Monday, July 6, 2009

The Civil Services Bill, 2009 And Discriminatory Protection

TO beat the Prime Minister’s 100-day governance agenda, the mandarins in his office are working overtime to evolve an efficient and effective public service to serve the UPA mascot ~ aam aadmi. As part of this new initiative, these reformers have placed on the fast track the enactment of a public service code that will lay down a strict performance evaluation regime for promotions and postings of senior civil servants. But even before the process has been initiated, one breed of civil servants ~ those who hail from ‘God’s Own Country’ ~ seem to be exempt from this code. The Civil Services Bill, 2009, a draft of which is being fine-tuned, will enunciate this code. It will provide for parliamentary scrutiny on all bureaucratic appointments, transfers and postings. It is believed to be an improved version of the Public Service Bill, 2007 which did not materialise during the UPA’s previous dispensation. These provisions will first be applicable to IAS and IPS officers and may later be extended to all services that come under the all-India service category, including the Indian Forest Service.

The Bill, which incorporates various suggestions of the second Administrative Reforms Commission, envisages the setting up of a new Central Public Service Authority (CPSA). It will not only manage the civil services in a professional manner, but also serve the interests of civil servants and citizens through checks and balances.

Fixed tenure

IF the Civil Services Bill becomes an Act in its present form, all bureaucrats will get a minimum fixed tenure of three years. If any bureaucrat is transferred before three years, he or she will have to be compensated for the inconvenience and harassment caused due to such a move. This is a vague provision. What sort of ‘inconvenience and harassment’ can an official claim if he is transferred ten times in three years within the same building and retains the same residence?

As regards the top-level appointments in states, the Chief Secretary and Director-General of Police will be selected out of a panel of suitable candidates by a committee comprising the Chief Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the home minister. Currently, the Chief Minister alone decides on such appointments.

Similarly, the leader of the Opposition will also have a say in the appointment of the Cabinet Secretary who will be selected from a panel by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the home minister. If the government deviates from these norms while appointing bureaucrats, it will have to inform Parliament about the reasons for doing so.

The new Bill will put in place a different kind of performance evaluation system. Unlike the current practice of Annual Confidential Reports which take a panoramic and often prejudiced view of a civil servant’s work, the new performance management system will evaluate officials on their job-specific achievements and the number of tasks that they perform as a team leader in a particular department.

The system will be managed by the CPSA which will work under a chairman whose rank will be equivalent to that of the Chief Election Commissioner. The CPSA, comprising three to five members, will have the power to recommend action against the public servants who do not adhere to the codes and values of public service. The Authority will assist and advise the Centre in all matters concerning the organisation, control, operation and management of public services and public servants.

The CPSA will also be the custodian of the public service code for civil servants. It will be framed to facilitate civil servants ‘in discharging official duties with competence and accountability; care and diligence; responsibility, honesty, objectivity and impartiality; without discrimination and in accordance with the law’. The incubating Public Service Bill, 2007 contained certain Values of Public Services: (a) patriotism and upholding national pride; (b) allegiance to the Constitution and the law of the nation; (c) objectivity, impartiality, honesty, diligence, courtesy and transparency; (d) absolute integrity. It is a travesty that after six decades, a law has to be enacted to inculcate values in our elite civil servants, indeed values that are expected of any ordinary citizen.

The reforms to develop the public services as ‘a professional, neutral, merit based and accountable instrument for promoting good governance and better delivery of services to the citizens’ is a bold and assertive step by the Prime Minister and his team and, therefore, deserves to be welcomed.

Quite the contrary

BUT what is actually happening, presumably with the knowledge of the Prime Minister, is quite the contrary. Of late, a mini-replica of ‘God’s Own Country’ has been created in New Delhi’s corridors of power, originating from the Prime Minister’s Office itself. Almost every conceivable top civil service post has been captured either by those who belong to ‘God’s Own Country’ or speak the language of that ‘land of lagoons’. The list looks endless and impressive ~ National Security Advisor; Secretary to the President of India; Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister; Cabinet Secretary; Home Secretary; Foreign Secretary and the Secretaries to the Government of India in the Departments of Civil Aviation, Coal, Mines, Labour and Employment, Legal Affairs, Overseas Indian Affairs, Urban Development, Space, Textiles and Heavy Industries. It looks as if those who were involved in this process of selection and placement ran out of candidates. Otherwise, the list would have been much longer. These ‘selectors’ are forever alert. In anticipation of the retirement of the incumbent Foreign Secretary at the end of July they have already announced his replacement ~ another lady from ‘God’s Own Country’!

No public service code or reform initiative will have any meaning or credibility if this debilitating parochial inbreeding doesn’t stop. The least that the Prime Minister can do is to submit this ‘parochial’ agenda to parliamentary scrutiny as envisaged in the proposed Civil Services Bill. The question is: will he or can he?