In need of a rewrite

The relationship between civil servants and politicians remains unreformed.

The Congress president has flagged the need to protect bureaucrats from arbitrary transfers. This must be followed through. It is in keeping with a tradition that began with the Administrative Reforms Commission. Some years ago, the prime minister, during a Civil Services Day celebration, had declared that arbitrary transfers of bureaucrats would not be allowed. That very day, in a state under governor's rule, a report revealed that two young collectors, who were acting against orders to award contracts to close relatives of the governor, were transferred. The malaise runs deep. It is necessary to buttress this initiative because it is at the very heart of administrative reform and the fight against corruption.

During the last decade, a number of committees had recommended stopping arbitrary transfers. The courts have, in fact, gone further and recommended fixed tenures for postings and an empowered arrangement to decide on who gets which posting. However, such decisions remain on paper, unimplemented. They require some reflection.

In a parliamentary democracy, Central ministers are responsible to Parliament, and state ministers to assemblies. A civil servant, on the other hand, must be answerable to the minster. It would be strange if a secretary to the government could act according to his own will on policies and programmes while the minister defended them in the legislature. This is obviously impractical.

This issue was studied in some detail by a committee on civil service recruitment and training, which I chaired. Most of the committee's findings have been implemented by the Union Public Service Commission and the department of personnel and training, and have also been incorporated in the training modules of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration and other such institutes. The section on management of the higher civil services delved into the issue of transfers in some detail.

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