Dehradun: A growing number of ministers in the Pushkar Singh Dhami-led Uttarakhand cabinet want a say in the annual appraisals — or annual confidential reports (ACRs) as they are called — of civil servants working under them, in what is being seen as a move to assert their authority in the government.
State minister Satpal Maharaj was the first to raise the demand. While two ministers have confirmed rallying behind Maharaj, their most senior cabinet colleague, a third told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that “all ministers are one on this issue”. “Some are willing to speak in public while others, who are not, will speak at the proper platform,” the minister added.
The ministers want CM Dhami to hammer out ways to empower them to write or amend the ACRs of secretaries and other higher-ranked Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers working in departments under them.
Some ministers unwilling to be named said that if the CM fails to involve them in finalising the ACRs, they may even place their demand before Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, adding that, if need be, the government “must amend the law in this regard”.
State secretariat officials told ThePrint that under the tenure of the state’s first elected CM, the late Congress leader N.D. Tiwari (Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000), the norm was that the ministers concerned were the only accepting authority (final authority) for the ACRs of civil servants till 2007.
However, Tiwari’s successor B.C. Khanduri of the BJP came up with a government order (GO) — under the All-India Service (Performance Appraisal Report) Rules, 2007 — in 2008 that ACRs of departmental secretaries and higher-rank officials would be monitored directly by the CM. The tradition continues to date, the officials added.
The 2007 rules were conceptualised by the Centre in consultation with state governments, in exercise of powers conferred on it under the All-India Services Act, 1951.
On 31 March, Dhami directed state Chief Secretary S.S. Sandhu to collect information on other states where ministers have a say in the annual appraisals of civil servants, and under which laws.
ThePrint sought a comment from Sandhu on the issue via calls and messages, but did not receive a response.
What are ACRs, and what’s the procedure?
ACRs are annual performance appraisal reports of civil servants.
S.S. Waldia, Additional Secretary in the Uttarakhand government’s Department of Personnel, told ThePrint that the “annual performance assessment of IAS officers, particularly secretaries, is a four-step process”.
“It begins with self-assessment reports by the respective officers. Following this, the reports are examined by the principal secretary, who is the reporting officer of department secretaries,” said Waldia.
“After this, the ACRs are further examined by the additional chief secretary or directly by the chief secretary as review officers. Thereafter, it reaches the chief minister, who is the accepting authority,” he added.
Waldia said a “similar procedure is followed in case of principal secretaries, whose reporting officer is the additional chief secretary, while the review officer is the chief secretary and the CM is the accepting authority”.
‘A minister’s right’
Speaking to ThePrint, state Tourism and PWD Minister Satpal Maharaj said that writing and revising ACRs of secretaries and other higher-ranked IAS officers is “a minister’s right, but is not being practised in Uttarakhand”.
“This is the precise reason why bureaucrats often ignore their ministers when it comes to implementing ideas and plans suggested by us. This was practised till late CM N.D. Tiwari’s regime, but was abandoned later,” he added. “This happened due to the high-handedness of the bureaucracy in the state.”
Maharaj said ministers “know better than anyone else about the performance of the officials”.
According to Maharaj, several other states follow the practice of ministers writing ACRs of secretaries.
Similar views were expressed by another senior minister in the Dhami cabinet, Rekha Arya.
“I fully agree with what Satpal Maharaj has said. There is no reason why ministers in Uttarakhand cannot write or make changes in the annual CR of officials working under them,” she said.
“His demand and opinion on this issue is justified. Today, ministers are kept out of the loop despite the fact that they are better placed to assess the performance of the officials. The chief minister is fully aware of the issue and his call will be the last on this subject.”
The Women Empowerment and Child Development Minister further told ThePrint: “If this happens, bureaucracy will work for the development of the state in a better way as they will have the fear of unfavourable entries by the ministers.”
Social Welfare, Minority, Transport and MSME Minister Chandan Ram Das, too, wants state cabinet ministers to be given the freedom to comment on and revise ACRs.
“I support what Maharaj said on the ACR issue. He is the most senior minister and has a lot of experience. Ministers are in constant touch with secretaries and are in a much better position to assess their work,” he told ThePrint.
However, minister Dhan Singh Rawat refused to comment on the issue. “Ministers have all the rights at their discretion, but I will not comment on the ACR issue as it has to be decided by the CM,” he told ThePrint.
A minister who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the ACR issue is a “serious matter as this has been a stumbling block in the development of the state”.
“Today all bureaucrats, especially the IAS officers, want to be in the good books of the chief minister and are able to get their annual performance appraisal or ACR done by him easily,” the minister added. “As a result, they do not even bother to listen to their ministers. In the previous tenure, our government allowed a free run to the babus, who completely sidelined the ministers.”
‘Ministers lose their authority’
A deputy secretary-rank officer, who did not wish to be named, explained to ThePrint that in some instances “ministers lose their authority” of having a say in ACRs of secretaries and more senior IAS officers, specifically the latter, when these officers have more than one department under them.
“One or more departments headed by these officers are also held by the CM. Thus, technically, they work under dual headship of the CM as well as the ministers. This is how ACR of all secretaries are currently written by the CM,” the official added.
An official working in the Department of Personnel, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, added: “Ministers may be accommodated either as accepting authority of their respective secretaries and principal secretaries, or as review officials, for it will enable them to make amendments or put their remarks in the ACR.”
Joint Secretary in the General Administration Department (GAD) Omkar Singh, however, said that enabling this “will need a fresh law or amendment in the previous law that was changed in 2008-09”.
Sources in the government said that, during the last cabinet meeting, the ACR issue was discussed, after which CM Dhami directed Chief Secretary S.S. Sandhu to collect data on the legal aspect from states where ministers have a say in the ACRs of civil servants.
“The CM has agreed to study all such laws of other states where ministers have a say in the process of writing ACRs of the secretaries themselves,” said Satpal Maharaj. “After a thorough study of these laws, a new legal framework will be created to resolve the matter forever.”
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)