On January 12, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) in a letter to the chief secretaries of all state governments, set out a ‘Proposal for Amendments in IAS (Cadre) Rules, 1954’, saying that an officer whom the Union government wishes to put on deputation would “stand relieved” from his or her respective cadre, irrespective of the concerned state government’s consent within a stipulated time.
These proposed amendments to the IAS (Cadre) Rules would allow the Union government larger control over the deputation of IAS officials. While the DoPT says the amendments seek to overcome the shortage of IAS officers in the Union government, the proposed new rules will also take away the power of states to veto New Delhi’s request for officers.
The proposal has already been labelled ‘draconian’ by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who protested the move. As of now, a total of six states have written to the DoPT opposing the rules.
Currently, states can veto an IAS or IPS officer’s Central deputation, or issue an objection or no objection notice. The proposed amendment would take this power away.
The Union government has given only 12 days to state governments to send their comments, even as five states head for assembly elections. In its letter the DoPT said that the states “are not sponsoring an adequate number of officers for Central deputation”, and the number of officers is not sufficient to meet the latter’s requirement.
There is a feeling among many state governments that the proposed rules will severely affect their ability to implement policies and oppose arbitrary decisions of the Union government.
The amendments have conjured mixed responses from former civil servants, some of whom questioned the need to make the changes.
Wajahat Habibullah, a former chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities and a retired IAS officer, told The Wire, “The cadre had been organized on the lines of a federal civil service, so officers would be working as officers of the state, the services had always been a meeting ground between the federal and the unitary fold of our government”.
With the ability to undermine the state’s control over its officers, the Union government may forcefully transfer officers who are doing good work, he said.
He further said, “My feeling is there should be greater decentralisation within the elected organs of the state, like the Panchayati Raj system. Greater control should be bestowed on people themselves, as was conceptualised during the Rajiv Gandhi government. I wouldn’t sound an alarm on this but if this is being done to gain greater control of the officers then this is not the way to go about it, trying to increase control will have its countereffects, it will weaken the federal nature of the civil services.”
Pointing toward the political nuances of this decision, Yashwant Sinha, the vice president of the Trinamool Congress and a former IAS officer, told The Wire that the BJP government was out to “destroy many fundamentals of the constitution, one of which is federalism”. He said that the present government has narrowed the powers of state governments.
“The idea is to make states as dependent on the Centre as possible. So that they have a strong Centre and the states are only vassals to them. IAS rules have stood the test of time and served the Union and state governments pretty well in the last 75 years, or ever since the constitution came. All India Services (AIS) are the best example under our constitution of cooperative federalism, that is sought to be destroyed,” said Sinha, who was minister of finance and external affairs in the A.B. Vajpayee government.
Sinha sees the AIS service cadre becoming a political football between the Union government and the states. He said that the proposed rules will destroy the autonomy of states, adding that the entire concept of cooperative federalism will go for a toss. “Everything that the BJP does is connected to their one overriding priority – winning elections,” Sinha explained.
R.K. Vij, who recently retired as special DGP of Chhattisgarh, however, said while there is no problem with officers being summoned for Central deputation, the words “specific situation” as written in the amendment are concerning. This suggests that these situations of requirement of Central deputation would be wholly determined by the Union government, he said.