Civil Services

Appointment battle

Print edition : June 13, 2014

Archana Ramasundaram after she took charge as Additional Director, CBI, in New Delhi. Photo: By Special Arrangement

ON the morning of February 7 when Archana Ramasundaram received the news of her appointment as Additional Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), it was reason enough for her family and friends to celebrate. The 1980 batch Indian Police Service officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre was the first woman to reach that level, and at 56 years of age she had a reasonable chance to take a shot at the top job and thereby become the first woman to reach that level in the agency.

The celebrations did not last long, though. The Tamil Nadu government did not act on the February 7 order of the Union Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) despite the fact that it was based on a request (dated October 15, 2013) from the State government to depute her to the Centre.

According to informed sources, Archana Ramasundaram wrote to the State Home Secretary on February 10 for early relief. On February 24, the DoPT sent its first reminder to the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary and followed it up with second and third reminders on March 10 and April 7. The Tamil Nadu government did not respond to any of these. On her part, Archana Ramasundaram called on the Chief Secretary and the Home Secretary of the Tamil Nadu government several times between February and April 2014 and requested early relief. In between, on February 14, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court dismissed a public interest petition challenging her appointment.

Three months later, on May 7, the DoPT issued an order directing Archana Ramasundaram to join the CBI, with a copy to the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary. The same day Archana Ramasundaram wrote to the Chief Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Director General of Police and the Additional DGP in the Tamil Nadu Uniform Services Recruitment Board (which she headed) with a copy of the Government of India letter and left for Delhi. She took charge as Additional Director of the CBI in Delhi the next day. Later that day, the Tamil Nadu government delivered an order at her Chennai residence, at 9-30 p.m., suspending her.

The All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969, clearly defines the boundaries of State and Central powers. Rule 3 (1) says: “It is clear that if the officer is in another government, the State government should request that government. Further, in case of difference of opinion, the opinion of the Central government shall prevail.” Under this rule, the Tamil Nadu Government order dated May 8, 2014, served at 9-30 p.m. when Archana Ramasundaram had already taken charge in the CBI, is illegal. According to one source, the DoPT has written to the Tamil Nadu government pointing this out.

Archana Ramasundaram’s appointment letter dated February 7 (issued by the DoPT) stated provisions in the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) Act and the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act. A communication from the Prime Minister’s Office dated February 28 said: “The selection for the post has been made in accordance with the law, taking all facts and circumstances into consideration, including the opinion of the learned Solicitor General.”

“It takes time in this government,” said a senior officer. “Four to five months delay is normal,” he added.

In fact, B.K. Prasad (IAS, Tamil Nadu cadre, 1983 batch), currently Transport Secretary in Tamil Nadu, was posted as Additional Secretary in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs in February 2014, even before Archana Ramasundaram’s order was made. He is yet to be relieved.

V.K. Subburaj (1980 batch), currently Secretary, AIDS Control Department in the Union Health Ministry, had to wait five months to be relieved as Principle Secretary, Administrative Reforms and Training, in 2012 to take up his new post. Civil service officials recall that their colleague Surjit K. Choudhury (1980), Chairman, Teachers Recruitment Board, had to wait for five days in Kodanad (where the Chief Minister retreats to often) in January 2014 before he could have his order approved.

Another brilliant officer, Ashok Vardhan Shetty, had to wait for two years before his VRS (voluntary retirement scheme) was approved by the government.

Centre-State spats on transfers are not new. In 2001, Tamil Nadu refused to relieve three officers to take up their new assignments in the Cabinet Secretariat in New Delhi. The officers—Chennai Police Commissioner K. Muthukaruppan, Joint Commissioner (Central) S. George and Deputy Commissioner (Triplicane) Christopher Nelson—were responsible for the midnight arrest of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief M. Karunanidhi in Chennai. The DMK, which was a partner in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, forced the issue, and the Central government obliged the DMK. The three officers then approached the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Tamil Nadu, seeking the quashing of the transfers. (Frontline, August 31, 2001). Chief Minister Jayalalithaa widened the scope of the issue by writing to all Chief Ministers and claiming that the transfers had “wide implications for the future of all-India services and also Centre-State relations”.

The then Union Law Minister, Arun Jaitley, asserted that the Centre had “overriding powers” in the transfer of IPS officers. It did not develop into a full-blown Centre-State rights problem because of some deft work by a few intermediaries.

Even as Archana Ramasundaram was seeking to be relieved by the State government, on April 28, barely 45 days after the Lucknow Bench verdict, Vineet Narain, a journalist, filed a PIL petition in the Supreme Court against her posting to the CBI.

A bench headed by the Chief Justice of India rejected his plea for a stay of the order on her posting. On May 9, when it came up for hearing again, the court took note of the fact that Archana Ramasundaram had already joined as Additional Director in the CBI pursuant to the DoPT order dated May 7. The court also said that since the petitioner had made out a prima facie case of a legal flaw in her selection, she could not discharge the functions of Additional Director until the next date of hearing (July 14). The court said the interim order shall not be construed as a reflection on the competence or merits of the officer. The Director, CBI, was impleaded as a respondent. The court wanted all records of the selection process to be made available for the court’s perusal on July 14.

R.K. Radhakrishnan