Finding the right fix
Rather than imposing a mandate over officers, the Central government must assess the reasons behind their ‘unwillingness’ to be deputed for Central roles
A controversy is raging these days regarding the proposed amendments to the IAS (cadre) rules proposed by the Central Government. Several states have reacted strongly opposing these amendments as they feel that this would give the Government of India much greater control over the posting of IAS officers to the Center. This amendment is agitating the State Governments more because of certain recent orders issued by the Government of India like those relating to the Chief Secretary of West Bengal and some senior officers of the same state.
To put the matter in perspective it is important to understand the current rules regarding deputation. Central deputation in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is covered under rule 6(1) of the IAS cadre rule 1954 inserted in May 1969 which states that “a cadre officer may, with the concurrence of the State Governments concerned and the Central Government, be deputed for service under the Central Government or another State Government”. It further states that “provided that in the case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the Central Government and the State Government concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government”.
There were around 5,200 IAS officers in the country as of January 1, 2021, and 458 were on central deputation. The Central Government is concerned because the required numbers of officers are not coming forward for central deputation and the Government of India is facing a shortage of officers. Central Government wrote to the State Governments recently pointing out that States were not sponsoring an adequate number of officers for central deputation. Depending upon the strength of the IAS officers in a particular state a central deputation reserve is created which indicates the number of officers, at various levels, who are eligible for Government of India deputation. Based on this, the Central Government asks for an “offer list” of officers from which it selects the required officers. The Government of India has now proposed an additional condition in 6(1) which states “provided that each government shall make available for deputation to the Central Government such number of eligible officers of various levels to the extent of the central deputation reserve”. It goes on to add that “the actual number of officers to be deputed to the Central Government shall be decided by the Central Government in consultation with the State Government concerned”. It also says that in the event of any disagreement the State Governments shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government within a specified time. In the letter written to the State Governments, the Central Government has also said that “in specific situations where services of cadre officers are required by the Central Government in the public interest the Central Government may seek the services of such officers for posting under the Central Government”. The states realized that through these changes the Government of India is taking greater control over the IAS officers and this is the reason why they are objecting quite vociferously.
It is significant to note that the willingness of the officer concerned to go on deputation to the Government of India is essential as per rule 6(2) which states that “no cadre officer shall be deputed except with his consent”. The clause about posting the officers in the Government of India in public interest appears to override this crucial requirement of the willingness of the officer concerned. In effect, it would mean that any time the Central Government can pull out an officer from the State Government to serve in Government of India irrespective of the willingness of the State Government or the officer concerned. This has become the real bone of contention, particularly, in the light of recent examples of West Bengal and earlier Tamil Nadu.
Most states are having a central deputation reserve shortfall. Over 14 states have a CDR shortfall of over 80 per cent with the West Bengal figure being 95 per cent and it is above 90 per cent for MP, Haryana and Telangana. It is a fact that most states are not meeting their CDR obligations. This is not in consonance with the concept of an All India Service. This is happening even though the annual recruitment to the service has gone up since 2000. There is a particular shortage at the level of Joint Secretaries, Directors and Deputy Secretaries. This is a genuine problem that needs to be resolved through consultation between States and Central Government.
It is also essential to understand the concept of All India Services as well as the federal structure of the constitution. The idea behind the creation of All India Services like IAS has been to have a common perspective between the State Governments and Government of India and that States should also function towards the achievement of national goals. On selection, IAS officers are assigned to a State cadre where they serve in the district and State Secretariat and acquire knowledge about the ground-level realities. They can also opt for central deputation and generally, they spend five years in the Government of India if selected and acquire a national and international perspective. He carries his experience back to the state after his central deputation period is over. The All-India character of the service is maintained by the mechanism of giving 1/3 of the vacancies in a state in a particular year to candidates who belong to the state and the balance is given to the officers from outside the state.
I think the most important point is that there should be a willingness on the part of the officer to go to the Government of India. He should not be forced to do so. Central Government must analyse why officers are not offering themselves to the Government of India. At the Deputy Secretary/ Director level the main issue is that at the same level of seniority the officer is working either as a District Magistrate or head of a department or some other important post in the state where he has a lot of authority to make decisions and the job is immensely satisfying. Further, creature comforts like a vehicle, house, schools for children and availability of health care are ensured. At the Deputy Secretary level in the Government of India, many of these hygiene factors are absent and even the job content is such that very few decisions are taken at that level and the officer is primarily involved in pushing files. If the Government of India really wants officers to opt for them at this level of seniority, it should focus on taking steps to enrich the job content and also provide basic creature comforts. I am surprised why there are fewer officers on offer for the Joint Secretary (JS) level posts because the JS is a crucial person in the Government of India and most decisions are taken by her and she contributes in a big way to the working of the department. The reasons for the shortage at the JS level would need to be studied. I feel one reason could be that a lesser number of officers were recruited into the IAS between 1990 and 2000 as a measure to slim down the bureaucracy who was misplaced and from 2000 onwards more officers are being selected into the IAS. The states are also guilty of not sparing officers for Government of India postings because they are doing some very important work and they cannot be allowed to go. They have been instances where due to political reasons the names of officers are not forwarded to the Government of India. I feel it is the responsibility of the State Governments to have the required number of officers in the central deputation reserve. Thereafter deputation to the Government of India can take place on the basis of the willingness of the officers and consultation between the two governments. This is how the character of All India Services can be maintained and also it is in accordance with the federal nature of our union. The problem only comes when political reasons start influencing this process either from the Government of India or the State Government level.