According to Press Trust of India, under the new policy, officers from all India services such as the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Forest Service (IFoS) will have to choose their respective cadre from among the five zones comprising of 26 existing cadres.
At present, officers from these three services are allocated a cadre state to work during their career along with central deputation postings. “While the extent of reform is not clear, definitely it’s a change," said B.K. Chaturvedi, India’s cabinet secretary in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government between 2004 and 2007.
Others were less generous in their comments.
“We think in generality and live in details. The devil lies in the details," said Saurabh Chandra, former petroleum secretary and a 1978 batch Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officer.
Gopal Krishna Pillai, India’s former home secretary and a 1972 batch IAS officer of the Kerala cadre, said while it always helps to have people from different states, the proposed move will not serve the purpose.
“All South Indian officers will choose South Indian states while the North Indian officials will choose the North Indian states. It will become parochial," Pillai added.
The new policy comes in the backdrop of the Narendra Modi government consistently resetting the rules of engagement specifically with reference to the IAS which Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel famously called the “steel frame" of India’s government apparatus.
“Under the new policy, candidates can only select one state/cadre from a zone as their first choice. Their second, third, fourth and fifth choices have to be from the different zones," the PTI report said.
Under the current system, while a third of the officials come from the respective states, two-third are from across the country.
The government’s intent has been articulated by the massive reshuffles of the top levels of the bureaucracy, including secretary-level appointments, and were announced on the website of the department of personnel and training (DoPT), after they were approved by the Appointments Committee of the cabinet.
Some believe that the new policy doesn’t address the parochial malice in the services and the nexus that gets created between the bureaucrats and politicians.
A senior Madhya Pradesh cadre IAS official, who did not wish to be named, said, “This would decrease the happiness quotient as many would feel better in the present system than the proposed one."
“I don’t see it as a major bureaucratic reform. It merely offers the selected candidates the choice of states where they want to go," added P. Uma Shankar, a 1976 batch IAS officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre.
This comes in the backdrop of the NDA government making effective use of bureaucracy to push its economic reforms agenda as the focus shifts to cooperative federalism.
“The nexus needs to be broken. What happens to the promoted cadre who come from state services," asked Chandra, who also served as secretary in the department of industrial policy and promotion.
The NDA government, on its part, has evolved its engagement matrix for the bureaucracy. From the 360-degree review which goes beyond the officer’s annual confidential reports (ACR) to culling of non-performers, the government’s leitmotif on the bureaucratic landscape has become pronounced.
“Earlier ACRs ensured promotions and postings. That’s not the case now," said a serving secretary in a government ministry, requesting anonymity.
As soon as the NDA government assumed office in 2014, in a first, the Prime Minister met 77 top secretaries without their ministers being present in June. Also, 16 groups were created by clubbing related ministries to expedite decisions and reduce the bureaucratic red-tape.
According to the DoPT, the nodal ministry for bureaucratic appointments, four IAS officers, three IPS officers and one IFS officer were dismissed from service during the last three years on grounds such as misconduct and misbehaviour, disproportionate assets, and prolonged unauthorized absence from duty. In addition, one IAS and two IPS officers were prematurely retired on the basis of their performance appraisal reports, vigilance status and service records.
In what is being termed as the final frontier of reforming the Indian bureaucracy, the government is considering its think tank Niti Aayog’s recommendation for lateral entry of specialists in policy making.
Also, the government has instructed all Cadre Controlling Authorities to review the performance and service records of government servants across all levels.
“As per information made available by various Ministries/Departments till May 2017, the service records of 11,828 Group ‘Á’ and 19,714 Group ‘B’ officers have been reviewed so far and provision of premature retirement have been invoked/recommended against 30 Group ‘A’ and 103 Group ‘B’ officers," minister of state in the ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions Jitendra Singh informed the Rajya Sabha on 27 July.
“Government is focussing on integrity and merit based appointments and removing information asymmetry in the process which encourages those who are performing well, sincerely and with integrity," Singh added in his response.