The prime minister’s patience is running out with the civil bureaucracy and there is a general feeling that the time for specialists, instead of generalists that civil servants are, has arrived.
On January 13, the Yogi Adityanath-led government in UP passed a proposal to introduce the police commissioner system in two major cities of the state, Lucknow and Gautam Buddha Nagar (Noida).
These two vast cities now join New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai, which also boast of the commissionerate system of policing. "The biggest step towards police reform has been taken by our government today,” the UP chief minister was quoted as telling reporters.
In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first term and in now the second, there have been periodic reports of senior officers getting ticked off at meetings in South Block because the effort of the government doesn’t seem to percolate down towards its intended recipients. In other words, the prime minister’s patience is running out with the civil bureaucracy and there is a general feeling that the time for specialists, instead of generalists that civil servants are, has arrived.
Process of downgrading
The point at stake therefore is this: Is the process of downgrading the all-powerful IAS underway? Consider the following:
***The introduction of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) (Gen. Bipin Rawat) puts immediate breaks on the unbridled powers of the Union defence secretary. The newly-created CDS wears two hats: One, as the permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which has the three service chiefs as members, and the other as head of the newly-created Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The former is a military role while the latter is a prominent role in the government. It is as the head of DMA that his major responsibilities within the ministry will be discharged.
The charter of duties of the DMA was so far looked after by the Department of Defence, which is headed by the Defence Secretary, who is also the secretary in-charge of the MoD. Work exclusively pertaining to military matters will fall within the purview of the DMA while the MoD will deal with larger issues pertaining to the defence of the country.
So despite the gazette notification issued on December 30, 2019, which says that the Department of Defence headed by the defence secretary will be responsible for the “defence of India and every part thereof, including defence policy and preparation for defence and all such acts as may be conducive in times of war to its prosecution and after its termination to effective demobilisation,” there is going to be wide-ranging sharing of power in the defence system, the likes of which have not been witnessed in India in the last seven decades.
***The Modi regime is pursuing the idea of introducing more lateral entries into the government, with a vengeance. In April 2019, for the first time, nine private sector experts were selected for appointment as joint secretaries in central government departments under the lateral entry mode.
Usually, candidates for the posts of joint secretaries are selected by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) through the civil services examination. To ensure the same standards, the entire process of the selection of these experts was conducted by the UPSC. Under the lateral entry mode, experts from the private sector are appointed in government organisations on a contract basis for a period of three years.
Now, this effort is poised to get a further boost. The government is all set to expand the lateral entry of experts into the civil service through its think tank, NITI Aayog. Officials say that they plan to advertise about 50 positions in NITI Aayog at different levels, including directors, joint secretaries and additional secretaries.
While NITI Aayog has recruited consultants on contracts in the past, the new posts would be at par with regular government servants. According to one count, there are 54 positions out of a total of 516 for which lateral recruitment has been cleared. The posts are recognised as ‘flexi-pool posts’.
One of the main functions of the NITI Aayog is to coordinate with other ministries for policy-making. Since a number of ministries would not take communications from consultants seriously, the new recruits will have the same designations as regular IAS officers.
This trend of breaking the monopoly of IAS officers at the top, which began in 2014, is getting increasingly pronounced. The Modi government, for instance, has been empanelling a number of non-IAS officers to become Union secretaries, finally raising expectations of non-IAS cadres – who are also specialists in their fields – to get a shot at heading ministries in their domains. In December 2019, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet empanelled four non-IAS officers as secretaries and the trend could well continue this year as well.
To be sure, empanelling is far removed from actual appointment as Union secretary, but a direction is on the anvil. The comparison with the previous government is worth examining. Between 2010 and 2014, no non-IAS officer was empanelled as Union secretary. Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, two non-IAS officers were empanelled as secretaries. In 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 likewise, four, six, two and six officers were empanelled as Union secretaries, respectively. The proof of the pudding has to lie in the eating: If a revenue or forest service officer has been empanelled, there is no reason why they should not head the finance and environment ministries, where their domain expertise can be put to good use.
In UP, the contentious police commissionerate system has been cleared after huge resistance from the state’s powerful IAS lobby. District magistrates are left only with revenue-related work and decisions regarding law and order will be taken by police commissioners. With the UP Police regularly conducting encounters and the severity used in handling the recent anti-CAA/NRC protestors in the state, charges of `police raj’ have been levelled against the BJP government.
IAS officers say they, and not police officers, are trained to deal with the public. For the public to approach the police is therefore a travesty of justice. They predict that the commissionerate system will not be successful because people prefer going to district magistrates and sub-divisional magistrates for redressal of their grievances and would not feel comfortable in interacting with police officials. The die in UP has, however, been well and truly cast. What’s more important, this system could be further expanded in the state.
Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.
Read his columns here.
First Published: IST