New Delhi: In a break from tradition, the Narendra Modi government has been empanelling a number of non-IAS officers to become secretaries. This trend, observed since the Modi government first came to power in 2014, has given hope to non-IAS officers of finally having a shot at heading ministries in their domains.
Secretaries are in charge of departments and it is the highest post to which an officer can aspire to in her or his career. Being empanelled means clearance has been given to an officer to be appointed to a particular post.
Earlier this month, the Appointments Committee of the Union Cabinet empanelled four non-IAS officers as secretaries and at least one of them — Enforcement Directorate Director Sanjay Kumar Mishra, an officer of the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) — was elevated to the secretary level.
Mishra’s elevation took the number of non-IAS secretaries serving in the Government of India to two. The other non-IAS officer holding the post of a secretary at the central government now is Anuradha Mitra, who is the secretary, official languages. Mitra is an officer of the Indian Defence Accounts Service.
There are other non-IAS officers serving as secretaries, but these are in ministries that have traditionally been headed by domain experts, like the Department of External Affairs (headed by an officer of the Indian Foreign Service), Railways (headed by an officer of the Indian Railway Service) and Science and Technology (headed by a laterally recruited domain expert).
The increase in the number of officers empanelled from other services has given hope to non-IAS officers.
“It is really for the first time when officers from other services are even being empanelled. So, it has given some hope to the officers,” said a senior IRS officer. “Otherwise, before this government came to power, it was a given that we will always serve under the IAS…that is beginning to change now.”
‘Didn’t end up becoming secretaries’
Consider this: Between 2010 and 2014, no non-IAS officer was empanelled at the secretary level. But after the Modi government came to power in 2014, two non-IAS officers were empanelled as secretaries.
In 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 likewise, four, six, two and six officers were empanelled as secretaries, respectively.
But officers also said that even though they were getting empanelled in greater numbers, they never ended up becoming secretaries.
“If you have empanelled revenue and forest service officers as secretaries, what is stopping you from actually appointing them as finance or environment secretaries?” said another IRS officer. “This is just placating other services for the sake of it.”
It has, nevertheless, been a stated aim of the Modi government to promote officers from other services in order to break the hegemony of civil servants in the higher echelons of bureaucracy.
Before 2014, non-IAS officers working in central government ministries were elevated only up to the post of directors and deputy secretaries. In the past few years, however, a large number of non-IAS officers have been empanelled as joint secretaries and above.
As reported by ThePrint, the highest number of officers empanelled as joint secretaries belong to the Indian Railway Service followed by the IRS in the past three years.
IAS officers, meanwhile, have remained disgruntled over the increasing number of non-IAS secretaries.
“This is a sure-shot way of ensuring a loyal bureaucracy…When officers from other services suddenly start getting promoted, they will obviously be indebted to the political dispensation which has allowed them to grow,” said a senior IAS officer.
T.R. Raghunandan, a retired IAS officer, however, said it is “an outmoded thinking” that only IAS can head ministries.
“All the services are equally good or equally mediocre — any service getting a lifelong advantage on the basis of marks in one exam is just unnecessary. So, it is a good thing that the government is empanelling officers from other services,” Raghunandan said.
“These recommendations have been made several times in the past as well but the earlier governments were a bit wary of the IAS. Now there is no fear of the IAS, so the government is going ahead with it.”