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WILL THE MODI GOVT EMULATE ROHIT SHARMA, VIRAT KOHLI, AND JADEJA?

The government needs to put a stop to the practice of employing retired bureaucrats and giving them piecemeal extensions till eternity. It’s a gross injustice to a horde of officers who retired without ever holding the top job.
Indian Masterminds Stories

India won the T-20 World Cup in the West Indies on June 29, 2024. The next day, three senior players who had performed an important role in India’s victory announced their retirement from the T-20 internationals. They were captain Rohit Sharma, mainstay of India’s batting, Virat Kohli, and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, all known as live-wire fielders. They were at the pinnacle of their career. There was no pressure on them to hang their boots. Yet, they chose to make way for the younger players. 

In an almost coinciding development, UP Cadre IAS officer, Arun Vir Singh’s term was extended for the sixth time. He holds dual charge of Chairman Noida International Airport Limited (NIAL) and Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA). He retired from the IAS in 2019 and has been getting extension after extension. 

Shortly before that, the Intelligence Bureau chief Tapan Kumar Deka too was granted an extension till June 2025. He is a 1988-batch IPS officer of Himachal Pradesh Cadre, appointed as Director of the Intelligence Bureau (DIB) in June 2022 for two years.  

Similarly, the services of the Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Bharat Lal, too, were extended by the Centre for one more year. He is an Indian Forest Services (IFS) officer of the Gujarat Cadre, working in different capacities with PM Modi since 2002-03. 

A couple of days before that, the Modi Government re-appointed 76-years old, retired IAS officer, PK Mishra, as Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and 79-years old, IPS officer, Ajit Doval, as National Security Advisor (NSA) for the third time for five years. Both of them have been serving the Modi government for the past 10 years. 

Before them, Nripendra Mishra was appointed Principal Secretary to the PM in 2014 at the age of 70 years. Ten years later, he is holding dual charge of Chairman of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library as well as Ram Janmabhoomi Trust. 

57 CS TENURES EXTENDED IN 10 YEARS 

The government of India itself has claimed to have extended the tenures of Chief Secretaries 57 times during the past 10 years. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made the submission before an SC bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, Justice DY Chandrachud in November 2023, hearing a case challenging the extension of Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar’s tenure by the Centre. 

Mr Mehta told the court that the union government has all the power to appoint and extend the tenure of the top official given the amended law and other provisions.

RETIRING IN QUEUE

Chief Secretaries in at least half a dozen states including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, UP, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh till recently, have been working on an extended tenure. A look at the above facts gives rise to the question: Is there a dearth of good and competent officers? Or the Modi government doesn’t trust any bureaucrat other than a handful of them. Each extension deprives scores of bureaucrats – waiting in the queue – from holding top positions in a government. 

Each year, UPSC inducts over 175 candidates into the IAS and IRS and over 200 in the IPS. Even if one-fourth of them remain in service and contention for the top position in their respective cadre – DGP & Chief Secretary (in-state), Cabinet Secretary, Home Secretary, ED and CBI chief (at the Centre), each extension granted to a person, results in gross disappointment to over 100 brilliant officers. “Each extension disrupts the chain of command. Each extension results in the elimination of 3-4 batches,” said an officer posted as Secretary to the Government of India. 

Modi government has already introduced objective evaluation of officers besides giving lateral entry to officers of another cadre in normally IAS-held positions like the director and joint secretary. Thus, if an officer isn’t able to perform, there are 100 others to take his position. But, how is it possible that an officer who has risen from the ranks of District Collector to Secretary to the Government of India isn’t thought worthy of being the Cabinet Secretary or the DGP? 

EXTENSIONS GALORE

Extensions have become the hallmark of the Modi government. Some time ago, Director of Enforcement Department (ED) Sanjay Kumar Mishra was given a third extension despite the Supreme Court’s reservations. The appointment was later struck down by the apex court. Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, an IAS officer of the 1984 batch, too has been granted a one-year extension till August 22, 2024. It is his fourth extension as home secretary. 

The Supreme Court too noted in its order on the ED chief’s extension – “Are we not giving a picture that the ED is full of incompetent persons and there is only one person in the country who is competent enough to head the ED and is it not demoralizing the entire force? If I don’t come tomorrow, will the Supreme Court remain shut?”

LONGEST SERVING CAB SEC

After completion of his third extension, the 1982-batch IAS officer of Jharkhand cadre Mr Rajiv Gauba, will become the longest-serving cabinet secretary of the country. Till now, B D Pande had been the longest-serving cabinet secretary from November 2, 1972, to March 31, 1977. Gauba, a former Union home secretary, was in 2019 appointed to the country’s top bureaucratic post for two years. 

He was given one-year extensions in 2021 and then in August last year. The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) has approved an extension in service to Gauba, till August 2024, in relaxation of AIS or All India Services (Death-cum-Retirement Benefits or DCRB) Rules, 1958 and Rule 56 (d) of the Fundamental Rules. 

FIXED TENURES 

But, a more important aspect is the treatment being meted out by these high-ranking officials. The Supreme Court has mandated a fixed two-year tenure to the top positions like DGP, CVC, CBI, and ED Chiefs. This was done to provide them immunity from political influences – to ensure that they were not reshuffled like a pack of cards by their political masters.

Then the Centre started giving piece-meal extensions for one year for a maximum of three times thereby giving them a hope that they can serve at a post for up to five years. They remain only at the mercy of the political masters who can always pull the plug by denying further extension for six months or a year to anyone who decides to go by the book and not by their command. 

“The government needs to do away with the tradition of piecemeal extensions. It needs to extend its services, if needed, at one go – for one year, two years, or five years, whatever tenure it deems fit. But, an extension given in tranches is not a healthy tradition,” says a retired IAS officer.

SC INTERVENTION

 The Supreme Court in a landmark verdict in November 2013 said that fixed tenure of bureaucrats will “promote professionalism, efficiency and good governance.” A petition filed by 85 former government officials led by former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanian, said that the need to give fixed tenure to civil servants was reiterated by every commission or committee in the last 50 years. 

“The Government of India will have to ensure minimum tenure, not just in the Centre but also more importantly, in the States. This is a key necessity, to loosen the day-to-day control of politicians on the decision-making process of the field officials. Unless the Centre finds a viable solution in this regard, much of the exercise will be superficial, and lacking in substance,” the petition said.

WRITTEN ORDERS MUST 

The SC Bench said: “Where in exceptional circumstances, action has to be taken based on oral directions, it is mandatory for the officer superior to confirm the same in writing. The civil servant, who has received such information, in turn, is required to seek confirmation of the directions in writing as early as possible and it is the duty of the officer superior to confirm the direction in writing.”

The Court said that there must be “some records to demonstrate how the civil servant has acted if the decision is not his, but if he is acting on oral directions, instructions, he should record such directions in the file.” After all, if the civil servant is acting on oral directions or dictation of anybody, he will be taking a risk, because he cannot later take the stand the decision was not his own, the Bench added. 

CIRCUMVENTING RULES

Some state governments have started circumventing rules to bypass the SC verdict on the selection process of top posts. The state government needs to send a set of names to the Union Home Ministry for IPS officers for posting as the DGP. The Centre after due diligence sends them to the UPSC which sends back three names, usually the senior ones, for the state government to choose one of them. 

However, state governments have been circumventing the procedure either by not sending the shortlisted names to the Centre or by not selecting one from the Centre’s list. They pick a person of their choice as ad hoc DGP instead of a regular one, which would have required adherence to the laid down procedure. 

LESSONS BEING LEARNT SLOWLY

Modi government does seem to be learning some lessons from the Indian T-20 cricket team. It hasn’t granted a fourth extension to UP Chief Secretary Durga Shankar Mishra and let him retire on June 30. It has also allowed K Kailashnathan, a 1979-batch Gujarat Cadre IAS officer to retire. He was Chief Principal Secretary to the Gujarat Government – a post specially created for him after his retirement in 2013 – for a record 11 years. 

One sincerely hopes that the Modi government in its third stint changes its stripes and starts trusting the bureaucracy at large, giving it its due. 


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