testing the law and the limits of each other's power.'
'This should not be considered a wrestling match.'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi addresses the inaugural session of Assistant Secretaries (IAS officers of the 2017 batch), in New Delhi, July 2, 2019. Photograph: Press Information Bureau
 

The Union government's decision to amend the IAS/IPS/IFS cadre Rules, 1954, has resulted in a huge fight between the non-BJP ruled state governments and the central government.

Eight non-BJP ruled states have opposed the proposed amendments in which the Centre can depute officers from the states to the Centre without the state government's approval.

Where will this lead to?

"The Centre's approach appears to be confused. On the one hand, it says sufficient number of IAS officers are not coming to the Centre. On the other, they talk of lateral entry, and also sharply cutting down the number of officers empanelled at higher levels," K M Chandrasekhar, who retired as India's Cabinet Secretary -- the top-most officer in the nation's bureaucracy -- tells Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com.

As one of the senior retired IAS officers in the country, do you agree with the proposed amendments in the IAS/IPS/IFS (Cadre) Rules, 1954?

Based on my past experience, I see problems in the manner in which the amendments have been drafted.

Is it justifiable on the part of the Centre to depute the officers to the Union government and ministries without securing vthe state government's approval when they work under different state governments?

This will cause a number of problems in administration.

The officer concerned in the state may be doing important work with a definite time frame. Suddenly uprooting her/him without the concurrence of the state government may derail the implementation of important projects taken up in the state with central or state funding.

The officers will also be insecure and may not give off their best.

According to the Department of Personnel and Training, the number of IAS officers on central deputation has gone down from 309 in 2011 to 223 now, and the percentage of utilisation of officers has gone down from 25% in 2011 to 18% now.
Why is it so? Is it because the officers are not interested in moving to the Centre, or is it because the states do not let them go?

This is a matter to be reviewed by the Centre and the states.

I am aware of a number of officers who wanted to go to the Centre but could not because they were not empanelled at the Centre at the level of joint secretary and above.

The Centre's approach appears to be confused.

On the one hand, it says sufficient number of IAS officers are not coming to the Centre. On the other, they talk of lateral entry, and also sharply cutting down the number of officers empanelled at higher levels.

The best solution would have been for the Cabinet Secretary to sit with the chief secretaries and find acceptable ways forward.

The Centre talks about a shortage of officers at the Centre to man its various schemes, but what about the shortage the states might encounter when their officers are forced to go on deputation?

Shortage at the state level is not good for the country as developmental work at the grassroots is done in the states. A balance has to be found through mutual discussion.

Five states have opposed to the proposed amendments, and three state chief ministers have written to the PM expressing their opposition. The West Bengal CM calls the proposed amendments 'draconian'. Would you call it draconian?

Yes, I think these amendments are like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly.

An unnecessary controversy.

The states are within their rights to oppose a system that threatens to disrupt their administration.

If the states oppose the amendments, can the Centre go ahead with the proposal and force the states to send their officers on central duty?

I hope the Centre and the states will both act in the spirit of cooperative federalism and find acceptable solutions without testing the law and the limits of each other's power.

This should not be considered a wrestling match.

Can the states refuse to send their officers even if the Centre demands it like the West Bengal chief minister refused to send a senior officer last year?

The practice hitherto had been for the Centre and the State to agree on the deputation of officers.

Normally, the state sends a list of officers for central deputation each year, and the Central Civil Services Board picks up those whom the Centre wants and places them in positions suited to their knowledge and experience.

I do not know the details of the West Bengal case, but, from what I have read in newspapers, he was posted to the Centre on the day before he was due to retire. This seemed a bit weird to me because he had not, as far as I knew, been empanelled in the Centre to a level equivalent to chief secretary. He chose instead to retire a day earlier. I am not aware of the position taken in this matter by the chief minister.

These officers are recruited and trained by the Centre and sent to various states. So, which government -- the Centre or the state -- are these officers obliged to listen to?

When they are under the Centre, they are under central jurisdiction.

When they are in the states, they report to state governments.

The Centre allocates officers to the state cadres according to a formula devised by the Department of Personnel and Training.

Once they are so allocated, they are considered to be in the respective state cadres.

When they go to the Centre, they are treated as being on 'deputation' to the Centre and such deputation is also only for a limited length of time.

Why are some officers not recruited for central duty alone after their training?

Most civil service officers under the central services (which far exceed the number of All India Service officers) are selected directly to the Centre. The IAS, IPS and IFS, are treated as All India Services, with chances to serve both the Centre and the states.

Their principal lien continues to be with the states to whose cadres they are allotted, but once they go to the Centre, they are fully under central jurisdiction.

IMAGE: Former Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar. Photograph: Kind courtesy K M Chandrasekhar

Do you think it is time for an overhauling of the administrative services? And what kind of changes would you suggest?

Overhauling is an ongoing process.

The system of examination has changed.

Age limits for entry and retirement have changed.

Training has undergone modification not only at the start, but even at various stages in their careers.

Posts have changed, ministries have undergone alteration.

What the government requires is systemic change, bringing about result-orientation together with autonomy as has been successfully carried out in several countries like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and others.

This was briefly tried in India through the Results Framework Agreement system, which fell apart on account of political and bureaucratic apathy.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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