‘Attack on federalism’: Ex-bureaucrats on Union govt move to ‘snatch’ IAS officers

Faced with a shortage of bureaucrats in central deputation, the Union government is planning to amend existing rules so that they have more powers than state governments.
Modi in front of camera with folded hands
Modi in front of camera with folded hands

The Union government wants to change the service rules for All India Services (AIS) officers in such a way that they no longer need the consent of state governments, when it comes to deputation of officers for Union government roles. This proposal has triggered a row with several Chief Ministers and political leaders questioning the government on taking power away from state governments. Several bureaucrats who spoke to TNM say that while there is a genuine shortage of officers for Union government functions, this method of ‘snatching’ officers from state governments is unhelpful, and against cooperative federalism. 

IAS officers are bureaucrats who pass the Union Public Service Commission exams, and while joining the service, they have to pick a ‘cadre’ — the particular state or states where they want to work. While the selection of officers is done through the UPSC exams, for every other practical purpose, these officers are under the state governments where they work. However, the Union government also needs bureaucrats for their ministries, and these bureaucrats are ‘borrowed’ from various state cadres with the consent of the respective state governments. 

Rule 6 of IAS (Cadre) Rules, 1954, currently says that any IAS officer could be posted on ‘central deputation’ with the concurrence of the state government concerned. The Union government now wants to amend this rule, to remove the need for the state government’s consent to transfer the officer.

Curbing freedom of officers and state governments

According to reports, one of the major proposed changes in Rule 6 of the IAS (Cadre) Rules, 1954 is that the state must ensure that state cadre officers are posted to the Union government within a time period specified by the latter. The amendments also propose that in case of any disagreement between the Union government and the state, the former would take the final call and the state must follow orders.  

The amendments could seriously impact the federal structure of the country, by tilting the Union-state power dynamic more toward the Union government. EAS Sarma, a retired bureaucrat who held senior positions in the Andhra Pradesh government  and was Secretary to the Government of India as well, says, “Of late, the Union government has taken several measures that tend to intrude into the federal domain of the states. The latest attempt on it's part to tinker with the IAS Cadre Rules is a part of that tendency.”

The new amendments will also drastically curb the individual freedoms of the IAS officers, forcing them to take up deputation work against their will, says retired IAS officer MG Devasahayam. 

“The amendments will offer undue advantage to the Union government. They can take away officers who are happy working under state governments and put them on central deputation. And secondly, if a particular IAS officer does not comply with the ruling party at the Union government, they can shift them to a post directly under they control, forcing them to conform,” he says. 

“Officers, even district collectors or deputy collectors, can be affected by this, as the amendments will give the Union Government direct control over them, shifting power away from the state,” Devasahayam adds. 

Similarly, state governments too may be forced to give up officers engaged in critical work within the state, or exceptional talent and high ranking officials to the Union government. 

“There is a fear that the Union government can arbitrarily call officers engaged in critical work on central deputation. For example, what if the state has to suddenly give up the Health Secretary, ie, an IAS officer managing the pandemic in the whole state. This could impact the administrative functioning of the state. These are some concerns,” Devasahayam explains. 

How the present system works

Government officials in India are divided into three categories or services — Central Services, State Services, and All India Services or AIS. As the name suggests, officers under the Central and State services come under the control of the Union and state governments respectively. 

But AIS works differently. AIS consists of Indian Administrative Services (IAS), Indian Police Services (IPS) and Indian Forest Services (IoFS) officers. They are recruited via the UPSC or Union Public Service Commission examinations. Once recruited, these officers are deputed to the cadres of the state governments. 

Essentially, the Union government only does cadre management. The AIS officers are deputed to different states — each state has its own cadre of bureaucrats eg: there is a Tamil Nadu cadre, Kerala cadre, Karnataka cadre etc. 

“Once an officer is deputed to the cadre of a state, the entire control and management including salary, transfers and postings, disciplinary action etc lies with the state government. It is the state government that decides whether a particular officer can work under the Union government as part of Central Deputation Services,” explains former Karnataka cadre IAS officer S Sasikanth Senthil. 

AIS officers who want to work under the Union government can request the state government to relieve them from the cadre. The state government will issue the officer a no-objection certificate or NOC, and the officer can then apply to the Union government which will then review the application and proceed. 

Why there is a shortage of officers

Retired bureaucrats say that the issue of shortage of officers on central deputation is genuine. “The number of intakes were cut down in the ‘90s. In the ‘80s, the number used to be between 120 and 160, which was cut down to 40 to 50 a year. This has brought down the number of officers in the IAS altogether. The IAS cadre is supposed to have 6,400-odd strength, but now only has 4,000-odd officers,” says PV Ramesh, a former IAS officer who had served as Additional Chief Secretary to the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister.

“It is indicated in the All India Services Act, 1951, that the state government should sponsor a percentage of their cadre strength for central deputation. However, none of the state governments ever sponsor the whole quota. There is also no mandatory rule that states should offer the entire suggested quota of officers to the Union government,” says Sasikanth. 

According to sources, this has led to a shortage of All India Services officers on central deputation, with the Union government having to post Central Services officers in the Income Tax Department and Railways to positions reserved for the IAS officers. 

PV Ramesh explains that a third of the officers above a certain level are expected to be in central deputation, and that's how cadre strength is determined, to ensure a balance between the state and Union governments. “However, many states are not prepared to part with officers, so there is a shortage of officers in the Union government,” he says. 

There are also talks of IAS officers not wanting to shift from the cadres to central deputation under the current dispensation, resulting in fewer IAS and IPS officers volunteering to go on central deputation for a period of their careers.

While this paucity of AIS officers at the Union government is a legitimate concern, its arbitrary move to amend the existing law to coerce the state government to give away AIS officers is wrong on many levels, says retired IAS officer MG Devasahayam. 

The present system is not without problems. Politicisation of the services is a frequent occurrence. “For example, if an officer gets allotted to a state and spends the rest of their career there, how can they call themselves an all-India service? Secondly, officers could develop political interests in the state and become bigger politicians than politicians themselves. There is no incentive then, to go to the Union government, as they can wield so much power in the state,” Ramesh argues. 

“Those who wield this power, particularly in states ruled by regional parties, have never been and don't want to go to the Union government. This has led to a serious vested interest and distorted the character of the all-India services,” he adds.  

However, the new amendments, former bureaucrats believe, will further erode the spirit of cooperative federalism and curb the freedom of the officers. 

Impact on Cooperative Federalism

“India is a nation of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, cultural and linguistic characteristics that calls for a specialised civil service to administer each state. While there is no doubt the need for an all-India character of the services in certain matters like service conditions, security of service and a national outlook, the AISs should have experience and a sense of belonging that is state-specific,” EAS Sarma argues. 

Stating that the latest amendments mooted by the Union government tend to “alter this character, give undue authority to the Union government over the services in the matter of postings, deputation and so on,” he says that this runs counter to the spirit of federalism. “The Union government once again is crossing the lakshman rekha of federalism, which does not augur well for the well-being of the nation," he adds.

“The ideal solution is to convene a meeting with the heads of states and request for more officers to be put on central deputation. The Chief Ministers are sure to comply with the needs of the Union government. However, instead of taking this route - involving consultation with states - the Union government straightaway attempts to choke the states, and make arbitrary laws that could ruin the federal fabric of India,” Devasahayam adds. 

Ramesh too, says that while there is a genuine problem of shortage of officers, “this attempt is again an incomplete and unsatisfactory exercise which doesn't address the root of the problem at all.” He argues that a crucial decision must be made. 

“Officers must make a choice if they want to be an all-India service or a provincial service. The government needs to decide once and for all whether officers should be chosen and allotted to one state or should have an all-India character. They have to establish a mechanism,” he says. 

Elections 2023

No stories found.
The News Minute