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Federation requires Centre, States to work together

Federation requires Centre, States to work together
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There are recent reports in the media about serious concerns of several State Governments on Government of India’s proposed move to amend the IAS service rules to meet the shortage of IAS officers at various levels at the centre.

Under current dispensation officers opt for central deputation from the states voluntarily. Centre than makes a selection from these officers for posts, vacant or likely to be vacant in near future. While doing so it considers suitability of the officer based on his past experience.

Once the selection is finalized, orders are issued requesting state government to relieve the officer concerned. Each state has a certain quota beyond which its officers are not accepted by the centre.

In the last decade, there has been a gradual decline in number of officers who opt for central deputation. While in the 60s there were a number of IAS officers even at undersecretary level, it is increasingly getting difficult for the central government to get adequate officers at even joint Secretary Level.

Generally, of the total cadre strength of the states, about 25% -30% used to be on central deputation. Currently less than 10% are working in various central ministries. According to certain reports these numbers in states like UP, Bihar, Odisha and Tamil Nadu and Kerala are between8% to 15%.There used to be a charm for officers in going to central deputation. This was considered recognition of officer’s ability.

The selection process was tough. Part of the reason for this non-availability of officers for central deputation is inadequate recruitment in certain years more than decade and a half back. But an important reason is also comparatively better service conditions in the states. Any change in rules must however ensure that the shortages of officers in centre and states are balanced. If there is a shortage of officers in the state, the centre should recognize this and in the beginning of the year work out an arrangement with the state. There is a corresponding responsibility on the states too.

The proposed change in rules clearly cannot be faulted on the above grounds. It aims at correcting an aberration. While fixing the cadre strength of states about 40% posts of senior duty are earmarked for central deputation. So there is an inbuilt provision in recruitment and posts sanction for states to keep certain number of posts for meeting needs of the centre. Considering that recruitments in past were not adequate, the proposed change in rule provides for shortage to be shared equitably between the centre and states. Also since vacancies need to be filled in time, there is a suggestion of time limit in which states must respond and relieve the officer selected.

There are however several concerns of the states which need to be addressed. It has to be clearly understood that in the discussion with the states when they give list of officers which they wish to offer for central deputation, it will be the proposal of the states alone .It will look at its own requirements in the state and then offer names for central deputation equitably sharing the shortages in recruitment in the past, In preparation of list of officers to be offered for central deputation Centre will have no role.

The centre if it wishes to have an officer would suggest to the state. If the two agree, the officer would be put on central deputation. If the state does not wish to suggest his name for deputation, the centre would respect their views even though they have the power under cadre rules to do so. Past experience has shown that such an exercise of power by the centre is counterproductive. It does not result in good cadre management.

The centre has to realize that improving working conditions for officers of Deputy Secretary and Director Level is critical to the success of cadre management. If a large number of officers show their willingness and opt for central deputation, the states will have pressure to offer names.

If there are few takers, the state would be forcing people to opt for going to Delhi. Many of the officers at this level have problems of education for their children, transport and higher cost of living in Delhi. These issues would need to be sorted out. A deputation allowance for the period for deputation in Delhi could be an option. Education could be assured by ensuring admission in schools like Sanskriti and other reputed institutions who could tie up on this issue with DOPT.

The states also have to look at this issue not in an adversarial but positive manner where needs of both, Centre and the State have to be matched and met. The proposed amendment is just suggesting a mechanism for meeting the shortages and sharing it where necessary. The centre should dispel fears of states about misuse of central power.

The centre will have shortages at the level of DS and Director for coming years. It should look at meeting some of these gaps from senior public sector officers. Many of them are highly qualified and can meet the needs of the secretarial work for a couple of years.

(The author is a Former Cabinet Secretary)

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