New Delhi: The Modi government, as part of its move to reform the civil services, is considering doing away with the empanelment process through which officers are appointed to top positions in the administration, ThePrint has learnt.
The plan is to replace empanelment with advertising for posts — a system that will give a level-playing field to officers across the services and reduce the hegemony of the IAS. If it goes through, the move will radically upend the manner in which IAS, IFS, IRS and other officers are selected and appointed at the central level.
Sources said the government is considering opening up all positions above the level of joint secretary to public advertisements. The advertisement will specify detailed eligibility criteria for officers — joint secretary, additional secretary and secretary — like 20-plus years of service. All central civil servants who fulfil the criteria from across services will be free to apply for the positions.
Also under discussion is the possibility of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) appointing officers from the pool of applications received through the advertisement, the sources added.
If implemented, the process will achieve the twin purpose of bringing parity in promotions and appointments between IAS officers and those from other services, as well as encouraging domain expertise within ministries by allowing officers from specialised services to man the ministries in their area, an official said.
Being empanelled means clearance has been given to an officer to be appointed to a particular post. In the current process, a certain batch of officers from a service is empanelled, and subsequently officers from that batch act as a pool from which key appointments are made.
Certain officers may be excluded from the process even when their batch is empanelled on account of vigilance issues, appraisals, 360-degree review etc.
Last month, ThePrint had reported that in its five-year vision document, the Department of Personnel and Training had said the government will overhaul the system of selecting top officials for senior positions at the central level by reforming the decades-old empanelment process.
The process has often been seen to be somewhat opaque by officers. The government is of the view that it is also very slow, and the delays in empanelment often result in several senior officials in services other than the IAS joining at the Centre at junior positions.
‘An equaliser among services’
The move, if implemented, will act as an equaliser among all central civil services, an official said.
IAS officers have a more lenient eligibility criteria for empanelment in terms of the number of years of experience they require to be appointed to posts of joint secretary and above.
For example, while the latest batch of IAS officers to be empanelled as joint secretary is 2002, the latest batches of other services like the Indian Railway Service or the Indian Revenue Service is 1997 or 1998.
The process has often been criticised by other services. For instance, last year, the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) Association had written to PM Narendra Modi flagging the “biases” in the process.
“Currently, no officer from the IRS is at the secretary level, or even at the additional secretary level. The systematic discrimination has led to a negligible number of officers from our service having an opportunity to work at that level,” the letter had said.
The appointments, the letter added, are made based on “affiliation to the IAS”, ignoring the “merit and competence of other services”.
Ever since the Modi government has come to power, it has empanelled more officers from other services in order to bring about more parity among all services.