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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Finding a way to share IAS officers

🔴 B K Chaturvedi writes: Proposed amendment to service rules is needed to meet shortage of personnel, but Centre must dispel states’ fears about overreach

Written by B K Chaturvedi |
Updated: January 28, 2022 9:24:40 am
While in the 1960s, there were a number of IAS officers, including at under secretary level, it is increasingly getting difficult for the central government to get officers even at the joint secretary level.

There are recent reports in the media about serious concerns of several state governments on Government of India’s proposed move to amend the IAS service rules to meet the shortage of officers at various levels at the Centre. Under the current dispensation, officers opt for central deputation from the states voluntarily. The Centre then makes a selection from among these officers for posts which are vacant or are likely to be vacant in the near future. While doing so, it considers the suitability of the officer based on his/her past experience. Once the selection is finalised, orders are issued, requesting the state government to relieve the officer concerned. Each state has a certain quota beyond which its officers are not accepted by the Centre.

In the last decade, there has been a gradual decline in the number of officers who opt for central deputation. While in the 1960s, there were a number of IAS officers, including at under secretary level, it is increasingly getting difficult for the central government to get officers even at the joint secretary level.

Generally, of the total cadre strength of the states, about 25-30 per cent used to be on central deputation. Currently, less than 10 per cent are working in various central ministries. According to certain reports, in states like UP, Bihar, Odisha and Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the number is between 8 per cent and 15 per cent.

Going on central deputation was once considered a recognition of an officer’s ability. The selection process was tough. One of the reasons for this non-availability of officers for central deputation is the inadequate recruitment more than a decade and half ago. But an important reason is also the comparatively better service conditions in the states. Any change in rules must, however, ensure that the shortages of officers at the Centre and states are balanced. If there is a shortage of officers in the state, the Centre should recognise this and work out an arrangement with the state. There is a corresponding responsibility on the states too.

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The proposed change in rules clearly cannot be faulted on the above grounds. It aims at correcting an aberration. While fixing the cadre strength of states, about 40 per cent posts of senior duty are earmarked for central deputation. So, there is an inbuilt provision to keep a certain number of posts for meeting the needs of the Centre. Considering that recruitments in the past were not adequate, the proposed change in rules provides for shortage to be shared equitably between the Centre and states. Also, since vacancies need to be filled in time, there is a suggestion of a time limit in which states must respond and relieve the officer selected.

There are, however, several concerns of the states which need to be addressed. It has to be clearly understood that when states give the list of officers they wish to offer for central deputation, it will be the decision of the states alone. They will look at their own requirements in the state and then offer names for central deputation equitably. In preparing the list of officers to be offered for central deputation, the Centre would not have a role.

The Centre, if it wishes to have an officer work for it, can suggest so to the state. If the two agree, the officer would be put on central deputation. If the state does not wish to suggest his name for deputation, the Centre should respect their views, even though they have the power under cadre rules to do so. Past experience has shown that such an exercise of power by the Centre is counterproductive. It does not result in good cadre management.

The Centre has to realise that improving working conditions for officers at the deputy secretary and director levels is critical to the success of cadre management. If a large number of officers show their willingness and opt for central deputation, the states will be under pressure to offer names. If there are few takers, the state would be forcing people to opt for going to Delhi. Many of the officers at this level have concerns regarding education of their children, transport and the higher cost of living in Delhi. These issues would need to be sorted out. A deputation allowance for the period of deputation in Delhi could be an option. Education could be assured by ensuring admission in schools like Sanskriti and other reputed institutions.

The states also have to look at this issue in a non-adversarial manner, where needs of both the Centre and the state have to be matched and met. The proposed amendment just suggests a mechanism for meeting the shortages and sharing it where necessary. The Centre should dispel fears of states about misuse of central power.

The Centre will have shortages at the level of deputy secretary and director in the coming years. It should look at meeting some of these gaps from senior public sector officers. Many of them are highly qualified and can meet the needs of the secretarial work for a couple of years.

This column first appeared in the print edition on January 28, 2022 under the title ‘Sharing the cadra’. The writer is former cabinet secretary and member, Planning Commission

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