Transfer raj on wane as Modi govt wrecks the system

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government is setting up a mechanism to eliminate red-tapism and nepotism in the Indian bureaucracy. According to a leading daily, a new system is sought to be created to empower an honest and credible system for which over 450 joint secretaries, additional secretaries, secretaries to ministries and government departments, around 300 officers in banks, public sector undertakings (PSUs) were recruited in the last 18 months.

The only two apparent criteria for selecting executives was honesty and efficiency according to PMO officials.

“When people talk about the PM not delivering on his promises they forget that he has delivered on his assurance of clean governance,” said a senior government official in the interview.

Modi’s is said to be one of the most powerful, centralised PMO in India in decades. His government has reshuffled the bureaucracy three times in the last 18 months, dismissed foreign and home secretaries, and changed a second home secretary. Ministers are no longer allowed to choose their bureaucrats instead it’s done by the PMO.

These reasons compelled former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, Vinod Rai, to say the new government system was “exemplary”.

“The earlier practice of allowing ministers to choose their key officials, in fact, destroyed the civil services because it led to massive lobbying at the ministerial level for extraneous considerations,” said Rai.

The government did a reshuffle in the finance and home departments early this year demonstrating its judicious decision making in retaining officers irrespective of their previous affiliations with other governments.

But the process also saw the transfer of some officers in the finance ministry with reasons undisclosed. Shaktikanta Das, an IAS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre, was pushed into the department of economic affairs to accelerate the government’s ambition to recover black money.

Earlier this year, LC Goyal was selected as the Chairman of the India Trade Promotion Organisation after his predecessor, Anil Goswami, was removed on allegations of trying to defend politician Matang Sinh from custody. IPS officer Satyendra Garg, who operated the delineating Delhi traffic, was later posted as Joint Secretary, Home.

A new system of appointing PMO officers after making reference calls to the officer’s coursemates, seniors and subordinates has been introduced. Apart from that a 360-degree inspection would take place once an officer applied for a placement in Delhi. The Cadre Controlling Authority (CCA) has now made it a regular practice where they send propositions to the officer’s establishment, who would then report to the Cabinet Secretary holding the post of secretary to the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) led by the PM himself.

“I was surprised when some of my colleagues told me that they were contacted by the PMO and the cabinet secretariat officers to find about my service record,” said AK Mittal, who was selected as the chairmen of Indian Railway Board on December 2014, in the interview.

This policy led to a comparative decrease in the predominance of the IAS officials in majority positions in Delhi. Officers from all across central government services are now being appointed to designations that were previously reserved for IAS officers, this can be established as over 89 non-IAS officials out of the 269 joint secretary-level are now employed in the Centre. It is also alleged to be the maximum till date, such as IRS officer Aniruddha Kumar is now appointed as the Joint Secretary, Power; IFS Officer Amitabh Gautam is posted as Joint Secretary, Agriculture.

These steps taken by the government can be tagged as the end point of transfer raj in the country. Political recommendations for allocations and transferring of posts were dominant tools for presiding politicians to ‘punish’ (or reward) those officials who were not acting (or acting) as per their whims. Although if this strategy of the government gears up, we can soon see a bureaucracy less nerve-wracking to the common man of India.