Wednesday, June 29News That Matters

Tussle over officers

As the Central Government contends with a ‘shortage’ of All India Services (AIS) officers in its ministries, it needs to work in a spirit of collaboration with the state governments whose officers it covets. The Centre has proposed four amendments to the rules dealing with the deputation of IAS officers to the Centre, and has sought the views of state governments by January 25. Reports suggest the states are especially upset with two proposed changes: one, new rules will make it mandatory for the states to provide a specific number of IAS officers to the Centre on deputation every year; two, in the case of a disagreement between the Centre and a state, the matter would be decided by the Centre ‘within a specified time’ and ‘the officer shall stand relieved from cadre from the date as may be specified by the Central Government’. This does away with the requirement of a clearance from the state government. Also, the consent of the officers — which is respected as per existing rules — will become irrelevant.

The proposed changes have set the Central Government on a collision course with the state governments, especially the ones ruled by non-BJP parties. The states contend that it is their right to post officers as per their requirements, and that administration and policy implementation would be affected by an annual, compulsory deputation of officers to the Centre. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has argued that the proposed amendments are against the ‘spirit of cooperative federalism’. Kerala’s law minister has said his government would oppose the amendments if they ‘infringed on the cardinal principle of federalism’, while reports from Maharashtra say the government would contest the changes.

Forcing these changes on the states would be against the spirit of federalism. For AIS officers to discharge their duties to the best of their abilities, they must be free of the fear of compulsory posting away from, say, a development project or a politically sensitive case over which the Centre and State might be clashing. In the past, when the Central and state governments have differed over postings of officers, the will of the states has been mostly tolerated. In true democratic spirit, the Centre must devise other means to meet the shortfall of officers, rather than forcibly taking them away from the states.

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