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Centre-state face-off over IAS cadre rules has long-term consequences, calls for sober dialogue

🔴 Centre-state relations have reached a new low in recent months and can be said to resemble the Indira Gandhi era, when an overbearing Union government was frequently accused by the Opposition of trampling on the rights of the states.

Indian Administrative Service, IAS cadre, IAS cadre rules, Narendra Modi, Narendra Modi news, Indian express, Opinion, Editorial, Current AffairsThe four amendments proposed to the IAS cadre rules concern the deputation of officers to the Centre.

The amendments proposed by the Union government to the IAS cadre rules are turning into yet another flashpoint in already fraught Centre-state relations. Various state governments, including some headed by the NDA, have registered their disapproval of the changes that could give the Centre greater control over officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has written two letters on this subject to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the past eight days, has described the amendments as going against the “basic structure of India’s constitutional scheme”. In her second letter, sent on Thursday, Banerjee has warned that the move could turn into a major political confrontation between the Centre and the states.

The four amendments proposed to the IAS cadre rules concern the deputation of officers to the Centre. The officers are recruited and appointed by the Centre and allotted to various states, to work in the states or under the Centre as per requirement. The convention has been that officers are deputed to the Centre after a consultative process involving the Union government, the state government and the concerned officer, and with the consent of the officer and the state government. The proposed tweaking of the rules would make the Centre’s preferences overriding, making it mandatory for the state government to provide a certain number of officers every year for central deputation, which could force the state governments to compel even reluctant officers to go to the Centre. One reason behind the Centre’s push is reportedly the decline in the number of officers opting for central assignments — only 10 per cent mid-level IAS officers were posted with the central government in 2021 as against 19 per cent in 2014, according to a report. The shortfall in officers on central deputation has, reportedly, started to show. This is a problem that calls for a quick resolution, of course. However, solutions have to be found without upsetting the federal balance or alienating the state government and the services. A starting point could be to find the reasons behind the reluctance of officers to go on central deputation. One of the reasons could arguably be that they prefer the relative autonomy in their home cadre to an excessively centralised system at the Centre. The Centre’s preference for lateral entrants in important positions has also made central deputation unattractive for many senior officers, who prefer more challenging assignments in the state government. Such concerns call for the Centre and the states to sit together and resolve them in the true spirit of federalism.

Centre-state relations have reached a new low in recent months and can be said to resemble the Indira Gandhi era, when an overbearing Union government was frequently accused by the Opposition of trampling on the rights of the states. Recently, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala — run by Opposition parties — accused the Centre of rejecting their Republic Day tableaux for political reasons. The face-off over the IAS cadre rules, however, is far more serious, with long-term consequences.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on January 22, 2022 under the title ‘Battlefront IAS’.

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First published on: 22-01-2022 at 03:27 IST
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