New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has made a major change in the way Indian Administrative Service officers are picked for joint secretary-level positions in the central government. The government has tweaked its empanelment policy to ensure that only an officer who has served as director or deputy secretary for two years can become a joint secretary, drawing mixed reactions from civil servants.
The decision will be applicable to officers from the 2007 batch onwards. Earlier, officers could come directly from their state cadres and serve in the central government as joint secretaries.
In an office memorandum dated 18 June, accessed by ThePrint, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) said in order to create “a strong cadre of professionally trained corps of officers, with experience at the Centre and the state, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has further directed that not less than two years’ experience at deputy secretary/director level under the Central Staffing Scheme shall be mandatory for empanelment at joint secretary level at the Centre in respect of IAS officers from 2007 batch onwards”.
Addressing problem of central vacancies
A senior official from the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, told ThePrint that the decision has been taken to address the problem of vacancies in the central government at the director and deputy secretary levels.
“We have been writing to state governments repeatedly to spare officers for deputation to the Centre… There are a lot of vacancies at the positions of directors and deputy secretaries, and officers need to proactively come and serve in these positions. The government has taken the decision to incentivise that,” the official said.
“Also, it would be in the interests of both the officer and the government if officers have administrative experience at both the central and state levels,” he added.
However, IAS officers whom ThePrint spoke to had mixed reactions to the decision. While some hailed it as evidence of the Modi government’s desire to rope in IAS officers, contrary to the perception that it has been decreasing its reliance on them, others said it would act as an impediment to IAS officers’ career trajectory.
‘Govt wants IAS officers to join at different levels’
“There has been a view, especially in the media, that this government is hostile to IAS officers, and it wants to replace IAS officers with officers of other services or lateral appointees,” said a 2016 batch officer.
“This move dispels that notion that the government wants to short-change IAS officers in any way… Instead it wants IAS officers to join at different levels of administration,” the officer said.
Moreover, officers have been reluctant to come to the Centre because the workload is high, the officer continued.
“Either officers don’t want to come, or when they do want to come, it is at senior levels… Nobody wants to come at deputy secretary/director level because they are not leadership positions — they are the workhorses of the ministry,” he said. “The government wants to break that mentality.”
There is also a reluctance, especially at the junior and middle levels, to opt for central deputation over field postings, which come with more elaborate perks and facilities in comparison to the Centre, this officer added.
‘A new impediment’
However, not everyone shares the young officer’s enthusiasm, though a senior IAS officer serving at a secretary-equivalent rank in an opposition-ruled state agreed with his last point.
“You cannot keep laying conditions for IAS officers to come to the Centre… At junior and mid-level, officers tend to stay in their states because both their field experience and the perks that come with it are richer,” the senior officer said.
“The net impact of this policy would be that fewer officers of calibre will come to the Centre on deputation… You should make it easier, not harder, for officers to come to the Centre,” he said.
In this way, the senior officer added, only officers of “not-so-preferred” state cadres will come to the Centre, since those having meaty opportunities in their states would refrain from coming to the Centre.
An IAS officer of the 2007 batch added that officers would suffer, since there is always a possibility that the state government will not release them.
“In West Bengal, for example, the government never relieves officers to go to the Centre. If I want to go as a joint secretary, it means I need to first go as a deputy secretary/director in the next three years before I complete 16 years in service,” said the officer. “What if my state government does not allow me? Does it mean I can never become JS, Additional Secretary or Secretary in the central government?”
The 2007 batch officer added: “If I don’t go in the next three years, and am forced to serve as director five years later, it pushes back my career trajectory for two years for no reason. And I will probably have to serve under my own batchmates who would have become JS by then, because their state allowed them to go as director…It is too complicated and unfair.”
‘Can be easily addressed’
While Anil Swarup, former IAS officer and Union secretary, acknowledged that IAS officers could be penalised for the states’ refusal to send them at director and deputy secretary ranks, he said it could be easily addressed.
“It is true that state governments often do not relieve officers for central deputation, and it would be wrong for officers to be penalised for that,” Swarup said. “But it is not an insurmountable problem. The Centre can make sure that if an officer applies for the director/DS post at the Centre, and is not relieved by their state government, they do not get blacklisted for the post of Joint Secretary.”
The 2007-batch IAS officer quoted above, however, flagged another problem.
“IAS officers are essentially under the state government… In the last few years, there seems to be an attempt by the Centre to change that,” he said.
“Firstly, you have made sure that on being recruited, IAS officers first come to the Centre as Assistant Secretaries, and don’t go to their states… Now, you are finding ways to ensure that officers stay in the Centre for longer. There seems to be an attempt to orient officers in a particular way,” the officer said.
Repeated nudges from the Centre
The central government has been grappling with the problem of fewer officers coming on deputation from the states, and has repeatedly nudged them to spare IAS officers.
In a letter to state governments last year, for example, the DoPT had said states are failing to send in the number of IAS officers stipulated in the Central Deputation Reserve (CDR). The CDR determines the limit up to which officers could be sent for deputation to the government of India.
“Underutilisation of this reserve, particularly at deputy secretary/director level, causes serious gaps in cadre management,” the DoPT had said in its letter.
“The cadres that have not been forwarding adequate nominations for central staffing scheme at various levels may have to settle for less number of additional senior duty posts in future by way of the corresponding reduction. These aspects have been duly conveyed to the cadre-controlling authorities during the recent meetings taken by the secretary, DoPT,” it had added.
Yet, since the Modi government first came to power in 2014, there has been a decline of over 20 per cent in the number of IAS officers that states send on central deputation. As reported by ThePrint last year, there were just 492 IAS officers on central deputation in 2019, down from 643 officers in 2014. The numbers were 558 and 514 in 2017 and 2018 respectively.