Rule of whim

Power over transfer-posting of civil servants should come with the responsibility to explain the rationale

The relationship between the political executive and the civil service, often called the "permanent executive", is governed by clear rules. While the former frames policy, the responsibility of the latter is to effectively implement it. In practice, their tandem functioning is not always easy. Transfers and postings can then become prizes or punishments, if used by the political establishment to send a message to officers, or if loyalty is rewarded over competence. Durga Shakti Nagpal, an IAS officer who had been visibly tackling illegal sand mining in the Yamuna and Hindon riverbeds, was recently transferred by the Uttar Pradesh government. The state's justification was that Nagpal had pulled down the wall of a mosque being built without clearances, a decision that, it insisted, "lacked foresight and disturbed communal harmony". The decision to transfer, though, has been widely criticised, with the IAS officers association and many others petitioning the Akhilesh Yadav government. While the details of this case are yet to be fully illuminated, the principle deserves attention.

Nagpal is only one of many, many officers who have found themselves at cross-purposes with their political bosses. While political leaders have the right to choose the officers best suited for various jobs, and to move them as they see fit, arbitrary or self-serving decisions can corrode the quality of public administration. It takes a while for civil servants to understand the complexity of their new roles, and the various pressures and interest groups at play. Transferring them before they have had a chance to make an impact, or sometimes if they have made too much of an impact, would ensure that the system doesn't have a chance to deliver. The prime minister has emphasised this point repeatedly, and there have been several attempts to create predictable work environments. The Central government introduced the Indian Administrative Service (Fixation of Cadre Strength) Regulations, 1955 (amended in 2010), which provides for a minimum tenure for postings for civil servants, but only 13 states and Union territories have formally indicated their acceptance. Maharashtra has a specific law, ensuring a minimum tenure of three years for all IAS officers, and any violation must be taken up with the state administrative tribunal.

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