Federalism works on consultations. This profound yet seemingly common piece of wisdom, often quoted, is not confined merely to the Constitution of India and experts, but also the laity.
The working of Indian federalism is fashioned, in a large measure, by the central bureaucracy, in conjunction with their colleagues in the states and it is a system that has stood the test of seven decades, notwithstanding warts and all that.
Now there appears to be trouble for the first time.
The Union government, in planning to acquire for itself overriding powers to transfer IAS and IPS officers through Central deputation, doing away with the requirement of taking the approval of state governments, has thrown the entire system out of gear.
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) wrote to the states on January 12 that the Union government proposes to amend Rule 6 (deputation of cadre officers) of the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules 1954.
The announcement was like a red rag to the bull – the bulls in this case being non-BJP chief ministers. At least six state governments have written to the DoPT opposing any such move, which include those governed by the BJP and its allies.
“This is a disastrous move. Even today, the All-India bureaucracy is under the Centre. Offices are moved in consultation with the state governments and the system has worked fine. The current government wants to do away with consultations,” former Union secretary Anil Swarup, told Moneycontrol.
The aim is basically to emasculate the state, points out this former UP service cadre IAS officer.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the proposed amendment is against the ‘spirit of cooperative federalism’ and the ‘amendment unilaterally mandates the state government to make such a number of officers available for deputation as prescribed under [the] Central Deputation Reserve.’
She has shot off a second letter to the PM this week, making similar charges.
The trigger for such a central move may well lie in West Bengal. Last year, the DoPT had directed the West Bengal Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay to report to its office hours after Mamata Banerjee allegedly skipped a review meeting on cyclone with the prime minister. The 1987-batch IAS officer had never been on Central deputation and was to superannuate on May 31. He is now fighting a case against the Centre.
Non-BJP chief ministers are, naturally, up in arms. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had recently backed his Tamil Nadu counterpart M.K. Stalin’s strong opposition to the draft. The Maharashtra Chief Minister’s office said the government would be opposing the Centre’s proposed amendment.
Former IAS officer, Vijay Shankar Pandey told Moneycontrol: “It is totally unwarranted. It is not needed, except to demonstrate power; power need not be demonstrated. The Central government has overriding powers, and everyone knows it. It is a system that has worked fine. What is the government trying to prove?”According to another officer, with more and more states slipping out of the BJP’s hands, the only way to keep a handle on the situation is to compel the top bureaucracy aligned to its needs – make them accountable to the Centre, instead of the states. He queries: “The question to ask therefore is why don’t officers want to come to Delhi? You will find your answer there."
The central government has made a case of shortage of officers, for introducing these new amendments. But that, says Anil Swarup, is a lame duck excuse. “If the Centre wants an official from the state, it makes a request to the chief secretary. The job is done,” he points out.
According to the DoPT, Bihar has a strength of 248 IAS officers, but only 32 are posted with the Centre. Out of 180 officers in Odisha, 25 are with the central government. In Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, the number of cadre officers and those posted at the Centre stood at 125/20, 322/20 and 536/32, respectively.
As per the ministry of home affairs website, only 10 IPS officers from states have offered themselves to be available for central deputation, including four director general rank officers and only two superintendent of police rank officers.
Four amendments are proposed to Rule 6 – deputation of cadre officers. One of the major changes proposed is if the state government delays posting a state cadre officer to the Centre and does not give effect to the central government’s decision within the specified time, “the officer shall stand relieved from cadre from the date as may be specified by the Central government.” Presently, officers have to get a no-objection clearance from the state government for central deputation.
The other proposal is that the Centre will decide the actual number of officers to be deputed to the central government in consultation with the state and the latter should make the names of such officers eligible.
Currently, states have to depute the All-India Services (AIS) officers, including IPS officers, to the central government offices and at any point it cannot be more than 40 percent of the total cadre strength.The third proposal says that in case of any disagreement between the Centre and the state, the matter shall be decided by the central government and the state shall give effect to the decision of the Centre `within a specified time.’
The fourth suggestion is that in specific situations where services of cadre officers are required by the central government in `public interest’, the state shall give effect to its decisions within a specified time.
The DoPT is the cadre controlling authority of IAS officers. Similar letters have been sent for deputation of Indian Police Service and Indian Forest Service Officers (IFoS) after approval from the ministry of home affairs (MHA) and the environment ministry, respectively.Officials warn that if changes are introduced like this, then it could reach a stage when state governments may keep IAS officers out of the state and use provincial service officers in their place. That, if it were to happen, would do away completely with the notion of a century-old steel frame.