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Supreme Court tells government how it should govern bureaucrats

The SC also said that the Parliament should enact a law to regulate transfer of civil servants.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi |
October 31, 2013 12:21:39 pm

In what it said is a move to shield the bureaucracy from excessive political interference and pressure from vested interests,the Supreme Court Thursday ruled that civil servants should be assured of a minimum tenure in a posting and a civil services boards (CSB) should be formed to make recommendations to governments on service issues,especially on transfers,postings and disciplinary actions.

Blaming political influence for the deterioration of the standards of probity and accountability of civil servants,the court also ruled that those in government should mandatorily issue written instructions and directed bureaucrats to put in writing all orders they get from their superior and others in power.

We are of the view that civil servants cannot function on the basis of verbal or oral instructions,orders,suggestions,proposals,etc.,and they must also be protected against wrongful and arbitrary pressure exerted by the administrative superiors,political executive,business and other vested interests,said a bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and P C Ghose.

Asserting that civil servants were also accountable to the people of this country like elected representatives,the court has given three months to the Central and state governments to issue necessary directions for setting up boards,fixing the minimum tenure as well as compulsorily issue written instructions.

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The court orders came on a PIL by 83 former civil servants,demanding a slew of reforms to ensure the bureaucracy is insulated from unwarranted political influences.

The petitioners included former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian,former Indian ambassador to the US Abid Hussain,former chief election commissioner N Gopalaswami,former election commissioner T S Krishna Murthy,former IPS officer Ved Prakash Marwah,and former CBI directors Joginder Singh and D R Kaarthikeyan.

Culling out recommendations by the Hota Committee,reports of the second Administrative Reforms Commission,2008,and the Santhanam Committee Report,the court held that CSB,with the cabinet secretary at the Center and chief secretary at the state level,and other high-ranking officers,should be set up within three months.

The CSB will guide and advise governments on all service matters.

The court said that their views could also be overruled by political executives but only by recording reasons,which would ensure good governance,transparency and accountability in governmental functions.

Such CSBs would function until a law in this regard is framed by the government. A draft Cabinet note for introduction of the Civil Services Performance Standards and Accountability Bill,2010,which provides for incorporating recommendations in this connection,is under the consideration of the Center for almost three years now.

On the issue of a fixed minimum tenure,the bench regretted that civil servants,especially in the states,lacked stability of tenure where transfers and postings were made frequently at the whims and fancies of the executive head for political and other considerations and not in public interest.

It said that a fixed minimum tenure will not only enable civil servants to achieve their professional targets but also help them function as effective instruments of public policy.

Repeated shuffling/transfer of the officers is deleterious to good governance. Minimum assured service tenure ensures efficient service delivery and also increased efficiency. They can also prioritize various social and economic measures intended to implement for the poor and marginalized sections of the society,the bench said.

The court also said the practice of giving oral instructions by administrative superiors,the political executive etc.,would defeat the object and purpose of the RTI Act and would also give room for favoritism and corruption since there would be no records of such orders.

Recording of instructions,directions is,therefore,necessary for fixing responsibility and ensure accountability in the functioning of civil servants and to uphold institutional integrity,the court held,directing governments to issue directions in the nature of those provided in the All India Services (Conduct) Rules,1968,within three months.

The Centre and states,however,expressed apprehension that creating an independent CSB and other institutional changes would intrude into executive functions that have to be carried out by the political executives.

The bench said that civil servants had to be accountable to their political executive but they had to function under the constitution and hence they were also accountable to the people of this country like ministers.

The court order on reforms in administrative services is on the lines of its directions in the Prakash Singh case on police reforms in September 2006. The apex court is currently monitoring the compliance of its directions,which included assured minimum tenure for personnel,freedom from unwarranted political interference and transparency in service matters.

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