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Reality check: similar rules have been gathering dust

But no concrete steps have been taken to implement this.

Written by Maneesh Chhibber | New Delhi |
November 1, 2013 2:44:27 am

The Supreme Court order to protect bureaucrats from undue political interference and give them a sense of security in the discharge of their duties is mostly a reiteration of service rules and may not have been required in the first place if the Centre’s move in 2007 to legislate a Civil Services Act had not fizzled out.

While the UPA government did not push the bill,the apex court has ended up reaffirming rules and regulations such as the Indian Administrative Service (Fixation of Cadre Strength) Regulations,1955,that provide for a minimum tenure for civil servants,experts said.

“But how many states have issued formal notices under the regulations,clearly indicating minimum tenures for those manning senior posts? Only a dozen states have done so,” said one senior IAS officer.

“Not only this,in many states that have issued instructions under these regulations,the minimum tenure for senior officers in important posts remains a pipe dream. Take Haryana,for example. As per the notification issued by the Haryana government,the post of director,consolidation,land records and special collector carries a minimum two-year tenure. But rules didn’t stop the Congress government from transferring IAS officer Ashok Khemka from his post of director-general,consolidation land holdings,after a few months in office,” the bureaucrat said.

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Successive governments at the Centre as well as government-appointed commissions have acknowledged the need to provide security against arbitrary transfers and postings to bureaucrats. But no concrete steps have been taken to implement this.

In November 2012,the second Administrative Reforms Commission headed by now Petroleum Minister M Veerappa Moily recommended fixed tenures for officers holding cadre posts.

“Unfortunately,frequent transfers of civil servants continue to be one of the most vexatious governance problems still facing India. It adversely affects governance because civil servants are not allowed to stay in a position long enough to acquire adequate knowledge and experience of their job,and an understanding of the milieu and culture in which they have to function and the problems they need to redress…Frequent transfers and posting lead to lack of accountability and corruption,” the 10th report of the ARC had said.

“Yes,there is need to give security of tenure to good officers. We said so in our report,” Moily said Thursday.

However,almost five years after the report was submitted,a group of ministers headed by Defence Minister A K Antony is still to accept most recommendations.

Five years before the ARC report,another report,this one by the P C Hota Committee on Civil Service Reforms,had also suggested steps to protect officers. Going into the issue of frequent transfer of civil servants,the report said,“We have received overwhelming evidence that at present,officials of the state government – particularly officials of the All India Services serving in connection with affairs of the state – are quite demoralised as they are transferred frequently at the whims and caprices of local politicians and other vested interests,who successfully prevail upon the chief minister/minister to order such transfers.

“Often chief ministers have to oblige powerful factions in their own party by transferring senior officers who may be honest,sincere and steadfast in carrying out government’s programmes but are otherwise inconvenient as they do not oblige the local politicians,” it had said.

The Hota committee and the ARC had recommended setting up civil service boards at the Centre as well as in the states to effect transfers of those holding cadre posts. A similar suggestion by the Fifth Pay Commission is also awaiting action by the government.

But not everyone was enthused by Thursday’s judgment.

“The SC judgment in matters like these is like administration of steroids to a patient. It may give relief to the patient for the time-being but will eventually kill him,” said former cabinet secretary Naresh Chandra.

While he said that “it is a pity that the SC has had to interfere in this matter”,Chandra added that the SC should be careful in its observations and wordings and have full regard for the cabinet system.

“The SC shouldn’t move in a manner that the pre-eminence of the cabinet is diminished either at the Centre or in the states. Otherwise,the cure itself may become the disease,” he said.

Former CBI director Joginder Singh said the apex court had merely reiterated service conduct rules.

“What is required is good officers. Why can’t bureaucrats show some spine and stand up to unnecessary diktats of their political masters? Has there been any positive change after a similar judgment by the SC about the fixed tenure for police officers? States are still dilly-dallying,” he said.

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