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Millennium Post

Death of the permanent babu

Whatever we might know or not know about our bureaucracy and its working, this much is pretty well known: once an IAS officer, always an IAS officer. From probation until retirement and beyond, IAS officers enjoy the certitude of office and increment like few government jobs can guarantee.
But this could change soon.

In what might be a first, the government has recommended the names of three IAS officers for premature retirement on account of inefficiency.  While these ‘unmade officials’ have gone in for appeal, the final order, if it leads to their compulsory retirement, could change the very basis of a babu’s job: security, perpetuity, permanency.

Though provision for evaluating the performance of officers at senior positions has existed in rulebook, it had never been invoked. And while bureaucrats have been sacked for corruption, never has anyone been chucked out for inefficiency and mediocrity.

Under All-India Service Rule (AIS), amended and notified by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) last year, the Centre has begun the process of reviewing the performance of officers in consultations with the states. As a result of this review process, three officers from the AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram, and union territories) cadre have been identified for premature retirement under this new rule, according to a report in the Hindustan Times.

Here’s what the rule, notified on 31 January last year, says: ‘The central government may, in consultation with the state government concerned, require a member of the service to retire from service in public interest, after giving such member at least three month’s previous notice in writing or three month’s pay and allowances in lieu of such notice.’

Post-notification, the DoPT also issued detailed guidelines to implement the rule: ‘The objective of the rule, firstly, is to weed out officers of doubtful integrity and secondly, to weed out officers who have outlived their utility and have become inefficien t or ineffective.’

Last year, the DoPT made it mandatory for every state to undertake a two-stage performance review of bureaucrats – after 15 and 25 years of service, respectively – and sack those found slack or inefficient.

According to DoPT officials, in notifying the new rule the government has accepted the Veerappa Moily panel’s report on administrative reforms. In 2008, the second administrative reform commission (ARC), headed by the senior Congress leader, had recommended sacking of government officers after 20 years of service if they are found to be inefficient.

The 10th ARC report – Refurbishing of Personnel Administration – said that all public servants should be subjected to two intensive reviews: first on completion of 14 years and then after putting in 20 years of service.

‘Their (bureaucrats’) continuance beyond 20 years will depend on the outcome of these reviews. It should be expressly provided that all new recruitment will be for a period of 20 years and their continuance beyond that would depend on intensive reviews,’ the report said. What also seems to have forced the hands of the DoPT this time, according sources in the department, is the push from prime minister Manmohan Singh, who had originally mooted the idea of invoking the rules in the first place after he assumed office in 2004.

‘With IAS officers presiding at all decision-making positions, do you think this could have happened without a push from the prime minister’s office?’ remarked a DoPT official on condition of anonymity.
Cagey welcome by ex-bureaucrat.

‘It’s undoubtedly good news, if it’s true,’ said Nirpender Mishra, a former bureaucrat who retired as chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

‘The government could sack bureaucrats for their inefficiency even (earlier) without the amendment but it chose not to ever do that. So I’m not sure even now new notification will change anything. But, yes, it will be good for Indian bureaucracy if it does help weed out inefficient officers.’

Fellow former bureaucrat Mukesh Kacker also welcomed the move but said he remains skeptical about its enforcement. ‘To implement this notification, which aims to bring efficiency, will need efficiency on part of the government,’ he said. PS Bawa, former president of Transparency International’s India chapter, said senior bureaucrats in higher echelons will strongly oppose implementation of the rule. Explaining that the level of Inefficiency in a bureaucrat peaks about five years before he/she is due for retirement, Bawa said, ‘During this period, the officer, looking at post-retirement benefits, cuts deals with political masters and hence forgets about his primary duty. Now if this bureaucrat was to be judged on his performance, he will definitely fall into the category of inefficient. So obviously he would not want such a rule (to be) enforced.’

Bawa is, however, optimistic that it is a step in the right direction. ‘The logic sounds good and it is very much required. If implemented sincerely, it will go a long way in cleansing the system,’ he said.
P Krishnan, who retired as social welfare department secretary, also shared Bawa’s optimism: ‘Certainly it is a very good first step towards addressing the slackness and inefficiency in higher echelons of the government.

However, the government should give bureaucrats an opportunity to explain their side. If it does not, the rule could be challenged in the court.’

The amended rules and detailed guidelines from the DoPT do look very promising on paper.   ‘Premature or compulsory retirement contemplated by the aforesaid rule is designed to infuse the administration with initiative and it merely seeks to strike a just balance between the termination of the completed career of a tired employee and maintenance of top efficiency in the diverse activities of administration.’

According to the rule, the state governments are required to carry out a review in respect of (i) all officers who have completed 15 years of qualifying service; (ii) all officers who have completed 25 years of qualifying service or attained the age of 50 years, or whichever is earlier, (iii) in case of state service officers appointed to an All-India Service by promotion or by selection, they should have completed a minimum of 5 years of actual service in the respective All-India Service.

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