The bureaucratic ladder<br />Nepotism In Senior Appointments <br />Corruption is sweeping the nation, recalling De Jouvene...
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Bureaucratic ladder article

  1. 1. The bureaucratic ladder<br />Nepotism In Senior Appointments <br />Corruption is sweeping the nation, recalling De Jouvenel’s “society of sheep (that) must in time beget a government of wolves?” The Government of India now has 100 Union ministers, up from 18 in 1947. Persistent bureaucratic failures and instances of corruption have frequently been highlighted by the media and the Comptroller and Auditor-General, the Central Vigilance Commission, and the Central Bureau of Investigation. <br />The rapid politicisation of the civil services has been matched by a faster reduction of transparency in matters of appointment to strategic posts. The age-old argument advanced by a powerful segment of the bureaucracy is that specialised Central services and experts of the “non-service” domain lack exposure and the perceived wisdom to address issues of governance. <br />The Prime Minister and the Home minister recently spoke of the twin deficits of ethics and governance. Reform, therefore, must begin at the top decision-making levels.  Nandan Nilekani at present and NP Sen, Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, SS Bhatnagar, K Zachariah, PC Mahalanobis, S Gopal and Mantosh Sondhi in the past, are outstanding examples of people who have/had  joined the government without the baggage of the past. Even among bureaucrats, the names of LK Jha, IG Patel, Sir Girija Bajpai, NR Pillai, Arun Roy, S Ranganathan, V Narahari Rao and Subimal Dutt come readily to mind. Not all of them belonged to the same civil service. They were men of sterling integrity, officers who did not suffer from the “deficits of ethics and governance”. With their extensive domain knowledge and courage of conviction, they created institutions and formulated policy. <br />The government needs to reintroduce the practice of appointing experts from outside on a regular basis to strategic posts in the Central Secretariat (CS). This will stem the systemic rot. If we have doubts about the integrity of such experts, let us not forget the dubious integrity and patriotism of the black sheep within the civil services at present.  <br />Those who drafted the Constitution had envisaged a strong Centre. Yet the states were not deprived of their rights. The all-India services, such as the IAS and IPS served as a bridge between the states and the Centre. The Central services were created to ensure specialization within the government. A common management pool was created in the Fifties to which many officers were seconded. They functioned in tandem to create the infrastructure and introduce welfare measures. Over the decades, this system was denuded for a variety of reasons. Cosmetic reforms have benefited a chosen few and it is in this context that the recent lament of the Prime Minister and Home minister must be considered. This has brought about a sense of deja vu and indifference. Appointments to the level of Joint Secretaries should be effected on the basis of the officers’ domain knowledge, integrity and professional competence. Unless some of the major pitfalls are addressed, reforms will remain grounded in the politics of patronage and nepotism and the country will be ranked poorly in terms of development and corruption, indeed a national shame.<br />At present, all officers, upon completing the specified years of service, are eligible for appointment to the Centre as Deputy Secretary under the Central Staffing Scheme (CSS). On paper, the CSS seeks to draw the best from all services and create a pool of competent officers. Officers of more than 35 services are screened and retained on the panel for a year. These officers are then grouped into panels of two/three each and deputed to the ministries. At the end of their tenure, all-India service officers revert to their states while those of the Central services return to their parent departments. Thereafter, they are ineligible for empanelment under the CSS for a period of three years ~ a period that may be waived by the government at its discretion. However, the decision to retain or deny empanelment to civil servants is not based on any transparent or published parameters. Instead these are opaquely judged by a committee of secretaries (CoS) that occasionally has a non-IAS member. Even service cadre controllers are not aware of the benchmark for empanelment. A ludicrous aspect is that if an officer is not empanelled by the CoS, he/she has the right to petition the Central Administrative Tribunal even as cadre controllers are blissfully unaware of the reasons for their own officer’s unsuitability, let alone the officer himself! In many cases, an officer is declared fit for promotion to a higher pay grade in his parent service but not empanelled under the CSS. Yet there are many others, as in the recent case of the CVC, who are not eligible for promotion but nonetheless, move up the ladder.  Panels for every post  are drawn from the CSS pool by the Civil Services Board (CSB) chaired by the Cabinet Secretary with the Secretary (personnel) and the Secretary of the ministry. The members of the CSB are invariably IAS officers. Here too, there is a provision that permits ministries to request the CSB to include the name of a particular officer on the panel for final selection by the minister-in-charge. There is no adverse reference. Even vigilance approvals are fudged as is evident from the recent CVC case. <br />The deliberations of the CSB are subject to confirmation by the MoS (Personnel). If the latter’s favorite is not on the panel, the minister may not confirm the minutes of the meeting, and exert pressure on the CSB to amend the minutes or prepare a fresh panel. If there is a deadlock, the post remains vacant for several months. If, however, the MoS (Personnel) confirms the recommendations of the CSB, the approved panel of two/three officers is sent to the minister concerned. Here too, the minister may select an officer without any recorded reasons or return the panel to the CSB for including his/her favourite. How is it possible that a ministry charged with monitoring the private sector, has top officers drawn from a particular state cadre of the IAS ? The officer’s proximity to a minister, rather than merit, is the determinant for a senior appointment. Merit and diversity of officers from various services are usually ignored in favour of an IAS officer.  The role of the PMO is another factor. If it doesn’t agree with the minister’s recommendation, it may select another officer from the same panel or simply include any other name it finds suitable. Websites and magazines often speculate on senior appointments. And the predictions turn out to be true. Obviously the names are leaked from on high. Over the decades, the civil service has become powerful, clannish, corrupt, grossly inefficient and insufferably arrogant. The minister is no less responsible. In the words of Gibbon, he is “an absolute monarch, rich without patrimony, charitable without merit”. <br />India needs to salvage its national pride, character, economy, society and sagging international reputation. Reforms must begin at the top. To quote Cicero: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within ... the traitor is the plague.” <br />