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IAS officers gather to discuss the ‘changing environment’ at work

The meeting, which was attended by IAS officers from across the country, batches and cadres, saw serving and retired bureaucrats express concern over the “changing environment.”

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary | New Delhi |
Updated: October 23, 2016 8:59:46 am

AN estimated 80 IAS officers Saturday expressed concern over the “changing environment” in governance — from the focus on quicker decision-making but no safeguards for those making the decisions, to scrutiny by the CBI and CVC, and a sense of insecurity among officers.

In the backdrop of the suspension of Home Ministry Joint Secretary G K Dwivedi, and former coal secretary H C Gupta expressing his willingness to go to jail rather than defend himself in the coal scam case, the IAS officers held a round-table meeting here to discuss various issues.

The meeting, which was attended by IAS officers from across the country, batches and cadres, saw serving and retired bureaucrats express concern over the “changing environment”, although, according to sources, it was not clear what change was being referred to.

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According to sources present at the meeting, during discussions on ensuring decisions are free, fair and taken without any pressure, one serving officer said every bureaucrat is forced to think about how the CBI and CVC may view the decisions in future. This was seen as an impediment to quick decision-making, which was another issue of discussion.

Another officer said that while the focus is on quicker decision-making, there are no safeguards to protect bureaucrats. An officer pointed out that there was a lot of uncertainty and insecurity among bureaucrats, and many don’t know how to deal with the situation.

Some others voiced their fears and highlighted the challenges under the new regime and the changing contours of governance in the country.

“Issues related to Prevention of Corruption Act and sanction for prosecution were discussed. The point was how to ensure bold decision-making. It is important to protect bureaucrats who have taken a decision in good faith. Section 13 of PCA was discussed in this context. It is the only Act in which mens rea is not applicable. It is a pre-liberalisation Act where private sector had little role. Today, every decision by a bureaucrat is going to benefit some private firm. By that logic, all bureaucrats will be in jail,” IAS Association (Central) Secretary Sanjay Bhoosreddy told The Sunday Express.

Section 13 of Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) makes any civil servant criminally liable if his act leads to pecuniary benefit to anyone and is deemed to be not in “public interest”.

Bureaucrats had raised this issue last year at a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had assured them that the government was looking at the Law Commission’s recommendations on amendments to PCA.

Following the suspension of G K Dwivedi, after the renewal of FCRA licence of an NGO run by controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, all joint secretaries in the Home Ministry met Home Minister Rajnath Singh to register their protest, even as IAS officers made a representation to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) seeking immediate revocation of the suspension. The suspension has now been revoked, and Dwivedi is awaiting his posting.

In the case of former coal secretary H C Gupta, IAS officers argued that corruption trial should not be opened against a bureaucrat unless there is clear evidence of pecuniary gain.

The meeting today discussed four key issues: “Evolving role of the IAS in the context of changing governance requirements”, “ensuring bold and proactive, free and fair decision-making by officers”, “leadership of the IAS in the governance structure”, and “developing human capital in the IAS”.

Under these heads, sources said, issues related to state governments stalling the career growth of IAS officers by not issuing NOCs for central deputation, and a pan-India service like IAS serving as a state service was also discussed.

The meeting also discussed the relationship between the IAS and other services. “It was discussed and we decided that we are the premier service and we have leadership. But this means carrying along everyone. We have to behave like an elder brother and not like father,” said Bhoosreddy.

Interestingly, IPS officers, who had locked horns with the IAS officers on issues of parity in service, also held their general body meeting on Saturday. This meeting again raised the issue of parity in empanelment, posting and pay scale with IAS. “The elder brother-younger brother relationship has turned into master-servant relationship. That is why we are seeking parity,” said a UP cadre officer who attended the meeting.
The IAS meeting, Bhoosreddy said, also agreed to be in favour of lateral entry into the service. However, the
officers insisted that there should be a proper procedure laid down for inducting experts from the private sector, and it should not be discretionary.

The bureaucrats also decided to develop a database, based on which they would rank all states on governance and administrative parameters every year to ensure accountability of both the political and bureaucratic dispensation in every state.

Other topics that were discussed included the “need for safety nets and redressal mechanisms”, “ensuring stability of tenure and preventing witch-hunting”, “need for balancing generalist with specialised skills”, “safeguarding apex level positions (CS, DM etc)”, “retaining the edge of the IAS” and “performance-based incentives and disincentives”.

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