Under Mr. Narendra Modi, cooperative federalism has long been buried
The three letters IAS (for Indian Administrative Service) have a magnetic quality even after 75 years of independence. They represent social status, power, an assured income for about 32-35 years, a lifetime pension, perquisites, medical care and, most often, job satisfaction. A rung or two below is the Indian Police Service (IPS). Nearly 200,000 young men and women go through a process of written exams and interviews to be included among the 400 candidates selected for the two services. Reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and lately Other Backward Classes (totaling no more than 49.5%) has made both services a stretch for millions of students from disadvantaged communities.
The IAS and IPS succeeded, respectively, the ICS and IP under British rule which had acquired the nickname “Steel Frame”. Members of both services render stellar service. Popular opinion, however, is that a number of evils have crept into the services. Among the evils is that some members seek political patronage and the political authority is only too willing to extend that patronage. The steel frame is no longer as solid and straight as one would have liked.
Joyfully broken rules
That aside, the rules that govern the two services are more honored in violation than in observance. Take the ‘Cadre Rules’ which are today the subject of a brewing dispute between the central government on the one hand and several state governments on the other. The IAS Rules (Framework) and IPS Rules (Framework) were developed in 1954 and are similar, but almost all rules are violated in practice.
Article 5 provides for the assignment of members to the various executives. The method followed for many years was transparent, but inflexible. The method has been tweaked from time to time, causing questions and doubts, but the award is reluctantly accepted by many applicants who dare not protest. Rule 7 promises that a senior officer will hold office for the prescribed minimum term, but the rule has been happily ignored by all party-governments and transfers – abrupt, frequent and irrational – have become the norm.
Rules 8 and 9 state that executive and former executive positions must be filled by executive officers and that a non-executive officer can only be appointed to these positions temporarily, but these two rules have been so regularly violated that have, in fact, been repealed. The worst violation is the creation of numerous positions of ex-executives equivalent to executive positions (e.g. Chief Secretary and Director General of Police) and the diversion of “undesirable” officers to fill the positions of old executives.
Doctor, heal yourself
The steel frame is broken. There are worse in store. It will be completely dismantled if the new amendments recently proposed by the central government – and violently opposed by several state governments – are implemented. The First Amendment seeks to address the problem of the “inadequate” number of officers delegated to the central government under the 40% “deputation reserve”. Over the past seven years, the actual ratio has fallen from 28% to 12%. The problem may be real, but the causes are deeper. Unlike in the past when officers competed for central deputies, why don’t officers want to be delegates to the central government?
First, the toxic work culture under the Modi government. Second, working conditions, especially the long wait for a decent home. Third, the excessive centralization of authority within the PMO and the reduction of ministries/departments to mere subordinate offices. The secretaries wait for the PMO every morning to receive instructions. Most of the budget speech paragraphs are written in CPM.
Fourth, the arbitrary assignments of officers (many remember the humiliating transfers made shortly after the change of government in May 2014). Fifth, the flagrant delays in constitution and promotion. The Prime Minister should first address these negative aspects of working in central government.
Assuming the First Amendment is driven by need, it is obvious that the Second Amendment is driven by sheer malice. It will give the central government the power, in “specific situations”, to unilaterally summon any officer to serve under the central government. We know what the “specific situations” will be? The case of a retired West Bengal chief secretary who “failed” to receive the Prime Minister at the airport and the cases of police officers who “failed” to secure the MJP Nadda’s security are fresh in memory.
The appropriate response will be to correct the negative perceptions of service under the Modi government and explore alternative solutions. One suggestion is to increase the number of people recruited each year so that the abundance of officers forces state governments to delegate officers to the central government. Another suggestion is to identify at the time of initial recruitment a small number of volunteer officers as “hard core” and appoint them to serve exclusively under the central government (as was the practice in the IPS).
Under Mr. Narendra Modi, cooperative federalism has long been buried. We have entered the phase of confrontational federalism. If the Modi government is successful, we will have the Indian Beholden Service; the current states will be reduced to mere provinces; and service under the government will be reduced to servitude.