By Devender Singh Aswal
The proposed changes in IAS cadre rules by the GoI have stirred the proverbial hornet’s nest as there is an avalanche of protests from many states and retired civil servants. So much so, there is a forewarning of launching a people’s movement by a state like West Bengal. The Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have written to the Prime Minister strongly opposing the proposed changes. Many fear that this would cause further erosion of India’s federal structure. Some non-NDA ruled states find the revised amendment proposal ‘more draconian, against the basic structure of India’s Constitutional scheme and destructive of nation’s federal polity’.
There is a strong apprehension that the proposed changes would confer overarching powers to the Union Government in the posting of IAS officers. This may be followed by similar changes in the service rules of other All India Services (AIS) like IPS and the Indian Forest Service Officers. Under the extant Rule 6(1) of the IAS Cadre Rules, 1954, ‘A cadre officer may, with the concurrence of the State Government concerned and the Central Government, be deputed for service under the Central Government or another State Government or [—] body [—] wholly or substantially owned or controlled by the Central Government or by another State Government’. But the proviso to the rule says, ‘Provided that in case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the Central Government and the State Government concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government.’ The tug of war is over the changes proposed in the proviso to Rule 6, which reads thus- ‘Provided that each State Government shall make available for deputation to the Central Government, such number of eligible officers of various levels to the extent of Central Deputation Reserve (CDS) prescribed under Regulations referred to in Rule 4(1), adjusted proportionately by the number of officers available with the State Government concerned vis-a-vis the total authorised strength of the State Cadre at a given point of time. The actual number of officers to be deputed to the Central Government shall be decided by the Central Government in consultation with the State Government concerned’. The original proviso under Rule 6(1) has been retained with this significant addition – ‘within a specified time’. That means, in case of disagreement between the State and the Central Government, the decision of the Central Government shall be effected within the time line stipulated in the deputation order, which may be in the nature of a ‘marching order’ for the officer to join the new posting.
The contention of the State Governments is that an officer, whom the Central Government may choose to take out of a State without the agreement of the State Government under whom he/ she is serving, will stand released from his/ her current assignment forthwith. This will create ‘fear psychosis’, promote arbitrariness and would ‘completely render’ the officers and all state governments ‘at the mercy of the Central Government’. There is imminent potential for harassment and vendetta politics. Many retired civil servants have publicly cautioned about the adverse consequences of the move and appealed for stalling it.
The DoPT, GoI, has denied that the Centre was trying to accord itself undue powers and clarified that the States have not been sending officers for central deputation as per fixed ratio. It has also been reiterated that officers would be posted on central deputation only in consultation with the States but ‘Once the number of officers to come on deputation to the Centre is fixed after mutual consultation, the Central Government should have overriding powers to get those officers’.
But oft, between the precept and the practice, there falls the shadow. Instances abound when orders were issued by the Central Government without consulting the State Governments. In June, 2001, Tamil Nadu police raided former chief minister M Karunanidhi’s home and arrested him along with his DMK colleagues Murasoli Maran and TR Baalu, both then Ministers in NDA Government. Piqued, the Central Government asked the State Government to send on central deputation the three IPS officers connected with the raids. Jayalalitha not only refused but also wrote to other Chief Ministers canvassing support to protect the rights of the States. In yet another case, a Tamil Nadu cadre IPS officer was deputed to the CBI in 2014. The State Government refused to release the officer but the officer joined the CBI. The State Government suspended the officer for defying the State’s order. Later, the officer was appointed Lokpal in 2019 by the GoI. Worse, the tenure of Alapan Bandyopadhyay, a 1987 batch IAS officer and Chief Secretary of West Bengal, was extended by a period of three months with the approval of the Appointments Committee of the Union Cabinet four days prior to his date of superannuation. But he was suddenly posted to Delhi on the day he would have normally superannuated. No consultation was done with the State Government nor the willingness of the officer ascertained. There was nothing in the order to show why he was so urgently required in Delhi for a period of three months after his retirement. Another case is of December 2020. The Centre asked that the three IPS officers be sent on deputation to the Centre who were in charge of security when BJP president JP Nadda’s motorcade which was attacked outside Kolkata on December 10, 2021 allegedly by supporters of the Trinamool Congress. The State Government refused, citing a shortage of IPS officers. The Centre did not invoke the disagreement clause and the matter stood closed.
The plea of the Central Government is that a rising shortfall in civil servants deputed by State Governments to the Centre impelled the Centre to amend deputation rules to give itself power to transfer officers without the consent of States. According to regulations, the States must earmark 40% of senior posts in every cadre to meet central requirements, but there is a CDR shortfall across States ranging between 61 to 95 percent. There is particularly a shortage of joint secretaries, directors and deputy secretaries. Also, there is shortage of IPS officers with the Central Government. A year ago, the Home Secretary wrote to Chief Secretaries reminding about insufficient nominations of IPS officers to fill up vacant central police posts. The Centre maintains that the actual number of officers to be deputed will be decided only after due consultation with the State Government, even after the amendment to the AIS rules.
Officers of AIS are recruited by the UPSC and placed in various State cadres. They are expected to serve both the Central and State Government (home cadre) in various stints being the ‘shared asset’ of both the Union and the States. However, if the officers are taken away on central deputation without prior consultation with the State Government and without ascertaining the willingness of the officer concerned, the Central Government may take away-the States fear- a star performer or a bold and upright officer from the State abruptly. Besides, arbitrary central deputation is bound to disturb the planning and developmental work of the States and affect the service morale. Upright officers too, as evident, could be subjected to punitive central posting if their action ruffles political feathers. On the contrary, it’s also a fact that generally IAS and IPS officers do not prefer to go on central deputation to below Joint Secretary level posts as they do not get those coveted facilities which they get as DM or SP. But certainly, there is an imperative need to bring middle level officers on central deputation under a standing consultative machinery. To quote what Sardar Patel said in 1948, an ‘all India service [….] must remain above party and we should ensure that political considerations either in its discipline or in its control are reduced to the minimum, if not eliminated altogether’. He had famously referred to the civil servants as the ‘steel frame of India’. Given the evolving nature of electoral politics which tends to turn arbitrary, and at time vindictive, vile or petty, ‘the steel frame’ must be preserved in its pristine purity. The agreed formula of CDS must be implemented after due consultation with the stakeholders while making it mandatory to serve the Central Government for a stipulated period during the entire service. Central deputation will, undoubtedly, broaden their mental horizon, endow with a national perspective and wean them away from a provincial or feudal mindset. They are shared assets of the nation and must serve both the Union and their State cadre. But, consultation and consensus, and not unilateralism, must inform decision making in the posting of AIS officers, the steel frame of our cooperative federalism.
(The author is ex-Additional Secretary, Lok Sabha, and a member of the Delhi Bar Council. Views expressed are individual.)