New Delhi: The unprecedented nature of the tussle between the Centre and the West Bengal government over the state’s former chief secretary, Alapan Bandyopadhyay, has triggered a nationwide debate on the politicisation of the civil services.
Both the Centre and the state government have claimed to have more powers over the posting and deputation of the 1987-batch IAS officer. This has led to questions over the separation of powers between the central and the state governments, both of which are served by officers of the three All India Services (AIS).
The examination of powers of the state and the central governments across nine parameters — deciding the number of officers to be recruited, recruitment, appointment, cadre allocation, training, transfers and postings, empanelment and central deputation, extensions, and disciplinary proceedings — reveals that in at least eight, the Centre enjoys a preponderance of power over officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS), and the Indian Forest Service (IFS).
However, at the same time, experts told ThePrint that while a plain reading of the rules gives the central government overriding powers over the civil services, convention has often ensured a collaborative and consultative approach between the Centre and states in the spirit of federalism, and a significant degree of de facto powers to the states.
The All India Services
The IAS and the IPS were created after Independence — the Indian Forest Service joined the two in 1966 — under Article 312 of the Constitution in order to create a pool of administrators and law enforcers common to the Union and states. The idea behind having this common pool of officers, all of whom are governed by the All India Services Act, 1951, was that it would strengthen the unitary character of the Indian federation.
“The Centre enjoys a preponderance of powers when it comes to the AIS officers,” said former secretary of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) Satyanand Mishra. “The larger scheme behind having an AIS was that India is a highly diverse country, and, therefore, it would be important to bind it together through a common, centrally-recruited pool of officers,” he added.
“It was believed that it is necessary that key executive functions in any state are performed by members of this centrally recruited pool.”
It is in this spirit, he added, that a state cadre does not have more than one-third of officers who are originally from that state. “This was done to ensure that people have fewer connections, vested interests and regional affiliations while executing their administrative duties because India has to fundamentally function as a union of states,” he said.
Let us examine the parameters that determine the Centre’s and the states’ influence over officers.
The appointing authority
Every year, the three cadre-controlling authorities — the DoPT (for the IAS), the home ministry (for the IPS) and the environment ministry (for the IFS) — carry out a “cadre review” of the three services. A cadre review entails an assessment of how many new officers need to be recruited in each service in each state. While the review is done in consultation with the states — each state gives the Centre its requisition for the number of officers needed — the ultimate decision is taken by the central government.
It is on the basis of the cadre review done by the Centre that a list of the required number of officers in each service is sent to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), a constitutional body that independently recruits the requisitioned number through the highly competitive Civil Services Examination (CSE).
Finally, the officers recruited by the UPSC are appointed by the President of India, thereby making the Government of India (GoI) their appointing authority. Several of the powers of the Centre over AIS officers flow from the fact that it is their appointing authority.
The selected officers are subsequently assigned their state cadres by the Centre. While the Centre does this by factoring in the states’ requirement, the officers’ preference, their rank in the exam, etc, the final decision remains with the central government alone.
Once their cadres are allocated, officers from the three services proceed for their training, which is given by central training institutions (CTIs) like the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy (SVPNPA), and the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy (IGNFA).
The training given to officers from all state cadres is common, and is imparted through central institutions in order to ensure that all recruits of the AIS are trained uniformly to implement the “national vision” at the ground level from the beginning of service.
Over to the states — postings, transfers
A short description of the AIS on the government portal “Know India” states: “A common unique feature of the All India Services is that the members of these services are recruited by the Centre, but their services are placed under various state cadres, and they have the liability to serve both under the state and under the Centre.”
Therefore, once officers are recruited and trained by the Centre, they are sent to their state cadres. While the Modi government has instituted the practice of appointing newly recruited officers as assistant secretaries in different ministries in the Government of India before they go to states, it is at the state level that the career of an AIS officer really starts at the district level.
It is here that states have complete authority over who to post in which district, who to elevate to the state secretariat, who to transfer, who to give plum postings, and who to relegate to unimportant posts.
“It is here that states have exclusive powers over an officer. The Centre can never tell the state government where to post which officer at the state level. It is 100 per cent the state’s domain,” Mishra said.
While the transfers and postings of an officer do not affect their salaries, they often act as de facto punishments for officers, disrupting their personal lives and adversely affecting their career growth — thereby creating a strong incentive for officers to toe the line of the state government throughout their careers.
Working for Government of India
Any officer who has served in a state government for up to nine years can show their willingness to come to the Centre, through their state governments, at the level of director and above under the Central Staffing Scheme. Their names are then compiled into a consolidated “offer list” through which the Centre can pick officers for vacant posts.
To work for the central government at the level of joint secretary and above, it is imperative for an officer to first be empanelled by the Centre. The process, often criticised for its lack of transparency, allows only a minority of IAS officers to be made eligible for senior postings at the Centre.
“The Centre empanels an officer after 16 years of service. But by doing so, it basically takes away the incentive of all the non-empanelled officers to work with the national interest in mind,” a recently retired IAS officer said. “For all the officers left behind, loyalty to the state government becomes the sole determinant for their career progression.”
Bandyopadhyay, for example, was not empaneled by the Centre, the officer said.
After empanelment comes the actual process of central deputation. According to AIS Rules, 1951, a cadre officer can be made available for central deputation through a consultative process that involves the state, the Centre and the officer concerned. While all three have a say, in case of a dispute between the Centre and the state, the former’s will prevails.
The promise of post-retirement postings
If states can win the loyalty of officers through the threat of adverse postings and transfers, the central government can do so with the allure of post-retirement postings.
The power of extending the services of IAS officers rests exclusively with the Centre. Even if a chief secretary appointed in a state is to get an extension, permission has to be granted by the central government to the state government, as happened in the case of Bandyopadhyay (who got an extension in May).
It is for this reason that while the Centre often extends the services of the officers it wishes to retain after their retirement, the states instead end up appointing them in the CM’s Office as advisers out of the ambit of the AIS Rules. Again, a case in point is Bandyopadhyay, who was appointed as the Chief Minister’s adviser after he retired (he didn’t take the extension).
To punish and to ‘discipline’
Since the political harassment of AIS officers for not toeing the line is widely prevalent, the rules to initiate disciplinary proceedings against them are very carefully crafted.
If an officer is posted in a state, the state government alone can initiate disciplinary proceedings against them, and even place them under suspension. The central government cannot initiate disciplinary proceedings against an officer posted in a state.
However, in 2015, the central government amended the AIS Rules to ensure that an officer cannot remain suspended beyond a week without the sanction of the central government.
But if an officer is posted at the Centre, their state has no say in disciplinary proceedings against them if the central government initiates them. For example, a centrally deputed IAS officer can be potentially compulsorily retired by the Centre for misconduct without the sanction of their state government. The Centre has to consult the UPSC before charge-sheeting an officer.
While actual punishments against officers are difficult to come by given their constitutional protections, and the Centre has a clear preponderance of power in this matter, it is through de facto punishments and rewards like transfers, effective demotions, plum postings, extensions and post-retirement assignments that influence is wielded on officers.
Convention versus rules
Officers say that, given the fact that less than one-third of all IAS and IPS officers ever get a chance or choose to serve at the Centre, for most, it is states that determine their career graphs. This, despite the fact that rules give an upper hand to the Centre.
Further, experts pointed out that despite the powers vested with the Centre, it is through respect for convention that a smooth federal separation of powers is maintained.
“There is a difference in what rules say on central deputation, for example, and what has been conventionally practiced,” said former IAS officer T.R. Raghunandan.
“It would never be the case that an officer of a chief secretary’s seniority is forcefully asked to come on central deputation without the state and the officer’s consent,” he added.
While convention and norms give states significant de facto powers, as Bandyopadhyay’s case shows, the Centre can choose to jettison convention, and assert its powers over officers if miffed by the conduct of a state, the unnamed retired IAS officer quoted above argued.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)