Last fortnight, the Department of Personnel and Training sparked a debate as it proposed amendments to allow the objections of states to be overridden when officers of the three All India Services – the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Police Service and the Indian Forest Service – are deputed on central postings.
The Constitution makers provided for the All India Services to ensure a uniform standard of administration in the Union and the states. They rightly presumed that the Union could not possibly address its need to conduct business effectively across the diverse federal units. So though candidates for these services are recruited by the Centre, officers serve in parent cadres in the states and are occasionally lent to the Centre on need basis.
The Union does have a good case to improve its bench strength since Indian Administrative Service officers have in recent times appeared to be less desirous of serving at the Centre. In addition, states are increasingly reluctant to part with them.
This is also a byproduct of a central policy between 1997-2005 to recruit smaller batches of officers. This has led to a shortage of candidates to fill critical levels in the Union executive.
Besides, states in general provide well for the physical comfort of officers, with subsidised accommodation, transport and in some cases subsidised medical care, along with generous sumptuary allowances. This is among the factors that has rendered the service of the Union a less preferred choice.
The Union’s proposal runs the unintended risk of undermining both the administrative ability and stability of a state executive: a Central summons to four or five key senior secretaries during a crucial period could impair its functioning. At present, the states can withdraw or summon back an officer already on deputation to the Centre as these secondments hinge on the states issuing a no-objection certificate in the first place.
One feature that is missing from the Department of Personnel and Training proposal is that of the officer’s consent for the new position. In litigations involving All India cadre officers, several Central Administrative Tribunal benches and the Supreme Court have underlined the dictum that an officer cannot be “lent” from her cadre without her express consent.
Legal questions could surface. There is a popular misconception that the Union recruits All India Service officers and lends them to the states. However, in legal terms, the lending process is actually the movement away from the home base – that is, on deputation or secondment.
Settled law describes a deputation against the will of the officer to be void. This is very fundamental since there is a risk that an influential officer’s politicking could see his rivals pushed off to inconvenient deputations, leaving him to claim higher posts in the cadre way ahead of his eligibility.
A well-timed deputation call in the public interest to the Union or a state-run commercial entity to inconvenient seniors could catapult a yet-to-be eligible junior to the higher posts in the cadre.
Each state has a predefined deputation reserve from which the persons for the positions for the Union are drawn. To get around this impasse, perhaps the Union could create a fixed number of cadre posts at the Centre. This would give states a sense of how many officers are needed for Central positions and allow them to be placed there on transfer rather than deputation. This should also proceed only in consultation with the States.
That would be a more sustainable solution to the chronic shortage of All India Service officers at the Centre.
One cardinal risk the cadre managers of All India Services need to guard against is the slow but steady tilt towards a US-style system of appointing personal favourites in the steel frame. A steel frame corroded at the cardinal joints of a functional federal polity would be detrimental to Vallabhbhai Patel’s ambition of establishing a civil service “free enough to speak its mind” and also the desire of the citizens to avail of excellent governance services.
The writer is a civil servant and former Vice-Chancellor. Views are personal.