Critiques on Governance

The lateral logic

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The IAS is an all-India service, and its members are allotted to state cadres and come on deputation to the Government of India for five-year stints subject to being on central offer and considered suitable
Shailaja Chandra
New Delhi June 21, 2019
ISSUE DATE: July 1, 2019 UPDATED: June 21, 2019 15:45 IST

Lateral inductions will do no damage to the IAS, they may even complement available skills. But they might cut off options for Group A officers.(Illustration by Tanmoy Chakraborty)

The announcement that there will be lateral induction of over 400 officers at the level of Joint Secretary, Director and Deputy Secretary in the Government of India has met with two reactions: that the move will prick, if not burst, the IAS balloon, and, two, that it is an artful way of inducting preferred individuals with ideological affinity with the ruling dispensation. None of these presumptions carries substance.

The IAS is an all-India service, and its members are allotted to state cadres and come on deputation to the Government of India for five-year stints subject to being on central offer and considered suitable. Overall there is a shortage of some 1,500 officers out of a sanctioned strength of 6,500 and state governments most of whom face an acute shortage of IAS officers are averse to letting them go on central deputation. Consequently, the service is hugely under-represented compared to the deputation reserve assigned to each state. Even Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, which once offered some of the most administratively competent IAS officers, are today utilising hardly 25 per cent of the state’s deputation reserve.

This gap in manning central staffing posts has been largely filled by other Group A services, of which there are over 45. These include the Civil Accounts and Postal Services, Customs, Excise and Income Tax, the Railways, Statistics and the Central Information Service. Members of these services are recruited through the UPSC’s combined competitive examination. Their career progressionincluding training, promotion, discipline, benefits and retirementis managed by the respective cadre-controlling authorities. The difference between the IAS and other services lies in the training of the IAS officers, their understanding of India’s federal structure, the political and administrative systems operating at three levels of government, urban and rural complexities and conversance with administrative structures that operate countrywide.

Despite being transferred on an average every 16 months, the IAS as a service remains indispensable to the process of government. No lateral inductees can ever replace them. By design, the service bestows status, gravitas and clout that cannot be acquired or thrust from outside. No Principal Secretary of a state, leave alone a Chief Secretary, would ordinarily take a phone call from a lateral entrant, unless of course there is a promise of funds. Lateral recruitment, if done with rectitude, can nevertheless infuse much-needed professionalism, particularly in areas like finance, accounts, taxation, legal affairs, disinvestment, and budgeting, procurement and revenue collection. In such areas, mid-level lateral entrants can bring skills that IAS officers or Group A officers scarcely possess in tune with contemporary needs. Even if they are used to provide research inputs for policy notes, undertake specialised scrutiny or do number crunching, it will still be worthwhile, if professionalisation is the goal.

Would lateral induction hurt anyone? Certainly not the IAS, though it will probably cut into avenues available to Group A officers. The challenge would be to infuse accountability into 40-something lateral entrants unexposed to the service ethos. Since these mid-career entrants would not be governed by statutorily bound conduct rules, or even cooling-off requirements, one cannot be too cautious. At its worst, the induction could deteriorate into a revolving door between the government and the private sector, audit and chartered accountancy firms and think tanks set up by industry. It might uncover future thinking on sensitive matters and impact investment and profit. It is essential, therefore, that the job descriptions are publicly notified by the UPSC and the selections made only by the Commission. Else the move would run counter to the constitutional provisions on government recruitment.

Indeed such induction of lateral entrants is akin to installing modern equipment. But without a solid warranty, it might pack up anytime.

Shailaja Chandra is a former secretar to the Government of India an former Chief Secretary, Delhi .


Can IAS become an agent of change?

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For better roll-out of policies, administrative capacity at the state level needs to be fortified
HT logoShailaja Chandra | Updated: Jun 11, 2019 17:27 IST

Will a risk-averse, status-quoist bureaucracy rise to the occasion? (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

With Independent India’s diamond jubilee three years from now, new laws, reforms and announcements can be expected. Will a risk-averse, status-quoist bureaucracy rise to the occasion? Will the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) bureaucrats mostly posted in the states become agents of transformation or find ways to stonewall change? Last December, the Niti Aayog released Agenda 2022 with a foreword by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. I critique the bureaucracy’s capability to implement its aspirations.

Agriculture: The document suggests converting farmers into “agripreneurs” by expanding the e-National Agriculture Markets and replacing the existing Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act. A model Bill proposed in 2017 has not made much headway possibly because it extinguishes middlemen and commission agents. The state bureaucracy’s uninspiring performance in replacing water-intensive crops, containing wasteful irrigation practices and the alarming depletion of groundwater does not bode well for effecting radical change.

Sanitation: Agenda 2022 gives primacy to gargantuan problems such as landfills, plastic waste and sustainable revenue generation from municipal waste. It seeks to subsume these neglected areas under the Swachh Bharat Mission. But unless the municipal commissioners compel waste segregation and deter non-compliance with fines and penalties available under the solid waste, plastic and water pollution rules, cleanliness cannot come. Municipal commissioners and district magistrates rarely act. Unless municipal offences are fined heavily on-the-spot like traffic violations, the goals cannot be realised.

Power: Agenda 2022 seeks to rationalise power tariff to promote the use of renewable energy. But without privatising the DISCOMs, good intentions will not change the ethos underlying distribution. To reap the benefits of renewable energy fully, only privatising the DISCOMs can rationalise power purchase and tariff. No chief minister is however willing to privatise power distribution and bureaucracy by itself cannot usher in privatisation. Delhi remains the solitary exception.

Employment: The codification of labour laws and expanding apprenticeships will boost employment but unless industry has the flexibility to make a transition from micro-to-small to medium-to-large manufacturing, apprentices will have few places to learn on the job. The flexibility to reduce the workforce within the law must be ensured and the backlash met firmly. This will present the biggest challenge for bureaucracy.

Procurement: Modernising public procurement systems to international competitive bidding (ICB) standards is another important reform. Unless there is willingness to outsource this to professional bodies, ICB will stay on paper. The move will meet with stiff resistance from state politicians, contractors and lobbies. No bureaucracy can pursue this proposal without solid political backing.

Governance: The commitment to implement the recommendations of the second Administrative Reforms Commission (2008) is welcome, including two reviews nearing 14 and 20 years of service. India’s first deputy Prime Minister, Vallabhai Patel, wanted IAS officers to be men of integrity and capable of “brashness” possibly meaning bold, audacious and self-assertive. But today brashness is unacceptable to bosses within the political executive and the bureaucracy. Notwithstanding much criticism on several fronts, the IAS remains indispensable primarily because the officers provide an interface with the political executive and handle complex federal issues, Centre-State relations and municipal and panchayat governance functions. They coordinate and interact meaningfully through a nationwide network which remains matchless. No chief minister can run his government without them. However, only 4,000 officers administer populations the size of countries. This is done despite a shortage of nearly 1,500 IAS officers. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, for example, have a shortage of over 100-130 officers each.

If Agenda 2022 is to become a reality state-level capacity needs to be fortified. Both at the Centre and more so in the states, there should be sizeable induction of professionals but only by following rigorous and transparent processes for selection.

Finally, unless lethal issues like air and water pollution, medical malpractice, the destruction of the environment and over-commercialisation of education are responded to through policy, oversight and enforcement, the rewards sought through Agenda 2022 cannot be attained.

I suggest two strategies:

First, subdivide the 41 identified goals into those which require the approval of Parliament or state legislatures. Set up empowered councils headed by a central minister with state ministers as members to reach consensus within six months on the lines of the VAT and GST councils. The central and state bureaucracies function best under this edifice.

Second, in areas which fall in the state domain, only if working models are seen as cost-effective and beneficial, will the state bureaucracy respond. Goals like establishing a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority in a million-plus cities, establishing public health cadres, introducing user charges for garbage collection and toilet maintenance, using treated waste water for non-potable purposes need just one working model of each in a single State, city or district to emulate. This could be inspirational.

Agenda 2022 looks good. The spirit may be willing but now the flesh too must be strong.

Shailaja Chandra is former chief secretary, Delhi

(The writer is former secretary to the Government of India, and former chief secretary, Delhi.)

A Current Affairs based programme: Compulsory retirement of corrupts

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Published on Jun 12, 2019 Lok Sabha TV| LSTV

Corrupt Officials have been given Marching Orders, after decades, Kudos of Modi, Service rule 56 (J) Invoked.

Guests: Shailaja Chandra, Former Chief Secretary, Govt of Delhi ; R.K Tiwari, Chairman, CBDT.

Anchor: Anurag Punetha

Marking the boundaries

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Delhi LG and bureaucracy can continue to influence a host of policy matters in Delhi.
indian expressWritten by Shailaja Chandra | Updated: July 5, 2018 10:06:36 am

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal being welcomed by government and staff at Delhi Secretariat, in New Delhi on Wednesday, July 04, 2018. (Source: AAP/Twitter via PTI)

The judgment of the constitutional bench has been greeted with general approval by all political parties and with great euphoria by the Aam Admi Party (AAP). What emanates from three separate judgments delivered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and his two brother judges is, first, a veritable history of the administration of Delhi. The labyrinthine route that was traversed over several decades of administering the Capital has been captured in copious detail. It is hoped that it would bring some sobriety into the grandstanding by a host of actors.

The Supreme Court’s Wednesday verdict has made three very important deviations from the Delhi High Court judgment of August 2016. It has dispelled the idea that the elected government has to wait to implement its decisions until the lieutenant governor (LG) acquiesces. More specifically, the advice given by the council of ministers is binding on the LG. But only as long as the LG does not exercise his constitutional power to differ and refer the matter to the President for a decision. Although it has been emphasised that this power is not to be exercised mechanically, anything that has sensitivity or can cast a financial burden which is beyond the government’s capacity or cause political problems with the Centre or other states will fall in this area. This actually covers a lot of area.

What does all this mean for Delhi’s citizens? First, as long as every decision has been taken within the ambit of the Transaction of Business Rules 1993 ,which mandates informing the LG of decisions taken by the council of ministers or even by an individual minister, implementation of decisions can start without awaiting approvals. But the Rules also have two important sub-chapters which refer to examination and concurrence by the finance and the law departments. This means a host of proposals can be called to question. Just a note of dissent given by the departmental secretary will give a handle to the LG to differ and withhold further action.

That there ought to be discussion, dialogue and a genuine effort to solve problems is inbuilt in the rules, and has been reiterated strongly by the three judgments. For example, embargoes on vehicles converging on Delhi’s roads or placing restrictions on hospitals or educational institutions by the council of ministers would have implications for the governance of the Capital — it belongs to the whole country. So, restrictions cannot be imposed without the LG having had an opportunity to discuss the pros and cons and return the matter for reconsideration. In Delhi’s case, the LG can differ, ask for reconsideration and make a reference to the Centre. Till a decision comes, the LG’s orders would prevail. So, it is not all plain sailing.

Under the Transaction of Business Rules, consultation with the finance and law departments is mandatory and the chief secretary — the secretary of the cabinet — has to ensure that the cabinet note has followed the process very elaborately spelt out in the 1993 rules. These have been alluded to by the apex court at numerous places in the judgments. In other words, getting advisers and consultants to prepare cabinet notes and clearing them with a simple nod will not work. Haranguing officers and imputing motives to them will not result in either compliance or implementation. At the end of the day, the proof of the pudding will be in the delivery of promised services — not in a display of strongman tactics to impress constituencies.

On the face of it, it may seem as though the Delhi government will now have the authority to make laws on all subjects, excluding those which fall directly under the LG’s authority. But that is actually not so. For instance, the Jan Lokpal Bill and the mohalla committee strategy. Both have been points of confrontation, resulting even in the resignation of the chief minister in his first term. Nothing has changed with all the judgments of the Supreme Court. The apex court has reiterated that any law which is repugnant to a law made by Parliament cannot be passed by the legislative assembly. And indeed these bills or concepts would even now run into repugnancy issues and will be negated as Parliament’s laws do not envisage such deviations being made to the existing central acts.

If the spirit of the judgments is to be read, all postings and transfers of officers should return to as it was in the Sheila Dikshit era, with only the postings of principal secretaries needing the acquiescence of the LG because that makes for better management with the Centre which controls the cadre. However the selection and posting of the chief secretary, the home secretary and secretary lands needs the specific approval of the LG as per the Transaction of Business Rules, which have now been accorded a new sanctity.

The judges have explained that the administrator as per rules has to be apprised of each decision taken by a minister or council of ministers and difference of opinion must meet the standards of constitutional trust and morality, the principle of collaborative federalism and constitutional balance. “The element of trust is an imperative between constitutional functionaries” so that their governments “can work in accordance with constitutional norms”.

Last but not least it is curtains for the idea of statehood. As long as Delhi is the national capital, it is everyone’s capital and the voice of non-Delhi citizens have to be heard through the central government acting on the decisions of Parliament. AAP’s hopes were misplaced and should not be resurrected afresh.

The writer is former chief secretary, Delhi.

The Indian Express Author Profile

TSR Subramanian hammered out practical recommendations: Shailaja Chandra

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TSR Subramanian will be remembered for spearheading a PIL known as TSR Subramanian and Ors vs Union of India when the Supreme Court concluded that ‘fixed tenure of bureaucrats will promote professionalism, efficiency and good governance’
HT logoShailaja Chandra | Updated: Feb 27, 2018 11:16 IST

TSR will also be remembered for lifting the veil on the inner working of politicians and civil servants.(HT File Photo)

Why will TSR Subramanian, TSR as he was always known, be remembered? Certainly he was a respected cabinet secretary and one who managed the functioning of government during the turbulent coalition years of the late nineties but maintained equanimity while remaining honest and outspoken.

He will also be remembered for lifting the veil on the inner working of politicians and civil servants through a series of readable books and scathing opinion pieces.

More recently he will be remembered for spearheading a PIL known as TSR Subramanian and Ors vs Union of India when the Supreme Court concluded that “fixed tenure of bureaucrats will promote professionalism, efficiency and good governance” and attributed “much of the deterioration in the functioning of bureaucracy to political interference.” On national TV, he did not hedge around when he found a chief minister or a government treating a bureaucrat unfairly and came down heavily regardless of who might get annoyed. Indeed all these qualities endeared him to the civil services which is why officers feel the loss.

But there was something more and that bears a telling as we bid him good bye.

On a personal note, I came to know the man for some six months in 2015-16 when he chaired the committee for the evolution of the new education policy — a report that never saw the light of day, — and which TSR, I believe, saw as his greatest failure. Because I witnessed what he brought to the table in conducting this mammoth exercise it bears a telling.

The first was the incredible way in which he managed to pull together four retired have-beens with nothing in common — be it education, service experience or vision.

Listening to over 200 presentations from state governments, educationists, NGOs, academics and individuals and cutting short nonsense but equally responding with passion to revelations which went to the root of the problem was quintessential TSR.

Funnelling each sub-sector’s deficiency into a sharp, situation analysis and making practical recommendations is what he hammered out with speed, dexterity, accuracy and zeal to do what was right — not what people wanted to hear.

During this period, he suffered from a serious health problem which would have grounded anyone with less tenacity and determination.

A stroke and it’s aftermath notwithstanding, he was back in the office in just a few weeks — ebullient as ever — raring to make up for lost time.

His commitment to combining pre-school education with primary education in the interest of giving opportunities otherwise denied to poor children was boundless.

His belief that many institutions of so called importance had outlived their utility and were clearly white elephants won him many enemies who must be now having the last laugh.But to them and to all who read this today I will say, “ It is better to have tried and lost than never to have tried at all.”

(The writer is former secretary to the Government of India, and former chief secretary, Delhi.)

Letting Delhi down

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Chaos and bedlam at the top is shaking the load-bearing pillars — political executive and bureaucracy
indian expressWritten by Shailaja Chandra | Updated: February 22, 2018 12:59 am

Chaos and bedlam at the top will shake the load-bearing pillars — the political executive and bureaucracy — on which the edifice of governance rests.

The midnight drama at the Delhi chief minister’s house, wherein the chief secretary (CS) was reportedly roughed up by two MLAs in the CM’s presence is a first in the annals of the civil service. One has heard of humiliation of officers, but seldom involving the chief secretary. The CS is not an ordinary bureaucrat. He is the head of the civil administration in the state or union territory, an officer who represents not just his own service but all services within the civil administration. The buck stops with him no matter which department is involved. His word in sorting out contending arguments and dissension among officers is final.

Much more than, say, a secretary to the Government of India, the CS has to show leadership while overseeing that public interest is preserved in letter and spirit. It is his duty to run an efficient administration and give the CM fair and impartial advice. It is not for nothing that the CS has a commanding presence in the administration.

Because there can be no democracy and participatory governance without the rule of law, the authority to administer has to be integral to governance. Which is why the symbols of authority are given to every CS, in states and UTs. In Delhi, the CS has an even more challenging role — he has to report simultaneously to the CM and the lieutenant governor (LG) and walk a tightrope between the vision and concerns of both, even when they are not always on the same page.

To do this every day is not easy, but because of the immense authority vested in the CS to organise and get things done, it is not impossible either. But it will work only as long as both the CM and the LG understand and respect the role of the CS. If that is whittled down, the tremors will be felt across the services. An insult to the CS is seen as an insult to the official brotherhood.

Delhi is different in many ways. In the states, the CS is invariably the choice of the CM and there is understanding and mutual trust between them. If the CS is unbending or difficult, it is easy to make a change quietly and elegantly. In the UT cadre or the AGMUT cadre as it is officially known, that is not so. By and large, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the authority controlling the cadre serving the NCT of Delhi as well as Goa, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Daman and Diu, Puducherry, Chandigarh and the Andaman and Nicobar administration, does not stand in the way of the CM having a CS of his choice. Having said that, the officer knows his career is largely to be decided by the MHA and not by the CM of Delhi or elsewhere.

Therefore, it is not necessary for the CS to always find a way to meet the demands of the CM, which is a point of difference with other state cadres. CMs recognise this and make the best use of what they have been given.

Even so, anyone who becomes a CS hasn’t reached the position to pick fights or cause obstruction. Successful projects bring their own sense of achievement and leading a team of officers and staff, including doctors, engineers, teachers, inspectors and clerks, brings its own zeal to succeed. So no CS would thwart good ideas which are in public interest out of pique or just to score brownie points with the central government. On the contrary, an achievement is as much recognised as the effort of a chief secretary’s leadership as of the political executive.

Sheila Dikshit and then LG of Delhi, Vijai Kapoor — one a Congress CM and the other an appointee of the NDA government — succeeded in bringing the unit area of house tax, the new Cooperative Societies Act, construction of 42 flyovers and privatisation of the power sector despite standoffs and differences. The system, then and now, is far from ideal. But in whatever way you look at it, Delhi will continue to be the seat of the central government unless the capital of the country is relocated.

Until that happens, the NCT of Delhi will be governed in the truncated manner. But the beauty lies in the fact that if there is a will to function, it is possible for right-minded people to work together.
That brings one to the midnight altercation or assault, depending on whose version gets established. If the CS was called at midnight, it should have been a matter of criticality — something which could not wait. One cannot imagine that the release of an advertisement or rations to poor people, howsoever important, could not have waited till the following morning.

It is most unusual for a CS to be summoned, and that too repeatedly, without an agenda. Indeed if there was an agenda, the CS should have taken the senior-most officer dealing with the subject with him. That he went alone adds to the impression that this was an agenda-less meeting in the presence of 11 MLAs and perhaps, an effort to overawe the officer, a reprehensible tactic certainly.

Chaos and bedlam at the top will shake the load-bearing pillars — the political executive and bureaucracy — on which the edifice of governance rests. The two pillars need to hold the structure together, or else one would develop cracks and bring the other down with it or lead to a go-slow which would prevent doing things that matter the most. And that includes all the services that one expects a government to deliver efficiently and prudently. It is an administrative breakdown that must be quelled for the sake of the citizens of Delhi.

The writer is former chief secretary, Delhi.

The Indian Express Author Profile

Talk Point: Section 498-A is sometimes misused, implement July 2017 apex court order

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Shailaja Chandra

Gavel (picture for representational purposes.). | Source: Joe Gratz/Flickr

Senior bureaucrat Aruna Sharma has lashed out at what she calls the “narrow approach in the name of women’s rights”. She believes this has led to a rampant misuse of law by women, asserting that such “activism” is resulting in men losing faith in the judiciary and the institution of marriage.

Is the call to revisit some of our gender laws and their implementation valid or exaggerated?

What steel secretary Aruna Sharma wrote about the misuse of Section 498-A, and protecting men from baseless complaints were her personal views. But she has highlighted a truism which is almost never discussed, but ought to be. Section 498-A is sometimes misused and rather that helping women, sexual harassment laws are being used for extortion.

In July 2017, the apex court wrote a 20-page order explaining how the provision was being misused, and set out a detailed process to be followed before any arrest could be made. Anyone interested should first read the order.

I have personally known parents of a boy charged under 498-A cowering on a bench outside the office of the Crime Against Women cell of Delhi Police.The daughter-in-law in question had a mental condition which was not revealed when the marriage was arranged. But within a few days, the new bride ripped her trousseau and her husband’s suits with a pair of scissors. Her parents slapped a case under 498-A against a decent family whom I can safely vouch for, including their son whom I had known from infancy. The hapless family became victims of extortion and had to buy their way out as nothing else (including my clout) could work.

Another real life story: a strict no-nonsense principal of a Delhi University college was hugely resented by a highly politicised faculty. Unable to bully him with threats and gheraos, they cooked up a sexual harassment charge against him, and got a pliable college complaints committee to hold him guilty.The principal still retains his job after 5 years because an independent inquiry revealed he had been framed.

On women taking advantage of female predicaments to skirt office discipline, Aruna is right. Many women officials take full advantage of their gender to parry late sitting, working over crisis-ridden weekends, and accepting traveling assignments. Most men silently curse, but are scared to confront women (or overlook their promotions) for fear of complaints.

As a woman officer who has seen it all, here’s my advice: restore a sense of balance: men and women related complaints aren’t always black and white affairs. The 2017 two-judge order is sound and sensible. Just implement it!

Shailaja Chandra is former secretary to the government of India and former chief secretary, Delhi