Arshad Shaikh examines the faceoff between the Centre and states over who controls the officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). The Government of India (GoI) recently amended rules allowing it to unilaterally recall an officer back to the Centre from his/her deputation to a state. Many are calling it one more nail in the coffin of federalism. However, the GoI says the governance of the country is at stake. This is a delicate issue for any government and must be resolved amicably to strengthen our polity and our nation.

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) is the coordinating agency of the Central Government in personnel matters, especially for issues related to the recruitment, training, career development and staff welfare. In other words, it is the cadre controlling authority of IAS officers. The DoPT wrote a letter to the Chief Secretaries of the states on January 12, sending a proposal to amend the IAS Cadre rules so that it would become possible for the Government of India (GoI) to recall any officer back to the Centre despite the state government and the concerned officer resenting and opposing the move.

If the proposal is not withdrawn and it is very unlikely that it would, it will effectively give veto power to the Centre over the appointment of the topmost civil servants of our country. It would take away the discretion of the state government to accede or reject the GoI’s request for an IAS officer’s deputation back to the Centre.

Media reports suggest that as many as 11 states have written back to the Centre, expressing their resentment and opposition to the amended rule. The Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee has purportedly written two letters to the Prime Minister, saying – “How can the Centre play with our federal structure? How can it overrule the opinion and rights of duly elected state governments? The Centre should not do this.”

At the heart of the matter lies the issue of who should control the deputation of officers of the All India Services. What is the Centre’s justification for desiring to fill up their officers’ requirement by forcibly pulling them from the states? Is the grievance of the states warranted? Will this move damage our federal structure? How can the issue be resolved amicably?

THE AIS AND DOPT

The All India Services (AIS) consists of three Civil Services of India: The Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Forest Service (IFS). The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions is the cadre controlling authority for the IAS, the Ministry of Home Affairs is the cadre controlling authority for the IPS and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for the Forest Service.

A special feature of the AIS is that the officers of these services are recruited by the Union Government through the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and then deputed to various State. It is binding for members of the AIS to serve both the State and the Centre. As per the existing provisions of the IAS (Cadre) Rules, 1954, the state governments have to make available to the Centre a minimum number of officers for central deputation. As a normal practice, the Centre asks the states to furnish an “offer-list” or list of officers who are ready to go on central deputation. The Centre then picks officers from that list. The selected officers need a “no objection” from the respective State government. The number of officers that the Centre can demand from the states cannot exceed 40% of the total cadre strength.

AMENDMENTS, REASONS AND JUSTIFICATION

As per the new rules, if the state government delays an officer’s release for central deputation beyond a certain period, the selected officer automatically stands relieved from the state cadre and must report for duty under the Centre. In case of disagreement between the State and the Centre, the matter shall be resolved mutually but if the matter cannot be resolved, the “State Governments concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government within a specified time”.

According to the DoPT, there is a shortage of AIS officers in the Union Ministries and other Central government positions as the states are not offering a sufficient number of their officers to the Centre. Some reports suggest that only 10% of mid-level officers were posted for central positions as compared to 19% in 2014. Other reports say the current central deputation levels are only 18% as compared to the mandatory 40%.

The resentment of states can be understood as it diminishes their power over the bureaucracy. But why are officers also reluctant to move to the Centre from the State? A simple reason is the natural inertia that any mid-career professional will have to get a transfer that entails a geographical relocation. Secondly, the IAS officer enjoys considerable clout and discretion in the state government machinery and will have to forgo them under any position offered by the Union government. Moreover, the latest trend of the Centre to prefer lateral entrants (non-IAS professionals/veterans directly from the industry/domain) for important assignments has made central deputation lose its charm for many senior officers.

FEDERALISM IN DANGER

Those who are opposed to the change in rules for IAS deputation see it as one of the many efforts undertaken by the present government to destroy the federal character of our polity. They accuse the Centre of wanting to weaken the power of state governments so that they become subservient to the Centre. The move is seen by them as going against the spirit of cooperative federalism and weakening our bureaucracy that will be caught in the crossfire between the Centre and the states.

A report in the Hindustan Times (28 January) states that a group of former civil servants, in a signed statement under the banner of the  Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), issued a statement, saying, “The proposed amendments to the All India Service (AIS) cadre rules have not been thought through and are being rushed out without adequate federal consultation. The proposed set of amendments to the cadre rules of the three AIS is arbitrary, unreasonable and unconstitutional. The whole idea of the Centre not having a ‘cadre’ of its own but having to ‘borrow’ the services of an officer for specific periods at key senior management levels is destroyed if the State as a ‘lender’ has no authority on what it lends and on what terms and conditions, but the borrower, on the other hand, exercises superior rights over the lender. This is turning the federal arrangement upside-down.”

FINDING AN AMICABLE SOLUTION

It is clear that the requirement of the Centre is genuine. However, it must be recognised that the intake of IAS officers at the source too is inadequate. The Baswan Committee Report constituted by the DoPT that looked at the requirement of IAS Officers over a longer timeframe and the persistent shortfall of officers in all 24 cadres as well as on Central tenure suggested the recruitment of 180 IAS officers every year to reduce the backlog of vacancies. This magical number should be reviewed.

The Centre should leave it to the discretion of the states on which officer to put on the “offer list”. It must not cherry-pick and snatch the officer from the state without their approval. The government may consider a central deputation allowance to make the Delhi-based positions attractive. The movement of our foremost civil servants is critical for the governance of our country. It should not become a tug of war between the Union and state governments. It is not a zero sum game and must be played accordingly.

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