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?
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?
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.