Kewal Krishan Sethi
A group of retired civil servants have done it again. They have accused Modi Government of making systematic attempt to change the character of civil services.
The point they have taken up is that deputation to Central Government will not be at the discretion of the State Government and the officers but at the instance of Central Government.
The argument advanced is “this has disturbed the federal balance and left civil servants torn between conflicting loyalties, thereby weakening their ability to be impartial”.
We were taught that the civil servants are professionals, doing their assigned duty with full dedication and honestly. It is well recognized that the policies are laid down by the elected representatives of the people. The democratic set up allows different parties to formulate their own policies and the bureaucrats may advise but cannot dictate policies. So how does the question of conflicting loyalties come up? If they are with the State Government, they work according to the policies adopted by the State governments and if they are with Central government, the policies may be different. It is for the State governments and Central government to resolve the differences, if any, in the policies and not for the civil servants to do it.
Regarding the deputation to central government, every cadre has a certain number of posts for deputation to Central government. It is a matter of rotation based on which officers are sent to Central government, serve for a period and then go back to States for, what is called, cooling off period.
Actually, it serves the purpose of officers not losing connect to the ground situation in the State. In theory at least, every officer gets a chance to serve the State and the Central government.
But it was observed that some officers hesitated and didn’t want to come to the Center because the story went around that Central government is now a hard task master. The privileges are becoming rare and expertise more demanding. On the other hand, certain officers had a nice rapport with the politicians at the State level. They were assured of nice plum postings of their choice. Of course, in return they had to oblige the politicians but it was due payment for favours received. The State politicians found these officers to be convenient for their purpose and would not be willing to lose them even for a short interval. obviously, this does not add to the reputation of the service but that question is not even remotely of concern to the politician and the officer concerned.
Of course, there are cases where an officer is reluctant to go back to the State if it is inconvenient. The most cited reason advanced is education of children who are, by then, at the career choosing stage. The metropolitan cities offer them more chances to avail of training facilities. They have adopted various strategies to achieve their purpose. one was to seek posting in the States in the North-East which will entitle them to retain government house in Delhi and keep their facilities. The obliging State governments, in return for obligations, facilitates frequent tours to Delhi to be with their families.
Both these strategies have helped in distorting the Central deputation rules. Inconvenient officers can be shifted out and convenient officers retained. It is to correct these anomalies that deputation rules have to be amended. It does not harm the services as claimed by the group of retired bureaucrats. On the other hand, it maintains the true character of these services to provide benefits both to the Central and the State governments.
If, however, the criticism is because the people of this group do not like a certain person or persons in the Central government and the letter is merely an expression of their discomfort with the present government at the Center, It should be stated so openly and not camouflaged under so-called lofty principles of federalism, and impartiality.
Federalism does not mean waywardness of the State governments and defiance of Central government. And there is no question of impartiality when all they are expected to do is to implement decided policies to the best of their ability. If they would like to be partial, they can seek other pastures and leave services to those who honestly believe bureaucracy is only for serving the government of the day.
KK Sethi, a 1963 batch IAS officer. He was borne on the Madhya Pradesh cadre and has had an illustrious career. He was Chairman Board of Revenue Madhya Pradesh, Chief Secretary Manipur, and head of the National Commission for Linguistic Minorities (NCLM).