Monday, 4 July, 2022
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Midnight orders and hurried transfers: Where Modi govt is going wrong with IAS officers

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Enormous delays in postings, shifting of top IAS officers and short tenures — a lot is amiss in Modi government.

Is the case of two ‘meticulously selected’ IPS officers to head the CBI a reflection of a deeper malaise that has afflicted the civil service? Is it just the tip of the iceberg? Is there something wrong with the process of selection? Despite a much-touted 360-degree assessment, why are so many senior officers being shifted so often? There are many more such questions that beg answers.

Why was Rupak Dutta, an IPS officer with impeccable credentials and with a long tenure in the CBI, shifted and attached to the home ministry? Why wasn’t he considered for the post of director? Why were Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana brought to the CBI when they had no experience of working in the organisation? Were competence and integrity not the criteria to select officers on these critical and sensitive posts? Were they not assessed through a ‘360-degree’ evaluation?

As many as 17 ministries/departments have each had four-five secretaries or more during the past four years. Not all these postings were necessitated on account of superannuation. The social sector has suffered the most. The rural development ministry has had five secretaries, same as the case with crucial ministries/departments like health and school education. How can these sectors develop with such frequent changes at the top?

Also read: Modi govt is very ‘unstable’ for top IAS secretaries, transfers them too often and abruptly

Secretaries are supposed to be selected after due diligence (read 360-degree). If that was the case, then why were two home secretaries – L.C. Goyal and Anil Goswami shifted even before they could complete their tenure of two years? Some other changes were equally baffling. Vrinda Sarup, rated as one of the finest IAS officers and with a very high experience in the school education sector, was shifted out suddenly. J.S. Deepak, then secretary, telecom, was attached to the ministry of commerce in an overnight order while he was representing the country at an international conference in Barcelona. Anuj Bishnoi who was ultimately considered fit for Central Administrative Tribunal, was shifted three times during his tenure as secretary. Why was C.K. Mishra shifted out of the ministry of health and family welfare? And if he wasn’t good enough, how did he end up getting the ministry of environment and forest?

A large number of public sector undertakings (PSUs) have been left headless and without directors for months together, adversely impacting the performance of these entities. Coal India Limited is one such example where the absence of a CMD has created havoc. The coal sector was going through a serious crisis on account of coal shortages till 2014. The infamous coal scam was an outcome of this shortage. However, this was turned around on account of the outstanding contribution of Sutirtha Bhattacharya who headed the company for three years. Coal production saw an unprecedented jump in the years 2014-15 and 2015-16 primarily on account of his efforts. The incremental growth of 32 million tonnes was more than the cumulative growth during the previous four years. However, on completion of his tenure, Coal India Limited was left with an officiating chairman for more than a year. The consequences are there for everyone to see. There is yet again an acute shortage of coal in the country. The situation is gradually improving because there is a full-time CMD now. This is true of a number of public sector undertakings.

Every time one interacted with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one could not but be impressed with his sincerity of purpose and clarity of thought. The intent was always there and this reflected in his thought, expression and action. There were indeed some brilliant initiatives and decisions. The setting up of secretaries’ groups, getting trainee IAS officers for a three-month stint in Delhi, posting of some senior level officers well ahead of the retirement of the previous incumbent, amendment to Section 13(1)(d)(ii) of the Prevention of Corruption Act were indeed praiseworthy and reflected the positive intent of the Prime Minister in the context of human resource management. But then, where did it all go wrong? Why and how did human resource management get messed up? Who is advising the Prime Minister in taking these crucial decisions that are repeatedly going wrong?

Also read: Hiring non-IAS officers as joint secretaries may be too radical a step for India

The answer perhaps lies in the humongous task of managing India’s army of civil servants. With almost everything getting concentrated in the hands of a few civil servants, the task has become too big to handle. This has also led to enormous delays in decisions related to postings resulting in vacancies for long durations. There is indeed something amiss. Can some of the work be delegated to different levels? Will it help? Can competence and integrity, and not allegiance, become the criteria for selection? These are, as they say, million dollar questions that beckon answers. Only those that matter can perhaps answer them. However, before they are answered, someone will have to muster the courage to ask these questions.

The author is a retired civil servant and former secretary in the government of India.

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  1. What is missing in the article is solution. We have large number of services and other than IAS there are little opportunities to work beyond allocated service.This creates artificial scarcity of choices at higher echelons. Further it reduces competition within jurisdiction of each service. It also deprives country of innovations and new ideas as tradition of each service dominates the work culture. It might be worth experiment to expose each service officer to work situation of his or her batchmates at least 3 years in at least two services within ist 15 years of service. Further on completion of 25 years of service, service tags should be done away by law. This will give a far larger pool of experienced officers as choice to government and also ensure inefficient are weeded out.

  2. With regards to Mr.C.K.MISRA, I would like to point out to the author whether his transfer is related to the cabinet berth change of his minister Dr. Harshavardhan. Both were in the health ministry initially and both have been shifted out to the same ministry. I do not think the problem was that they did not get along. I think the problem was that both the minister and his secretary did something right and started taking action.
    My guess is that action got them kicked out of the health ministry.
    Most likely, the action was initiation of investigation into AIIMS, Delhi based on the report of the vigilance officer (I cannot recollect his name), who has submitted an extensive report. This report was actually known to the previous health minister under UPA 2, Ghulam Nabi Azad. When Harshavardhan came in, he innocently went about his job without knowing what he was getting into. This created a huge ruckus and he was transferred along with his secretary and replaced by JP NADDA, who does not know shit about health and medicine (except that taught by Sangh Parivar, of course.) Later events like the closeness of Dr. Randeep Guleria, director of AIIMS with Arun Jaitley etc reveals that corruption is there and both UPA and BJP members were part of it in this one matter.

  3. IAS officers have the strongest association among employees. What is the problem in transferring them ? I feel the magazine publishing the article is biased against Modi.

  4. Absolutely agree with the writer, regarding the unwarranted overnight shifting of the then Special Director , CBI, Mr RK Dutta IPS , the most experienced & competentofficer of CBI in the country .
    The rot in CBI set in from the day he was removed, & still continues .

  5. the reason why 1982 batch communications was shunted since his car’s log book was being misused by his 2 daughters from going to greater noida and gurugram, day in and day out. this was published in Governance Today. Print itself is a biased magazine.

  6. The problem lies in the manner all the decision making gets concentrated in PMO. That leaves all the ministers and civil servants irresponsible and lazy. This explains the irrationality in implementation of the government initiatives. As every decision is imposed from above, a languid bureaucracy washes off it’s hands and awaits orders from above. The centralised system despite the good intentions of the head of the government suffers due to the natural corrupting consequence of concentration of power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. However well meaning the leader is, he cannot run a democratic government as a one man show. Even in a country like USA the president has limitation and he must work within the system. Modi appears to have started with a misconception that he can set things right by having some key men in some positions. The article highlights the malaise in civil service. If you consider the fight that the then Chief Justice of india had to waged to get the judicial appointment expedited, you will realise that the government was acting in all such matters including judicial appointment to satisfy the fancy of one individual. There was no systemic approach nor a collective decision effort. The cabinet has been a farce.

  7. The article itself is contradictory and a bit confused. While the author credits Mr. Modi for various good initiatives, the article targets another or group of civil servant(s). One can also say the bureaucrats become more vocal after retirement to talk ill of the government in which they were part of till yday. Is it because of any personal interest that has not been fruitful? Transfers are part and parcel of civil service and Bureaucrats who in the earlier regime were controlling the show are being made accountable. That is the reason for the current instability of IAS under Modi regime. It is now perform or perish.

  8. I feel High level secretaries in the central ministry ,,they think they are the only one have great knowledge of everything, they don’t want to adjust or try new ideas in their ministry. They lack foresight.,interested only in their personal life.because of them all.govt schemes failing. They don’t take care about the society.There are few officers are upright and think of the development of our country.All the decisions are carried out by them,,they don’t follow up.Only sincere officers are need of this movement

  9. Problem with Mr Modi is two-fold: 1) he has not learnt to take “power” in his stride, 2) he has not learnt that Hindutva is a peace-time indulgence, and not an action cry.

    From the first part above emanates his personal slogan: “can do, will do”. He still views his immense power as the prime minister with awe. A vague equivalent will be the comparison between “old affluent” and “nouveau riche”. A person who has been rich for a long time can behave like a commoner with ease, but a person who has come into riches only recently must flaunt his riches at the slightest opportunity. Mr Modi behaves like a “nouveau powerful”, so he keeps flaunting his power in — some may say, “sickening” — ways. Like midnight transfers, midnight sackings, etc.

    Beside reveling in “can do, will do” horseplay, Mr Modi suffers from delusions that this country belongs to, and should be governed by the Hindutva faithfuls. That could be another reason for his distrust of anyone and everyone who occupies a seat of power in this country. Mr Modi keeps looking for people with such “qualifications”, so all appointments get delayed, and also appointees get “changed” if one fine morning Mr Modi discovers that the incumbent is not Hindu enough, whatever that means. Sushma Swaraj once went out of her way to help a Muslim couple with their passport, so I’m sure in Mr Modi’s book she is not Hindu enough. Narrow-mindedness is a hallmark of Mr Modi type of Hindus.

    This is a very well written article, and Mr Anil Swarup’s familiarity and empathy with his subject clearly shows through. Congratulations to him.

  10. The government should not be faulted for transfer and retransfer of IAS/ All India Service Officers.If any grievance is there , they may raise internally with Cabinet Secretary. They don’t have courage to raise grievance because of their own making.Most of them do not develop suitably in their career and are changing colours that leave them vulnerable.

  11. Many have noted the acute talent crunch amongst ministers, with gym instructors becoming CMs. That cannot be redressed overnight. However, the steel frame is largely intact, is a storehouse of talent and dependable competence. If an HRD Minister is starting on a clean slate, she needs a Secretary like Ms Vrinda Sarup to run the show for her, almost keeping the ministry on autopilot, while she builds up her political base in Amethi. If, as the column suggests, the second wheel too is wobbling, the chariot is bound to go off track.

  12. I almost agree with what is written here but one most important aspect is personality and personal traits ,I mean behaviour pattern of minister matters most.Ministers should able to understand the issue it’s back ground and future implication. This needs some intelligence , knowledge and common sense. No one can get just push the matters through authority ,abbrassive RSS and arrogance. In the first 10 years of independence ,we have seen where ministers and officers were on same page in almost all issues. We had seen where both sides disagreed in principle but sailed together. Also extreme cases where ministers had final say. One example is resignation of RBI governor Sri Benegal Ramarao resigned at the ulterior Ego of TTK ,then finance minister. Of late we have ministers with their own penchant.

  13. Courage is lacking is wrong.One can always ask a question of a wise and intelligent person. Here is a guy who can be described as Supreme Leader with cowdung for brains and has been touted as avataar of Vishnu and worshipped by Bhakts. And therefore God’s ways are different from those of ordinary mortals and how can anyone question Him?

  14. That was a wonderful analysis Mr. Swarup but the questions you have raised still remain questions. ‘ThePrint’ should take your posers to the PMO. Let us see if or how they react???

  15. Bcas max officers are Cong sponsored
    Similarly judiciary also full of Cong sycophants
    If these officers worked properly our country would be on top
    But they all are busy in minting money from poor Indians.

  16. Sri.Modiji is absolutely correct. For achieving his set of goals. If anything less in that also media will blame.
    Nowadays media is not focusing on his succes.
    One must appreciate Sri.Modiies sincere efforts at everything from the first day of as PM.

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