New Delhi: In the past fortnight, the Modi government has promoted 31 officers to the ranks of additional and joint secretary, posted across ministries. Of these 31, only 12 are Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, while the remaining 19 are non-IAS officers.
The move is the latest in what many civil servants believe is a growing trend that reflects the government’s attempt to break “babu dominance” and address the crunch of IAS officers available for deputation.
In the past seven years, the IAS cadre at the level of joint and additional secretaries has systematically shrunk. A civil list prepared by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), updated in January this year, stated that the number of IAS officers posted as joint secretaries at the Centre was around 77.
In 2015, this number stood at 249 IAS officers (from a total of 391 joint secretaries), according to a 7th Central Pay Commission report published in November that year.
The number of IAS officers posted as additional secretaries also fell to 76 this year from 98 in 2015. The Centre has 108 posts for additional secretaries, as stated in the Central Pay Commission report. A source in the DoPT further added that the encadred positions for additional secretaries has even gone down to around 34, while the rest are in-situ upgradation. Of the total 84 secretaries in the central government, 57 are IAS officers, the source said.
A deeper look at recent appointment orders — copies of which ThePrint has accessed — highlights the trend.
According to a 13 August appointment order for joint secretaries, only two of 15 officers — promoted as joint secretaries and posted across ministries and departments — are from the IAS cadre, while the rest are non-IAS officers from the Central Civil Services (Group A). Another order dated 8 August for appointment of 16 additional secretaries has 10 IAS officers, while the rest are from the other central services.
The IAS, the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Forest Service (IFoS) are the only three All India Services. The Central Civil Services — officers of which the government is bringing to the fore — comprise services such as the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), the Indian Postal Service (IPoS), the Indian Audit and Accounts Service, the Indian Defence Accounts Service, the Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers (IRSEE), the Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS), etc. These allied services comprise domain experts, while the All India Service is meant for running the federal administration in the country.
Arvind Mehta, an IAS officer who retired as secretary in the Finance Commission in 2020, pointed to the acute crunch of IAS officers and said that there had been a drastic reduction in their intake during the 1990s and 2000s.
“Between 1991 and 2012, the government reduced the annual intake of IAS officers from 130 to 50. The intake was increased after 2012, and went up to 180 per year. So now there are not enough officers available who can be posted at the level of additional secretary or joint secretary. Officers from the IAS batches post-2012 will be eligible for such positions in the next few years, but immediately, there is an acute crunch,” he told ThePrint.
“The government’s decision to appoint non-IAS officers across ministries and departments as additional and joint secretaries may look like it wants to shrink the IAS cadre, but there are other reasons too — mainly inadequacy,” he added.
Mehta further said that more non-IAS officers being in senior positions may impact policy formulation and implementation on the ground. “The non-IAS officers will need to take feedback from the ground because they are not familiar with the functioning of state and district administration.”
A senior IAS officer, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint that the government “has no option left” in the face of shortage. “The Centre has to make optimal use of the other central service officers in filling up positions. In the next three to four years, the imbalance will go as more officers will be eligible to be empaneled with the central government as joint secretaries,” he pointed out.
In February 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called IAS officers “babus” and spoken about their powers in Parliament.
“Sab kuch babu hi karenge. IAS ban gaye matlab woh fertiliser ka kaarkhana bhi chalayega, chemical ka kaarkhana bhi chalayega, IAS ho gaya toh woh hawai jahaz bhi chalayega. Yeh kaunsi badi taakat bana kar rakh di hai humne? Babuon ke haath mein desh de karke hum kya karne waale hain? Humare babu bhi toh desh ke hain, toh desh ka naujawan bhi toh desh ka hai,” he had said.
Translation: “Babus will do everything. By dint of becoming IAS officers, they’ll operate fertiliser warehouses and also chemical warehouses, even fly aeroplanes. What is this big power we have created? What are we going to achieve by handing the reins of the nation to babus. Our babus are also citizens, and so are the youth of India.”
Currently, excluding National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, 11 of the top 12 officers in the prime minister’s office are from the IAS, while one joint secretary is an IFS (Indian Foreign Service) officer.
The central government has, in this month’s appointment order for 15 joint secretary-level positions, posted an IRTS officer in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, an officer from IRSEE in the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, an IRS officer in the National Scheduled Tribes Finance & Development Corporation, and IPoS officers in the DoPT.
Many IAS officers call this the Centre’s way of bringing a “mix of central service officers in the government and making the system more diverse”.
Serving and retired officers, however, also admit that the move may impact “policy formulation and implementation” on the ground.
Anil Swarup, a retired IAS officer who served as coal and education secretary, said: “If this is a trend, then it will impact the system at two basic levels — policy formulation and implementation. The whole rationale behind posting an IAS officer is to draw on experience and expertise of serving at the district and state-level.”
He explained further: “A secretary in the central government needs to know and understand policy implementation which happens through the district instruments. Central service officers (Group A) or non-IAS officers may acquire the domain knowledge with time, but they will never be able to have the experience of working at the ground-level.”
According to Swarup, officers serving in the central government need to coordinate with their counterparts in the state. “Many times, it so happens that a secretary knows the chief secretary of a particular state, and they discuss issues to get things moving quickly. For non-IAS officers, this coordination may not happen smoothly.”
On the shortage of IAS officers, the serving IAS officer quoted earlier said that “lateral entry will not work to address the crunch”.
“The amendment to IAS Cadre Rules (which would allow the Centre greater control over deputation of IAS officers) is yet to be implemented. Had it been done, the government may have posted some officers from states on central deputation,” he pointed out.
IAS cadre ‘unique’
Ramesh Negi, a retired IAS officer who served in the central government and retired as a state chief secretary, echoed the others in saying that the lack of IAS officers available for central government positions is one of the primary reasons behind fewer postings from the cadre.
In the face of the shortage, he said, “the government may be trying to break the IAS hegemony and make the system a more heterogeneous mix of all central services”.
Pointing out that the “BJP government has always wanted to diversify the system”, he added: “Diversity is welcome, but the skills of an IAS officer, which are unique to them, cannot be got in another way.”
IAS officers, Negi said, bring “socio-cultural-geographical experiences” to the Centre. “They bring state-level aspirations and issues to the national level and strengthen the federal structure by working at every level of administration.”
In a representation to the Central Pay Commission in 2015, the IAS Association (Central) stated that the IAS cadre is crucial to run the administration and pointed out that narrowing the gap between IAS and other central services will be “detrimental”.
While explaining the demand for retention of “edge in pay” for IAS officers, the association wrote: “The Association in its memorandum has sought to emphasise that an IAS officer’s position is unique and that the Service needs to be differentiated from the rest of the bureaucracy in more ways than one. The association feels that narrowing the gap between the IAS and other AIS and Central Group ‘A’ Services will be detrimental to the country’s economic growth and development.”
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)