Group of 82 former babus raise concerns over ‘attempts’ to change character of civil services

The existing rules allow mutual consultation over the central deputation of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers.

New Delhi: Highlighting lateral recruitment and proposed changes in civil services deputation rules, a group of 82 former civil servants on Thursday wrote to President Droupadi Murmu raising concern over “systematic attempts” being made to change the character of civil services.

In an open letter, they appealed to her to convey their concerns to the Union government and caution them that the attempt to change the character of the civil services is fraught with extreme danger and will “spell the death of the constitutional government in India”.

A systematic attempt is being made to change the character of the civil services, particularly the IAS and the IPS, which, in our constitutional scheme, were uniquely intended to be a protective ring around the Constitution, unaffected by political changes, having an all-India perspective rather than a regional, parochial one and being secure enough to maintain an independent, nonpartisan outlook, without fear or favour, the letter said.

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“It is in this context that we seek to approach you on a matter which, of late, is causing much concern to us and which we are duty bound to bring to your notice,” it said.

Service rules are sought to be amended to compel central deputations without the consent of either the officers concerned or their state governments, effectively undermining the authority and control of chief ministers over their officers, the letter said.

“This has disturbed the federal balance and left civil servants torn between conflicting loyalties, thereby weakening their ability to be impartial,” it read.

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) had in December 2021 proposed changes to the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules, 1954, that will take away the power of states to override the Centre’s request for seeking the officers on central deputation, and had sought comments from the states and Union Territories on it.

The existing rules allow mutual consultation over the central deputation of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers.

No final decision has been taken yet in the matter.

In the past, governments have permitted lateral recruitment at senior levels and many such officers have distinguished themselves, the letter said.

Lately, however, there has been opacity in the recruitment process at mid-levels and concerns that candidates are being chosen based on their ideological predilections, it said.

The consequences of this for the future of an independent civil service requires no comment, the letter said.

The Centre has this month decided to recruit 20 private sector specialists as joint secretaries, directors, and deputy secretaries on contract basis in its 12 departments.

The former bureaucrats said measures are being taken that threaten the unique federal design of the IAS and the IPS, which underlies Sardar Patel’s vision of a permanent civil service that would both bind the country together and enable it to maintain a balance between the interests of the Union and the states.

“There are noticeable attempts to pressure officers to show exclusive loyalty to the Union rather than to the parent state cadre to which they are allotted,” the letter said.

On occasions, arbitrary departmental actions have been taken against those who refuse to do so, it alleged.

Former foreign secretary Sujatha Singh, ex-UPSC member Parveen Talha, former IPS officer Maxwell Pereira and ex- social justice empowerment secretary Anita Agnihotri are among the 82 signatories to the letter.

“The actions and words of some very senior functionaries of the central government increases our concern on the future of the civil service and the consequent danger to democracy in India,” the letter said.

“In this context, we would like to mention that the National Security Advisor (NSA), while addressing IPS officers at their passing out function in 2021, had emphasised that they should treat civil society as the ‘fourth generation of warfare, that can be subverted, suborned, divided and manipulated to hurt the interests of the nation’,” it said.

Such sentiments are “antithetical to any democratic dispensation” and aim at placing civil society in a position of conflict with the state, the letter claimed.

“At a time when politics is leaning dangerously towards a centralised, authoritarian, national security state with a leadership seemingly amenable to abandoning, without demur, the fundamental principles on which our Constitution is based, it has become critical for citizens to ensure that institutions and systems like the civil services which can check this frightening erosion of constitutional values in the manner envisaged by the great Sardar are protected and strengthened,” the letter said.

By virtue of their allegiance to the Constitution and not the government of the day, the all-India services, particularly the IAS and IPS, have a critical role to play, it said.

“As the constitutional head of the republic, we appeal to you to convey our concerns to the Union government and caution them that this attempt to change the character of the civil services is fraught with extreme danger and, as Sardar Patel had warned many years ago, will spell the death of constitutional government in India,” it added.

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