New Delhi: The Modi government Friday transferred and promoted 10 secretaries, and upgraded the rank of over two dozen civil servants to that of special and additional secretaries. This was the government’s third major reshuffle since taking office in May.
The civil servants involved in the exercise include Higher Education Secretary R. Subrahmanyam, Culture Secretary Arun Goel, Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Secretary Amit Khare, and Rajesh Bhushan, Coordination Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat.
IAS officer T.V. Somanathan will now be appointed Expenditure Secretary in place of Atanu Chakraborty, who was given the additional charge after incumbent G.C. Murmu took over as Jammu & Kashmir Lieutenant Governor in October.
While Subrahmanyam has been moved to the department of social justice & empowerment, Goel, who is due to retire in December, joins the department of heavy industry as secretary.
Khare will take over Subhramanyam’s charge in the higher education department, while Bhushan is set to take office as rural development secretary in place of Amarjit Sinha, who is retiring on 31 December.
‘Result of PM’s anger’
Government sources told ThePrint that at least some of the secretary-level transfers could be attributed to a meeting in October on Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat, a government scheme to effect cultural exchanges among India’s diverse areas.
The meeting, the sources said, was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who appeared upset with some of the participating secretaries for dragging feet on the scheme. The secretaries included human resource development (HRD) ministry’s Subrahmanyam and culture ministry’s Goel. Both were shunted out of their respective ministries Friday.
“At the meeting, the PM was very upset that no work was done on the scheme, either by HRD or culture ministries,” said an official of the HRD ministry. “He also gave a dressing down to the senior officers. We were all expecting that action will be taken against the secretaries who were present in the meeting.”
The transfers have raised eyebrows as Subrahmanyam and Goel have both been moved out at a time when they are handling crucial initiatives.
Subrahmanyam, whose transfer also coincides with the JNU fee hike protests, is involved in the New Education Policy, which is in the final stages and expected to be placed before the Union Cabinet shortly. Culture Secretary Goel is associated with the cultural mapping project undertaken by the government to connect artists all over the country.
“What is the point of transferring a secretary just a month before his retirement,” a senior government official said, referring to Goel.
The meeting is said to have resulted in another transfer earlier this year, when Rina Ray, then the school education secretary, was shunted out of the HRD ministry in October, four days after the PMO meeting. She was shifted back to her parent cadre.
Speaking of Ray’s transfer, a government official said the “PM was angry that not much has happened in Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat and the officers concerned are not taking it seriously”.
“At the meeting, Ray disagreed with the PM openly. That could be the probable reason for her ouster,” the government official added.
Civil servants on tenterhooks
This is the third reshuffle in the bureaucracy since May 2019 when the Modi government was sworn in for its second term.
In October, the government had transferred 10 IAS officers and promoted another 13 to the post of special secretaries.
In July, the government effected a reshuffle involving at least two dozen IAS officers who were given new or additional responsibilities. Prominent among those transferred was Subhash Garg. Then the economic affairs and finance secretary, Garg was “demoted” to the power ministry less than a month after the government presented the budget.
The frequent reshuffles effected by the Modi government have kept civil servants on tenterhooks.
In the first four years of the maiden Modi government, the ministries of finance, I&B, women and child development and department of personnel and training all saw five new secretaries each.
The home ministry got four new secretaries between 2014 and 2018.
In a column he wrote for ThePrint on 17 December 2018, retired IAS officer Anil Swarup said as many as 17 ministries and departments had each had four-five secretaries or more during the past four years.
“Not all these postings were necessitated on account of superannuation. The social sector has suffered the most,” he wrote.
“The rural development ministry has had five secretaries, same as the case with crucial ministries/departments like health and school education. How can these sectors develop with such frequent changes at the top?” he said.
A senior officer in one of the infrastructure ministries told ThePrint that the transfers had triggered “a lot of apprehension among the senior bureaucracy”.
“In many cases, officers have been moved out just before retirement,” the officer added.
“That’s one of the reasons many civil servants prefer going back to their parent cadre from central deputation.”