When caste, political clout cloud competence

India being a representative democracy, it is expected that the bureaucracy be responsive to the representatives of the people
Last Updated 15 November 2021, 22:36 IST

When the transfer order of senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka was issued on October 23, 2021, the debate surrounding the individual competence in the promotion and rotation opportunities versus political loyalty resurfaced. This is Khemka's 54th transfer in his career spanning 29 years.

Although bureaucratic reshuffles are part of the daily functioning of the administration, the frequency of transfers in Khemka’s case suggests that the reasons are not merely related to efficiency and effectiveness but also to maintain the ‘political calculus’ of those in power and ‘the electoral and governability pay-offs' of political patronage.

India being a representative democracy, it is expected that the bureaucracy be responsive to the representatives of the people. However, if the competent bureaucrats who are recruited through a merit-based centralised bureaucratic apparatus are reshuffled for extending favours based on factors like caste, religion, political affinity, there exists the danger of weakening the state institutions.

These practices go against the very core of the aim behind recruiting individuals based on meritocracy. In simple terms, meritocracy can be defined as a phenomenon existing in competing society that accepts the persisting inequalities based on income, wealth and social position and replaces it with merit, competencies, motivation, and effort.

What needs to be understood is that since the recruitment and conditions of service of the Central and state services derive their legitimacy from Article 312 of the Constitution and the ultimate disciplining measure of their dismissal is subject to the approval of the President of the Union of India, the manner in which these services are handled while the officers discharge their duties and those selected post retirement should also be regulated.

The reason is that since India follows a Parliamentary form of democracy where the executive is drawn from the legislature in the form of the Council of Ministers who are not only responsible for the specific ministries., but also are Members of Parliament.

Thus, the political-bureaucracy interface needs careful deliberation because the system in India is unlike the Presidential system that is followed in countries like the USA, where under the spoils system, the President has been given a very wide powers of patronage as the President may offer government posts to his people that are his friends, kith and kin and business associates.

In the larger scheme of things, the Union government needs to adopt a national policy towards ensuring the independence of the civil servants to ensure the efficiency of administration internally and service delivery to the citizens and to reduce the scope for corruption and increase ministerial accountability.

This should be done similar to the guidelines that were laid down after the Prakash Singh vs Union of India case verdict, with fixed tenure of two years for the position of Director General of Police (DGP) in the states, the concerned officer being selected from the pool of three senior-most IPS officers in the state and having a minimum of six months of service left.

The aim has been to reduce the impact of factors like caste, religion or political affinity of the concerned individual with the political party in power.

(The writer is a lecturer of law at Jindal Global Law School)

(Published 15 November 2021, 17:42 IST)

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