Fixing the steel frame

Fixing the steel frame

Among the various reasons responsible for the present sorry state of affairs of Indian bureaucracy, one principal reason relates to the constant interference with its functioning as well as the power of the political class to transfer or shunt the civil servants to inconvenient or insignificant posts. The transfers are often made for  absurd reasons or sometimes for the alleged proximity to the opposing political party or faction. It is against this background that the proposed Central legislation to tackle such irregularities becomes significant.

The Centre is believed to be busy preparing a legislation which will not only assure the civil servants of a fixed-tenure posting, but is also likely to protect them from mundane political interference in the day-to-day functioning. Not only this, all such appointments, transfers and postings of top civil servants are to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny to remove the element of discretion in such orders.

When the proposed Bill becomes a reality, the IAS and IPS officers in the country will no longer be subject to whimsical transfers and postings which seem to be order of the day in many parts of the country. All these provisions along with many others are already on the anvil as part of the proposed Civil Services Bill, 2009 to reinvigorate India’s famed steel frame to prepare it better to deal with the newer challenges of development administration and governance. 

The Bill, having incorporated sundry suggestions of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, has also envisaged setting up of a new Central Public Service Authority (CPSA) at the national level. This authority will not only supervise the professional management of the premier civil services, but is also expected to be a watchdog to secure the interests of the civil servants and citizens through a system of checks and balances. 

When it becomes a law, all civil servants are supposed to get a minimum fixed tenure of three years; a civil servant, being transferred prematurely, shall have to be suitably compensated for the inconvenience and harassment caused; the top-level appointments including that of the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police in the states are to be made out of a panel of candidates to be screened and drawn up by a state-level committee comprising of the chief minister, home minister and the leader of the opposition. Usually, such transfers and postings have been the prerogative of the government in power, with no reference to the opposition. The proposed Bill fixes this anomaly with due recognition being given to the leader of the opposition.

Like the state level postings, the cabinet secretary, too, is likely to be selected from a panel to be drawn by the central-level committee comprising the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the home minister. If the government decides to deviate from the norms laid out in the Act, it shall have to inform and explain the reasons for the same to parliament for doing so.
 The performance evaluation of the bureaucrats has also been given adequate attention in the said Bill. The performance parameters of the officers are to be given due importance before being considered for the top jobs. A more scientifically-designed objective system of performance evaluation is proposed in place of the extant practice of Annual Confidential Reports (ACR) which merely takes a panoramic view of a civil servant’s work through the year. The new performance management system shall evaluate the bureaucrats on their job-specific achievements and the number of tasks that they perform as a team leader in a particular department.

The proposed system is likely to be managed by the CPSA which will supposedly be supervised by a chairman of the rank equivalent to that of the Chief Election Commissioner. The Chairman, CPSA is to be appointed for five years by a committee comprising the prime minister, a Supreme Court judge, the Union home minister and the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. With the cabinet secretary acting as its convener, the CPSA will aid and advise the Central government in all matters concerning the organisation, control, operation, regulation and management of public services and public servants.

Custodian of Public Service Code
The CPSA is also to be the custodian of the Public Service Code for the civil servants. This code, supposed to replace the current All India Services Conduct Rules, is to be framed with a view to enable the civil servants towards proper discharge of their official duties with competence, diligence, honesty, impartiality and in accordance with law. The CPSA, comprising three to five members, will also have the power to recommend action against the public servants who do not adhere to the public service code and public service values. 

 One hopes that the necessary spade-work for making this Bill into an Act shall soon be completed to make it a reality sooner than later. However, one does feel the need to hammer out the various implications such a Bill is likely to have on the Centre-state relations in our federal polity.

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