New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s move to get rid of corrupt and dubious officers from the bureaucracy has, surprisingly, gone down well with civil servants, most of who do not see it as a threat to their career.
Several IAS, IRS and IFS officers ThePrint spoke to said the government’s anti-corruption purge is a welcome step in reforming the bureaucracy.
In the last week, the Modi government has compulsorily retired 27 senior officers from the prestigious Indian Revenue Service (IRS) under Fundamental Rule 56 (j) of Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules, 1972, which provides for compulsory retirement of government staff in public interest on account of corruption or bribery.
While the rule has always existed, its extensive use is unprecedented.
‘This is the way to reform bureaucracy’
“The bureaucracy has often been criticised for allowing corrupt, lazy and status-quoist officers to thrive in a system that resists change,” an IAS officer, serving in the central government, said.
“The perception does harm the entire bureaucracy even though only a few are the culprits…So if the government gets rid of them, it will make the entire bureaucracy more vibrant and productive,” the officer added.
Another IAS officer said even though the brightest minds enter the bureaucracy through one of the toughest exams in the country, they are seen as unproductive because no matter what they do or don’t do, they cannot be fired.
“That perception is bound to change now…Because nobody can take their job for granted no matter how senior they are or what clout they have,” the officer added.
“If the government really wants to reform the bureaucracy, this is the way to do it, instead of bringing lateral entry…If you punish the corrupt, the system will get cleansed from within, otherwise, even the lateral entrants will be no different,” he said.
‘Grievous cases against officers who were fired’
While one would have anticipated that bureaucrats would be jittery about the government’s unprecedented firing of senior officials, most agreed that the ones who have been shown the door had “grievous cases” against them, and, therefore, the government’s grounds for firing them are not unfounded.
The officers removed by the government face charges ranging from corruption and fraud to sexual harassment and misuse of public office.
“The cases against all these officers are very serious…So there does not seem to be any foul play in their firing,” said a senior IRS (IT) officer.
“Some of them have been arrested, some of them were still under suspension, many have CBI cases still going on against them…So when they get fired, a message goes down to the entire system,” the officer added.
“They have started with IRS, but they will come down heavily on officers from across the (other) services is the sense we get,” he added.
A stated objective of Modi govt
In 2015, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) had said in an order that the government would let go of non-performing officers and those with questionable integrity by giving them compulsory premature retirement.
Earlier this year, the Cabinet Secretariat and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had reportedly told the vigilance heads of various departments to identify corrupt and non-performing officers for compulsory retirement.
“We should not see the move as anti-bureaucracy,” said a senior central government officer who has retired earlier this year.
“After all, it was the same Modi government which brought amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act in order to ensure that officers are not unfairly targeted by investigating agencies,” he said.
“This is a good move since officers spend 30-35 years in the service in crucial roles…They have to have accountability,” he said. “But it has to be done without any malice — that is key.”
Some fear misuse of rule
The fear of vindictive dismissals resonated with at least two officers who ThePrint spoke to — one of them is the chief of the IRS (Customs and Central Excise) Association, Arun Srivastava, who was compulsorily retired Tuesday.
“This is completely arbitrary,” Srivastava said. “It is against the principles of natural justice…I was promoted just last year, and the promotion was duly approved by the PM, Finance Minister and the Appointments Committee. So what happened now?” he asked.
Srivastava faces charges of criminal conspiracy, illegal gratification, and demanding and accepting bribe.
While these cases may be genuine, it is entirely possible that once a precedent is set, the government uses the rule to target officers seen as inconvenient, an officer said.
“Under this government, surveillance has been a big issue…Even the honest officers are scared,” the officer said. “With a rule like this, anyone can be targeted. In 30 years of service, it is not difficult to find cases against any officer if the government so desires.
“The point to be noted is that none of these officers have been convicted, and yet have been punished by the government,” he said.
An IAS officer, however, said there was no reason for the honest officers to fear since they would always have the courts to challenge the government’s decision if their dismissal is arbitrary and malicious.