No clean slate

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SummarySupreme Court’s order on civil servants will not result in radical change.

governments, where three quarters of all civil servants are posted at any point of time. In a state, the chief minister is omnipotent and the chief secretary is usually a person of the CM’s choosing. Chief secretaries exercise authority more on account of their proximity to the CM and less because of their own position. The good news is that the state CSBs, as mandated by the SC, are to be constituted within the next three months. The bad news is that only in-service officers can be members of the CSBs, some of whom might have a history of pliable, even errant, decision-making. The court’s exclusion of the word “independent” is, therefore, a major risk factor for the still unborn CSBs.

The judgment does however leave it to Parliament to consider establishing independent, statutory CSBs through the enactment of a civil services act, and to induct experts from administration, management, and science and technology for “bringing more professionalism, expertise and efficiency into government functioning”. But first, the government must want to introduce such a bill. The very fact that the Civil Services Standards, Performance and Accountability Bill, 2010, has not got the final approval of the cabinet three years after it was prepared is indicative of the priority that the government accords to civil service reform.

The other prayer in the PIL was that the court direct civil servants to formally record every request or instruction that they receive, not only from administrative superiors but also from influential political authorities, legislators, businessmen and those having an interest in or purporting to represent persons in positions of authority. On a philosophical note, the apex court highlighted the need for transparency — to enable democracy to endure through the implementation of the Right to Information Act — which perforce has to rely on documentation and the maintenance of records. Leave aside reiterating what the All India Service (Conduct) Rules have stated since 1968, that superiors must reduce verbal orders into writing and that civil servants should seek confirmation of oral orders, the court gave no direction on an issue on which the PIL had expressly sought direction: to make it obligatory for informal requests made by influential people and power brokers to be brought on record. An order to this effect would have helped enormously.

At root, the greed, dishonesty and political brinkmanship of an expanding group of civil servants are responsible for the quagmire

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