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Mainstream, VOL LX No 7, New Delhi, February 5, 2022

NDA Open Agenda against Federal Structure in Civil Services | K S Chalam

Friday 4 February 2022


by K.S.Chalam*

Civil Services in the service of the people and nation have been in existence ever since the emergence of a state. The engagement of government servants is not new to India. Kautilya had noted in his Ardhasatra about the appointment of superintendents of government departments from those who possess ministerial qualifications. He has even indicated fines to be imposed on those who are inadvertent on the job at twice the daily pay plus expenditure incurred on the item. The evolution of nation-states and with the expansion of colonialism, federal structures came into existence in India, Canada Australia and USA etc. Each federal structure has its own characters as in America where each state is a unique unit by itself is different from India where princely states used to join the British Empire one after the other. The federal government in India before independence has functioned under the Governor-General with certain rules and regulations. Civil servants were considered as the agents of crown functioned under the Governor-General if he was working with the federal government and broadly called as a Collector of Revenue if he was with the Governor of a Province. It is noted that “ if an agreement is made between the Federation and one or more Provinces, or between two or more Provinces, for the maintenance or creation of a service common to the Federation and one or more Provinces, or common to two or more Provinces, or for the maintenance or creation of a post the functions whereof are not restricted to the affairs of the Federation or one Province, the agreement may make provision that the Governor-General or any Governor, or any Public Service Commission, shall do in relation to that service or post anything which would under the provisions of this chapter be done by the Governor or the Provincial Public Service Commission if the service or post was a service or post in connection with the affairs of one Province only.” Almost the same content is carried forward in to the Constitution with additional items creating all-India services including all-India judicial services, common to the Union and States and regulating the recruitment and the conditions of service of persons appointed, to any such service is added. During the last 73 years of its existence, the Republic has appointed several Committees and Commissions like the Administrative Reforms Commission and passed Acts to manage and regulate the civil services in India. The government has also created a separate Ministry called Department of Personnel and Training that is kept under the Control of Prime Minister with a Minister of State to look after day to day functioning. Each of the Civil services like IAS, IPS, and IFS are given to a ministry as cadre controlling departments with DOP & T is entrusted with IAS. There was never a turmoil in the administration of Civil Services except small adjustments on the recommendations of ARC, Surendranath, Hota etc committees recommending Civil Services Board to facilitate easy operationalization of the rules and regulations.

We have today a contentious issue flagged by the federal government in the form of alleged usurping of the autonomy and powers of the state in relation to civil servants. The intentions of the NDA government are not mired in machination or litigation. They are very clear from the time they came to power to implement their ideology of one nation, one god, one administration etc. Some of the attempts by the previous regime to reform the system to facilitate economic turnaround like the GST was already on the cards. NDA regime has subsequently amended the Constitution part XII to ease the emergence of a strong Union with all economic powers under its trajectory. This has reduced the autonomy of the states and in fact the basic structure of the Constitution which is federal in nature. Naturally, other constituents of the structure follow, strengthening the reforms with little regard for the traditions of federalism. Civil services are only one important segment of this vision.

In fact, the federal structure of India was defined in the Government of India Act 1935 that recognized presidencies, princely states and provinces with residuary powers in the hands of Governor-General to dissolve or modify a state. The 1935 Act Chapter II devoted to Civil Services, recruitment, tenure etc and Chapter III was on Public Service Commission to recruit civil servants. It is important to notice that Art 263 of the Act noted joint services and posts between federal government and states. In other words before the concept of All India Services as incorporated in the Constitution under Art 312, the centre-state relations in the recruitment and utilization of civil servants was in operation in India. The all- India service officers are recruited through UPSC and are assigned to the states as per rules. It is this service officer who was born in a state but serves and dies for another state in the true spirit of unity and integrity, kept the spirit of nationalism. The cadre controlling departments in the union government draw their services in the CDR ratio of 40 and 60 between centre and states through a process of empanelment.

However, several issues of conflict arose for which the Sarkaria commission was appointed in 1983to address. In chapter VIII of the Committee Report ‘All India Services’, it is noted that “ the All India Services are as much necessary today as they were when the Constitution was framed and continue to be one of the premier institutions for maintaining the unity of the country. Undoubtedly, the members of the All India Services have shown themselves capable of discharging the roles that the framers of the Constitution envisaged for them.” The ideals of the founding fathers of the nation as enshrined in the Constitution have been translated as administrative functions to be discharged by competent and committed bureaucracy. One of the important challenges that Nehru and successive governments have encountered was disintegration disorientation among people. This required loyal and sincere officers to deal with. It is inscribed in Art 312 that it “is necessary or expedient in the national interest to do so” to regulate the recruitment and the conditions of service of persons so appointed through Union Public Service Commission. Though the All India Judicial Service was incorporated in it in 1976, the judiciary and the Union government are silent but, skirmishes keep on emanating only in the case of all-India services and not in other services. One can ponder why is it so?

 Part XI of the Constitution is about the relations between the Union and the states. The framers including Dr B.R Ambedkar as a scholar of Federal Finance knew the evolution of federal governance in India and the need for checks and balances in creating Union, State and Concurrent lists as part of Art 246. Though the 1935 Act prepared union and state lists, it has noted only provincial services. The Republic of India has recognized the need for Union and State Services and the all-India services, Central services and even Central Secretariat services. The centre-state relations have also been defined and their jurisdictions not only in administration but also in the other two important functions as legislative and judiciary are delineated. Part XIV of the Constitution relates to the services under the union and the states and the President has been exercising his powers in formulating the Service Rules of the officers. An Act known as All India Services Act 1951 was passed and the Rules “The Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules” 1954 was passed in consultation with the state governments concerned. They are amended from time to time in consultation with the state governments to guide and operationalise the cadre management by the Department of Personnel and Training. It is now under scrutiny by the stakeholders as the government of India is trying to sideline the rules and regulations framed to empanel all-India service officers to get appointed as Joint Secretary SAG and above positions in Government of India. It seems the Union government is short-circuiting the process to draw officers from the states without the consent of the state concerned or the officer. If it is set in operation, it would lead to chaos not only in the centre state relations, but the federal structure itself as enshrined in the Constitution. But, the Union government complains that they have very few officers at their command to manage the affairs of the centre. It is time to question why it is so.

 The problem of short supply of officers for central deputation did not exist a decade ago and on the other hand there were allegations of maneuvering by state officers to go to Delhi. This situation has changed now though the rules of empanelment remained as, ‘should be considered not as a reflection of the intrinsic merit or otherwise of an officer but the suitability of an officer to occupy senior levels in the Central Government. Given the background and experience of an officer, she or he may be highly suited to occupy senior positions in State Government. Likewise, another officer, in view of the background and experience, may be considered more suitable for Central Government posts.’ Despite the transparent manner in which officers from the states are short listed, it is alleged that all of them are not taken as the government is searching for a quality or sort in them to be inducted in to service. Once, the officers on deputation used to have a tenure of 5 plus 2 years period to stay on in Delhi. They used to work hard, pick up the nuances of the department and emerge as experts in a chosen domain. It seems this tradition has disappeared and the government is meddling with the career of the young aspirants and revert them back to state without assigning reasons. This has created uncertainty of tenure and therefore majority of them falter for central deputation. Further, some claim that there is no challenge in the job once joined as Joint secretary and above since major policy decisions are taken elsewhere and the officer is there only to whet and sign. The policy making competencies acquired by the officer is of no use when he is ordered to ‘facilitate ease of doing businesses’. The government has slowly transformed as a ‘Business State’ and not welfare or even developmental state for which the officers were trained. They have become obsolete and redundant for the administration of the present government. The legitimacy of policy making in the hands of the civil servant is taken out and an external agency as consultant or outsourced professional enters the arena to advise the service officer. In fact, World Bank advisers have long back prodded the government with New Public Management of downsizing of state sector, privatization etc to achieve the ideal of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’. It is reported for example, clearing of 12 lakh crore projects in an hour that were pending for decades as an argument. Is there a role for an experienced HAG officer in this decision making? In this milieu, do the officers of the states who are down to earth professionals opt out to go or need something else to persuade them in the interest of the unity of the Country?

* (Author of ‘Governance in South Asia: State of the Civil Services’ and Former Vice-Chancellor, Dravidian University, Professor of Economics, Andhra University )

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