The Supreme Court’s directions that civil servants should have an assured minimum tenure and should refrain from acting on verbal orders given by politicians will serve public interest by improving governance and bringing greater accountability in the system, say retired bureaucrats who have held key positions in the government.
Former cabinet secretary T.S.R. Subramaniam said that assured minimum tenure was a basic requirement and many commissions have recommended it in the past.
“There has to be some method in transfers. The Supreme Court directions have implications for governance. The issue is on a different wicket now as public is involved. However, it should not be given colour of a politicians versus bureaucrats (issue),” Subramaniam told IANS.
Subramaniam, who was cabinet secretary during 1996-1998, was among the former bureaucrats and civil servants who had filed a public writ petition in the Supreme Court demanding reforms to ensure that bureaucracy was insulated from unwarranted political interference.
Subramaniam said the court had been moved as “there was deterioration in the quality of administration.”
He said on many occasions, political leaders give instructions to civil servants without taking responsibility. Insistence on written directions will help bring in greater accountability.
“The Supreme Court directions are now the law of the land,” he said, adding that non-compliance could invite contempt proceedings.
Former chief election commissioner (CEC) S.Y. Quraishi said that the issue of fixed tenures for civil servants had been discussed in the government many times over and the apex court’s directions will help in its implementation.
“There is need to strike a balance between the powers of a government to transfer and a need for civil servants to have a fixed tenure,” he said.
He said the court directions for insistence on written instructions from political bosses will allow civil servants to express their views more independently.
“The real question is implementation of the directions as the issues have been in the air for long,” Quraishi told IANS.
The court has asked the government to enact a Civil Services Act under article 309 of the constitution to set up a Civil Service Board (CSB) that can guide and advise the political executive on issues such as transfers, postings and disciplinary action. The court has suggested that CSB should consist of high-ranking service officers who are experts in their respective fields.
Article 309 deals with recruitment and conditions of service of persons serving the union or a state.
Quraishi said that CSB should have some members who were no longer in the government as they can give their views more independently.
Former cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar said that the question was whether the Supreme Court directions will be implemented by all states.
He said the central government had mostly been following the principle of fixed tenure for civil servants.
“Frequent transfers are mostly in states and are often guided by what interests of politicians are. The main question is whether we can have a system in which civil servants can do their job,” he said.
Prabhat Kumar, who was cabinet secretary during 1998-2000, said fixed tenure postings in the field will help civil servants act according to their conscience.”They (civil servants are) always under fear of being transferred.”
He said that there cannot be greater force than the Supreme Court directions and the political leadership should be penalised if these were not implemented.
“I think the apex court should come down heavily on state governments not implementing its directions,” Kumar told IANS.
Apart from Subramaniam, the public interest petition in the apex court was filed by former CECs T.S. Krishnamurthy and N. Gopalaswami, former Indian Ambassador to the US Abid Hussain, former CBI Director Joginder Singh, former Manipur governor Ved Prakash Marwah and 77 others.
B.K. Agarwal, joint secretary in the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation, said there were instructions from the government emphasising the need for civil servants to obtain written instructions from their political bosses.
“It is good that the court has reiterated it. An uncertain term is not good for the administration,” he said.
Agarwal said an assured minimum tenure posting will help a civil servant to plan and realise targets in a better way.
The apex court directed the central government, state governments and the union territories to constitute boards within three months, if not already constituted, “till the parliament brings in proper legislation in setting up CSB.”
It said fixed minimum tenure would not only enable civil servants achieve their professional targets but also help them to function as effective instruments of public policy. It said civil servants did not have stability of tenure now, particularly in the states, where transfers and postings are frequently made at the whims and fancies of the executive head for political and other considerations and not in the public interest.
It said the necessity of minimum tenure has been endorsed and implemented by the central government.