Jolt the system when it does not work and drag those by the scruff of their collars who impede efficient functioning of the administrative system. This seems to be the underlying principle behind Narendra Modi Government’s courageous decision to weed the corrupt and deadwood among the bureaucracy to galvanise the system to make it deliverable and efficient.
When 27 officers of the Indian Revenue services were made to retire compulsorily, 12 in the first go and another 15 in the second instalment, it came as a pleasant surprise at least to all those who have been inordinately waiting for administrative and police reforms. Although it is a significant but small step in that direction but at least the beginning has been made and as the indications are more heads are likely to roll in the weeks and months to come.
These sacked officials were mostly senior Income Tax officers who had been accused of corruption charges and few falling in the deadwood category. The significance of this decision lies in the fact that these officials are of the ranks of Principal Commissioner, Additional Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, Joint Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner. The dictum followed seems to be that the cleansing process should begin from the top and send a strong signal as the action up till now was being taken on officials at the lowest rungs which was more symbolic than anything else.
The action has been taken against them under Rule 56(j) of the General Financial Rules of Central Government Services. There were certain officers among these 27 who had serious charges of corruption, professional misconduct and even extorting money from business persons. Some of them were more pronounced and notoriously known in Delhi’s power circles for their aptness at networking and manipulating cases.
Will the Modi Government move ahead with this cleansing process or use it as a symbol to cause scare in the officialdom to pull up their socks? The past experience in this connection has not been good so the sceptics are not able to believe till more action takes place.
There are strong indications that the Government is likely to continue its efforts to rid the system of “corrupt” and “unproductive” officers. It is preparing to crack the whip on more such bureaucrats and alongside a process of monthly review of “tainted” officers is also likely to start.
Barely weeks after retiring 27 senior IRS officers the Government has in a communiqué, asked all ministries and Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) to recommend names of officers for premature retirement. This list would have to be sent on monthly basis.
In a letter dated 20 June to the secretaries of all Ministries and departments, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has said, “The Ministries/ Departments should ensure that the prescribed procedure like forming of opinion to retire a Government employee prematurely in public interest is strictly adhered to, and the decision is not an arbitrary one, and is not based on collateral grounds.”
The DoPT has asked all the ministries to submit reports of officers who they think should be prematurely retired under Fundamental Rule 56(j) (1) and Rule 48 of CCS (Pension) Rules, 1972. Fundamental Rule 56(j) of Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules, 1972, provides for compulsory retirement of Government staff in public interest.
Not leaving it at that the government, if the sources are to be believed, wishes to go further and could also invoke the same rule soon to bring some erring IAS and IPS officers with “tainted” records under its ambit. There are reports that some of the civil servants of this highest category are already under the scanner.
So far so good as these moves could act as a deterrent for others to either perform or perish. But would the Government remain content with this piecemeal approach are move achieve inordinately delayed goal of widespread administrative reforms which included administrative, police, judicial and other related areas? Most of the previous Governments talked about these aspects but did nothing. The limited action against corrupt and inefficient officers has rekindled the hope for bigger moves to come.
It is not a hidden fact that the Governments, of late, and more so the Modi dispensation have been increasingly dependent on bureaucracy in view of the lack of talent among the political executive. It is a rather dichotomous situation that despite increasing dependence on the bureaucracy there is no mention of structured administrative reforms to galvanise the executive, leave alone piercing the “steel frame” as the heavily loaded bureaucracy is often described. How to remove red-tapism without initiating such reforms is the key question. Practically nothing was done by NDA-II Government during the last five years on this front. In this backdrop such a move in the beginning of Modi’s second innings has led to people seeing a ray of hope that at least the formidable “steel frame” would finally be pierced for the betterment of the people.
An analysis of the NDA-II government’s functioning leaves no one in doubt that administrative reforms had not been a priority area for the dispensation both politically and administratively. In the name of reforms only piecemeal efforts were made and that too were confusing. There was no planned effort to tone up the administrative machinery.
Apart from strong instructions issued to the bureaucracy from time to timethe main administrative system of the Government had remained untouched for reasons best known to Modi and his advisors. The things would have been much easier for team Modi had certain initiatives at administrative reforms been started during his last tenure as it would given the Government more time, another five years, to effectively implement the same. But that did not happen.
Nevertheless, the premature retirement of 27 top officers with more to follow has come like a breath of fresh air. Yes, the process of weeding out corrupt and inefficient should become a continuous process as has been indicated by the DoPT order but at the same time it should be backed by strong initiatives to begin overall reforms process.