New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to create the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to improve coordination among the three forces has left the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) fraternity jittery. Conscious of their prime place in the bureaucratic hierarchy and also in relation to other services, IAS officers are anxious about the CDS’s status vis-à-vis the cabinet secretary, the senior-most civil servant, which would re-define their standing in comparison with their military counterparts.
In his Independence Day speech Thursday, PM Modi had announced the creation of the CDS to “further sharpen coordination among the forces” and to make them “even more effective”. The modalities of this new institution are still being worked out, said officials in the defence establishment.
In the table of precedence in which dignitaries and officials are listed as per their rank and office, the cabinet secretary is at the 11th position, followed by the chiefs of staff holding the rank of full general or equivalent. The Chief of Army Staff, a four-star general, is, for instance, senior to the defence secretary, but comes below the cabinet secretary in the order of precedence.
IAS officers are anxious about the CDS’s place in this order: Will he be a five-star officer ranked above the three service chiefs who are four-star officers, or will he also be a four-star officer, the first among equals?
“We don’t oppose creation of CDS post. But any attempt to degrade Defence Secy or shift MoD civil services under CDS won’t be tolerated. We’ll protest such move and fight tooth and nail (sic),” wrote @IAS_Fraternity, the Twitter handle of an Uttar Pradesh-cadre IAS officer.
In another tweet, the officer said: “CDS under any circumstance won’t have any control over civil services in MoD. His jurisdiction will only be limited to armed forces. Just like Defence Secretary doesn’t have any control over AFs in MoD. His jurisdiction is limited to civilian staff in MoD. Demarcation must be clear.”
Supremacy of civilian over military
Several officers ThePrint spoke to argued that in order to maintain the supremacy of the civilian administration over the military, it is imperative that the CDS is a rank below or, at most, equivalent to the cabinet secretary.
“The CDS cannot be higher than the cabinet secretary because that would mean the senior-most military officer is senior to the senior-most civil officer,” said an IAS officer who did not want to be named.
However, another officer saw no reason to make it an issue. “The CDS would be running a separate secretariat which would have a dotted line that connects it to the defence ministry. It’s not as though the civil servants in the ministry would have to suddenly report to him…. Those fears appear to be unfounded,” this officer said.
Many officers sought to draw a parallel between the CDS and the National Security Advisor, whose status was upgraded to the cabinet rank after Modi returned to power for a second term.
“It’s not as though the home secretary reports to the NSA. The NSA is, of course, senior to the home secretary in rank, but it is not as though his position impeded on the functioning of the office of the home secretary,” said a senior civil servant.
But all these views and apprehensions of IAS officers about the CDS remain mere conjectures, as the government hasn’t worked out the modalities yet.
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