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Long-term implications of Centre-TN tussle
By Syed Shahabuddin

The continuing pressure on the Government of Tamil Nadu to ‘surrender’ the three IPS officers allegedly guilty of manhandling the former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi on 30 June, 2001 and the threat to issue a central directive to the State Government under Article 355, as a prelude to its dismissal and imposition of the President’s Rule under Article 356, are nothing more than political rites performed by the NDA Government to placate the DMK and its leader without whose support it cannot survive.

That the Central Government shall act so rashly and arbitrarily and play with the Constitution and the law, jettison long accepted norms and conventions for deputation of the officers of the All India Services, namely, the IAS and the IPS, to the Centre and thus jeopardize both the morale of the Services and healthy Centre-State relations, merely to ensure its survival is unbecoming of a national leader of the stature of Atal Behari Vajpayee and of the BJP as a national party.

The Services may not speak out but the Central Government would have, by one mindless stroke, obliterated the line of demarcation between the All India and Central Services and what is worse raise a question mark on their continuance. The other allies of the BJP like the TDP in AP and the BJD in Orissa, the INLD in Haryana and the SAD in the Punjab may also choose to remain silent but Jayalalitha’s master stroke of having magnified her differences with the Centre on this non-issue into a question relating to the federal structure of the Union must have touched a sensitive nerve.

All India Services have no Central cadre; they have only State Cadres and the needs and requirement of the Central Government are met by the deputation of the officers of the State cadres for a fixed term. The ground reality is that the officers of the State cadres look forward to central deputation for many reasons, personal and professional. The mechanism evolved over the years is for the states to make annual ‘offer’ of officers available for and desirous of deputation and for the Centre to make a selection from a very wide choice. The process may cover the desire of the State Government to get rid of a ‘difficult’ officer or the political clout enjoyed by another. But the essential administrative principle remains unaltered: deputation to an ex-cadre post, under the Central Government, can only be done with the consent of the officer, the State Government as the cadre-controlling authority and the Central Government. None of the three can be bypassed. Neither can any one or two of them impose their will on the third.

In this case, the Centre is trying to impose its will both on the State Government and the three IPS officers concerned, without even bothering to explain why they and they alone serve the bill! Moreover, unlike the case of Dr. R. Rajgopalan, the former DG of Tamil Nadu, who has been selected, one presumes after scanning the entire horizon, for the prestigious position of DG, NSG, which has fallen vacant, no specific assignments are mentioned for the three others who are so much wanted. One has, therefore, a right to presume that these officers are being transferred as a punishment for the role they are supposed to have performed in the drama of 30 June, 2001. This raises another important question about the desirability of using transfers and postings as punishment! And under the rule of law, how can anyone be punished without being heard?
No doubt under the IPS Cadre Rules, the Centre has the upper hand in case of difference with the State Government. But since such situations have not arisen in the past, it is difficult to define the eventualities in which the Centre may play this card. One can conceive of a situation in which an IAS and IPS officer is being harassed and persecuted, for one reason or the other, by the State Government and seeks shelter under the Centre.

The State Government has already appointed a Commission of Inquiry which will report whether any excesses were committed by the Tamil Nadu Police and if so, recommend disciplinary action. One hopes that the Commission shall find that the mid-night knock on Mr. Karunanidhi’s door was absolutely unwarranted. A public figure, who has been the Chief Minister for several terms, would not have run away! A civilized way would have been to inform him of the warrant of arrest and give him adequate opportunity to consult a lawyer and file a bond or take a bail. The IAS and the IPS officers can only bring shame to themselves and to their Services by catering to the whims and fancies of the political executive. After all, they are permanent and the political executive is transient.

Let us look at the basic question from a national perspective. The officers of the State cadres of the All India Services while serving in the State are the servants of the State Government and subject to its orders. They are not subject to the commands of the Central Government or any other authority, while on deputation to the Central Government, they are subject to the commands of the Central Government and not the State Governments. No servant can serve two masters, particularly when they are at odds with each other! Of late, however, the Services have been unfortunately politicised and the officers are not, with honourable exceptions, politically neutral; they have made their peace with the political system and have aligned themselves with one political party or the other, and even with a faction within a political party. They hope to get choice postings in the State and outside if and when their patron comes to power. Secondly, one frequently hears or reads about pressure brought to bear by a State Government on the Central Government to have one of its officers given a top position in the Central administrative machinery. Is it to benefit the officer, the state or the nation? Is it a preemptory move to ensure that the State Government receives its due share in any central development project or financial allocation? The truth is that the officer of the State cadre is expected to carry his State loyalty with him. Not surprising, as he often does carry his religious and his caste loyalty with him in any conflicting situation just like the ministers who vie with each other to benefit their own constituencies, States and castes, at the cost of the rest of the nation. This is why, every change of Chief Minister in any state is immediately followed by the reshuffle of the entire administration from top to bottom. It goes to ludicrous depths in some States where it is not limited to the State Secretariat but goes down to the BDO’s and the SHO’s. And it is not just a matter of group patronage. The crux of the exercise is to place ‘dependable officers’ in ‘wet’ posts who will make money and share the loot! Or in critical posts where they would carry out their patron’s bidding.

It is in this context that the questions of postings and transfers and deputations within the State and of deputation of State cadre Officers to the Centre and of the musical chair that goes on even within the Central Secretariat have become matters of national concern. Fifty years after independence, when our leaders decided to preserve the administrative structure left behind by the British, we feel the need of a National Commission to review the situation and to lay down the rules of the game, so that in a situation of social disintegration and political instability, the bureaucracy can serve the nation with integrity and impartiality without fear or favour, or ballast for the ship of state, floundering in stormy weather.

Or, shall we abolish the permanent Services and adopt the ‘spoils’ system?

In a nutshell, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has no ground to stand in the way of Dr. Rajgopalan’s deputation to the Centre to fill a prestigious position. The Central Government has no constitutional or legal or moral ground to invoke Article 355 to secure the ‘surrender’ of the three IPS Officers by the State Government. And the issue before the nation is whether the IAS and the IPS should be abolished and the senior positions under the central bureaucracy be filled in accordance with the federal principle by deputation from the Civil and Police Services from various States, by rotation, in proportion to their respective cadre strengths or State population. Or we can have a fresh look at the very concept of permanent civil services.

But till a new administrative regime or federal principle is evolved and put into practice, Advani & Co. should not be permitted to destroy the morale of the IAS and the IPS and tear the fabric of Centre-State relation.

 q

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