Civil Services

Primacy at stake

Print edition : January 22, 2016

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing an Interactive Session of Assistant Secretaries, all IAS Officers of the 2013 batch, in New Delhi on November 19. Photo: PTI

L.C. Goyal, who was hand-picked by the Prime Minister, taking charge as Home Secretary at his office in North Block on February 5. He was, however, asked to take premature retirement in September following a controversy. Photo: PTI

The IAS lobby is upset about the Seventh Central Pay Commission recommendation for parity in pay and promotion for all all-India services.

THE Indian Administrative Service (IAS), which has lost much of its sheen under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government headed by Narendra Modi, is under threat of losing its “edge” over other All-India Services such as the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Forest Service (IFoS). The Seventh Central Pay Commission (CPC) has recommended that the advantage enjoyed by the IAS and the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) in terms of time and money be done away with.

The Commission has recommended that an edge accorded to the IAS and the IFS at three promotion stages be extended to the IPS and the IFoS. The CPC has also recommended that all All-India Services and Central Civil Services Group A officers who have completed 17 years of service be brought on a par with the IAS for empanelment for senior Central-level postings, and there should be no “two-year edge” for the IAS.

The IAS lobby is livid and is venting out its frustration on social media sites.

Criticising the self-assigned superiority of the IAS and the IFS, the Commission has recommended that the advantage enjoyed by the IAS both in terms of pay and promotion be removed. It has also said that the Central Staffing Scheme for competition between the IAS and other All-India Services should be opened to give an equal chance to all at top posts at the Centre. The report, which was presented to the government on November 19, 2015, says:

“The criticality of functions at the district administration level holds good equally for the IAS, IPS as well as the IFoS. Therefore, the edge presently accorded to the IAS may continue in the form of two additional increments in the proposed pay matrix. The same is being recommended for IPS and IFoS as well.”

Rejecting the demand of the IAS for retaining the two-year “edge” in promotions, the panel said the Chairman, Justice Ashok Kumar Mathur, found no justification for this. Mathur felt that the Indian bureaucracy had come of age and the various Central services were now discharging distinct and valuable functions in the overall governance of the country. “The two-year edge is an archaic concept in the present realm,” he said.

(IAS officers with, say, three years’ experience are treated on a par with Central Civil Services Group A officers of non-IAS category, which includes the Indian Revenue Services (IRS), the Indian Post and Telegraph Services, and Customs and Central Excise with five years of experience. For appointment at the level of Joint Secretary and above, there is a system called Central Staffing Scheme which chooses IAS and Central Civil Services officers. The two-year edge gives an IAS officer with 10 years of experience a better chance to be appointed as Joint Secretary than a non-IAS officer with 12 years of experience. The CPC has recommended that this two-year edge be removed.)

Vivek Rae, the only IAS representative on the panel, in his dissent note running into several pages, said that there was no doubt that the All-India Services had competent people but that was no reason to bring all the services on a par on the basis of the assumed notion of parity. Dr Rathin Roy, an economist and member of the panel, in his dissent note advocated the removal of both time and money edge accorded to the IAS so that all services were treated on a par for the Central Staffing Scheme.

Although the CPC recommendations have caused a lot of heartburning among bureaucrats, they are not willing to speak out yet. “We are still examining the report. Since two members have given dissenting notes, we will have to see how the issue can best be resolved. We hope the government will take a view which is good for everyone,” said Sanjay Bhoosreddy, secretary of the Central IAS Association.

Before the submission of the report, representatives of the Central Civil Services Group A had made several representations to the panel demanding equal opportunities in Central postings. This triggered a spate of representations by IAS officers, who even took to social media to press for retaining the edge they had in pay and promotions.

There are two aspects to the problem. First, very few officers of the Central Civil Services are empanelled; second, as only a few of them are empanelled, officers of the Central Civil Services occupy very few senior positions. To tackle this situation, the CPC has recommended that all officers of the All-India Services and Central Civil Services Group A participating in the Central Staffing Scheme and who have put in 17 years of service should be eligible to apply for senior positions. It has also suggested that the vacancies may be notified or advertised well in advance, along with an indication of the domain expertise required. In his concluding views on the matter, Mathur said: “The main cause for resentment among services is that over a period of time the IAS has arrogated to itself all power of governance and relegated all other services to secondary position. It is time that the government takes a call that subject domain should be the criteria to man the posts and not a generalist.”

Which way the government decides will be clear soon but it may be mentioned that in June, the Prime Minister had instructed the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to ensure that all Central Services officers were considered for empanelment in a “time-bound manner” for senior positions in view of the shortage of Joint Secretary-level officers. Following this, a letter was sent by the DoPT to all the departments and cadre-controlling authorities of Central Services to expedite proposals for speedy empanelment of their officers to the level of Joint Secretary. The DoPT letter, which was quoted in an English language newspaper, said: “It has further been directed that the issue of delay in empanelment of participating services in the Central service scheme to Joint Secretaries is to be addressed over the next six months.”

A senior DoPT officer confirmed the move by saying that non-IAS Central group services personnel were reluctant to opt for Central postings as the delay resulted in their serving under IAS officers very junior to them. This, he said, caused a number of senior-level vacancies going vacant. Besides, he said, many senior-level non-IAS officers had in recent months volunteered to go back to their parent State, which further created a shortage of officers at the level of Joint Secretary and above. Hence the urgency. This, however, does give an indication that the government might actually accept the Pay Commission’s recommendation taking away the edge the IAS and the IFS have enjoyed in the hierarchy.

Competence as the criterion

While many serving officers criticised the CPC recommendation, they were not willing to be quoted. T.S.R. Subramanyam, a former Cabinet Secretary, however, was vocal in his criticism. According to him, the one and only criterion for selecting personnel for senior positions should be competence and efficiency and this comes with having handled varying tasks in different domains.

“Somebody who has a broad vision and wide perspective of policy issues would be the best candidate in a decision-making position and this comes with having worked in different fields, which IAS officers naturally acquire over the years,” he said, advocating that a generalist in most circumstances was the best candidate for policy-making positions as he had a broader vision, which was critical for decision making.

“The best man should be chosen. Take an example of a revenue service man. He has only acquired the experience of collecting taxes over the years, but implementing policies relating to taxes is not only about collecting taxes, it is about people and here an IAS officer’s experience is definitely much more,” he said. “How can you compare a sprinter with a marathon runner? Even in a marathon it is like putting the second runner on a par with the tenth,” he said.

According to Subramanyam, in India, where Ministers are generalists, the next tier of administration, that of the executive, has to be highly competent with a broad vision and understanding of a plethora of subjects. In this, the IAS is far superior to others. “These are not matters of faith and religion, these are matters of practical details and should be settled without any biases,” he said.

Apprehensions

It is also a fact that Modi’s handling of bureaucrats, favouring his hand-picked men and disregarding others, has given rise to apprehensions in the IAS fraternity. Besides tightening the rules and keeping the bureaucrats on a tight leash, the Prime Minister is known to be personally monitoring key assignments and postings so much so that individual Ministers have little say in their own Ministries. In the past one year, most of the key appointments have had the Modi stamp. Take the Union Home Ministry, for example, which has seen three Secretaries since February.

L.C. Goyal, who was hand-picked by the Prime Minister to take charge as Home Secretary was asked to take premature retirement in September and in his place Rajiv Mehrishi, a Rajasthan cadre officer, was appointed Home Secretary. Goyal’s departure was as sudden as his arrival. He would have retired as Rural Development Secretary in May 2015 but he was chosen by Modi to replace the then Home Secretary Anil Goswami in February after the latter was found to be allegedly involved in asking the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to soften its stand on the Saradha scam accused Matang Singh. The Central government asked Goswami to put in his papers.

Goyal was assured a fixed two-year term until October 2017, but he ran into controversies. For instance, he tried to scuttle the disciplinary proceedings (there are documents proving this) against New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) Chairman Jalaj Srivastava, who was found to have violated DoPT norms in the matter of the deputation of two officers, favouring one and discriminating against the other.

Additional Home Secretary Anant Kumar Singh recommended disciplinary proceedings against him. The Home Minister approved the proceedings but Goyal sat on the file for a month and actually recommended the NDMC Chairman’s promotion even as the inquiry into the irregularities were under way. This resulted in a public spat between the Home Secretary and the Additional Home Secretary, resulting in the removal of both. But Goyal being one of the favoured bureaucrats of Modi, was promptly given another good assignment as Chairman of the India Trade Promotion Organisation and was allowed to retain his official bungalow. Anant Kumar Singh was packed off to an insignificant post.

Goyal’s is not the only case. Similar examples of officers enjoying immunity are available. Officers of questionable credentials, some even facing charges of irregularities, have got off scot-free, making a mockery of the claims of good governance. The feeling that a favoured few are allowed to act with impunity while neutral officers do not get a fair deal has been bothering many bureaucrats.

This concern has got reinforced with the whimsical manner in which senior officers are shuffled. The Pay Commission’s recommendations have only served to heighten the disquiet among the bureaucrats. Although Bhoosreddy denies such issues, he agrees that there is a bit more of monitoring now but and that it is only in the public interest.

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