New Delhi: Rajiv Gauba, currently secretary in the ministry of home affairs, will be India’s new cabinet secretary - the most powerful position in the country’s civil service.

An Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the 1982 Jharkhand batch and will join the Cabinet Secretariat as a Officer on Special Duty.

He will take over from Pradeep Kumar Sinha, a 1977 batch Uttar Pradesh-cadre IAS officer, who had succeeded Ajit Seth.

Gauba has also been credited as being the architect of labour reforms in Jharkhand and helping bring down violence in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas in the mineral rich state.

“So labour, if you look at the labour law, people normally don’t want to touch them because they think that labour reforms are anti-labour. Labour reforms are generally thought of as pro-capital, pro-business and anti-labour," Gauba told Mint in an earlier interview when he was Jharkhand’s chief secretary.

“So what we did in labour laws is that shops and establishments which have less than 10 employees – like a tea shop or a kirana shop they also have the same requirement of submitting annual return- exempt them completely. So shops and establishments with less than 10 employees have no requirement of maintaining registers or submitting annual returns," he added.

Some of the features of the landmark reform carried out by Jharkhand included; self-certification and third party inspection wherein a business has to get self-audited by a third party annually and a self-certification submitted even if no inspection does not take place.

“So the onus is on you and we have to move towards a culture where a citizen or a businessman has to feel responsible," Gauba said.

Gauba has also been credited by the work done by him during his stint in the ministry of environment and forests.

“I used to tell Jairam Ramesh that here you don’t give clearance to make dams because we are doing a study whereas look at China which has made such a huge dam. Similarly mining has been stopped because carrying capacity study is being done. You can do things in environmentally sustainable manner rather than putting blanket bans," he said in the earlier interview.

Gauba, a physics graduate from Patna University, is moving to the cabinet secretariat at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government has scrapped Article 370, which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir, with tension spilling over in the valley.

“The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has approved the appointment of Shri Rajiv Gauba, IAS (JH:1982) as Cabinet Secretary with a tenure of two years from 30.08.2019 or until further orders, whichever is earlier," the Department of Personnel and Training said in its order.

While the position is for two years, under the present rules of service, there is an enabling provision of an extension, granting four years of tenure.

Gauba’s appointment also comes in the backdrop of the Narendra Modi-led government consistently resetting rules of engagement specifically with reference to the IAS which Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel famously called the “steel frame" of India’s government apparatus.

The NDA government has also evolved its engagement matrix for the bureaucracy including the 360-degree review which goes beyond the officer’s annual confidential reports (ACR) to culling of non-performers.

“The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has also approved the appointment of Shri Rajiv Gauba, IAS (JH:1982) as Officer on Special Duty in the Cabinet Secretariat from the date of his assumption of charge till he takes over as Cabinet Secretary," the order said.

Power secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla who had joined as the officer on special duty in the home ministry will take over as the home secretary. Bhalla will have a fixed two-year tenure as home secretary.

Born in Punjab in 1958, Gauba had replaced Rajiv Mehrishi as the union home secretary. He was chief secretary of Jharkhand for 15 months before joining the urban development ministry on 1 April 2016. He also served as the collector and district magistrate of Nalanda, Muzaffarpur and Gaya districts in the undivided state of Bihar.

“I keep telling my colleagues that do not take it for granted that you will continue to occupy these places. Governments will not impatiently wait for delivery and performance. They are accountable to people. They should have the freedom to appoint the best man for the job and if we don’t arise to the occasion, we have no business to crib," Gauba had told Mint in an earlier interview when he was Jharkhand’s chief secretary.

Since the NDA government assumed office in May 2014, there have several been massive reshuffles of top levels of the bureaucracy, including secretary-level appointments. Also, senior IAS, IPS and IFS officers have been dismissed from service on grounds such as misconduct and misbehaviour, disproportionate assets, and prolonged unauthorized absence from duty. In addition, IAS and IPS officers have been prematurely retired on the basis of their performance appraisal reports, vigilance status and service records.

The NDA government has proposed cadre allocation policy on the lines of its overarching theme of “One Nation", drawing criticism from the bureaucracy. Under the new policy, officers from all India services such as the Indian 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.

In a move that was widely debated inside and outside the government for a year, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in April announced the results of nine lateral hires on contract at the level of joint secretary in various departments and ministries. These positions have been the remit of the officers from all India services such as the IAS. The move marked a tipping point and marks a breach in the hegemony of the IAS.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has been posting officers from other all India services such as the Indian Forest Service (IFoS) at the joint secretary level to the chagrin of the many in the IAS.

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