Delhi governance: A case of too many horses?

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deccan logoSunday 31 May 2015 News updated at 11:22 AM IST Like so many of my peers who joined the Union Territories cadre in the late 1960s, I was accustomed to working under different systems of governance, administering laws drawn from Punjab, Karnataka, West Bengal or Tamil Nadu when posted in Delhi, Goa, Manipur or the Andaman & Nicobar Administration to name just a handful of examples. 480683_thump.gif

Some of us had worked through times when not even the judiciary was separated and a single deputy commissioner was responsible for law and order as well as judicial and executive functions for entire Delhi. At the age of 24, newly trained IAS officers functioned as judicial magistrates (first class) and even committed murder and rape cases to the sessions.

When the erstwhile UTs of Manipur, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Goa got statehood and the AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh–Goa–Mizoram Union Territories) cadre was formed, the transition was smooth. Officers slipped into working under an elected government instead of a single points-person the L-G and the new states got secretaries some of whom had less than eight years of service.

A joint cadre authority headed by the Union home secretary with the chief secretaries of constituent units met to decide inter-state transfers as well as the promotions of over 250 IAS officers. Once assigned to Delhi, the internal postings of officers were decided by the CM but after getting the approval of the L-G (who generally acquiesced if the basic principles of seniority and fair-play had not been overlooked.)

This arrangement has boded well for the officers and also fostered greater neutrality in tendering advice and taking decisions. Since no officer remains posted long enough in any of the constituent states and UTs, the scope to develop proximity with politicians or businessmen is limited. This has been the biggest asset of the joint cadre and enabled officers to function apolitically.

Delhi was always different. Until 1993, officers of the Delhi Administration had just one top boss- the L-G. In the last 22 years, Delhi has seen five chief ministers. The officers have shown deference to the elected political executive, whatever be their style of functioning. Ranging from the voluble Madan Lal Khurana to the bucolic Sahib Singh Verma and finally the 15-year rule of Shiela Dikshit and her womanly capacity to empathise equally with slum dwellers and Delhi’s glitterati, officers have functioned without overt political allegiance.

The administrative structure has protected officers from the dogma of rewards and punishment which has pervaded some other states. In Delhi, the chief secretary writes the confidential reports of all IAS officers and this assessment remains decisive in determining their empanelment and promotion.

The CM has his say but those remarks, whether superlative or adverse, have had little effect on the careers of those branded as “inconvenient officers.” The L-G as the accepting authority, has the last word on the officers’ performance. Understanding this, none of the CMs or ministers resorted to bullying and name-calling.

Another feature about the AGMUT officers has been their conversance with top politicians long before they rose to unforeseen heights of political power. Having seen senior politicians like say, L K Advani or I K Gujral or several other Central ministers and MPs at a time when they had little political presence, the element of fear and awe for those in power has been virtually absent.

Unheard of

The recent spectacle of an IAS officer being locked out of his room and another’s name being vilified before a crowd of auto drivers are unheard of in the annals of the Delhi government. The integrity of an individual officer was left to government watch-dogs and the joint cadre authority to resolve.

The L-Gs have at all times been appointed owing to their closeness to the Central government. Relations between Delhi’s CMs and the L-G have been formal and intermittently uncordial too but even so, differences of opinion have stayed within the government and never gone to court.

While all CMs have basked in public visibility and taken credit for improvements of every kind, they have quickly blamed failures on the absence of authority vested in full states. The possibility of a constitutional amendment to give full statehood to Delhi has served as an emotive war-cry against the Centre, knowing full well that its acceptance was remote. AAP has made the error of hoping otherwise.

Friday’s interim order from the Supreme Court appears to uphold the L-G’s supervisory role in service matters and has restored the officers’ position – but only if the CM accepts the verdict. Nine officers who peremptorily were transferred last week without the L-G’s approval are anxiously awaiting the outcome. The heady times they have witnessed have had no parallel. Fortunately, the bad dream may, in effect, be over shortly.


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