Govt uses Supreme Court rulings to issue circular on babus
Though political direction on issues such as privatization or cutting subsidies is critical, more often than not, it is the implementation of these policies that can either make or mar them. While the UPA, for instance, was in favour of both allowing FDI in multi-brand retail and in raising gas prices, bureaucratic sloth kept most retailers out and ensured the Rangarajan recommendations were never implemented. Which is why, the NDA government has done well to come out with a set of rules under which it can ask inefficient or tainted bureaucrats to take early retirement, at the age of 50/55 instead of 60. Since any such move is bound to be challenged in a court of law, what the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) circular has done, smartly, is to cite various Supreme Court judgments on the matter. In the case of State of Gujarat vs Umedbhai M Patel, for instance, the SC had ruled that “Whenever the services of a public servant are no longer useful to the general administration, the officer can be compulsorily retired for the sake of public interest”. It then went on to say, according to the DoPT circular, “For better administration, it is necessary to chop off dead wood, but the order of compulsory retirement can be passed after having due regard to the entire service record of the officer.” In another case – State of UP vs Vijay Kumar Jain – the court had said the government could compulsorily retire an employee “if conduct of a government employee becomes unbecoming … or obstructs the efficiency in public services”.
The problem, however, is that compulsory retirement can also become a tool to persecute bureaucrats since the SC orders can be interpreted quite widely. Indeed, it is worrying to see the DoPT circular cite an SC ruling – S Ramachandra Raju vs State of Orissa – which says that while “there may not be sufficient evidence to take punitive disciplinary action … but his conduct and reputation is such that his continuance in service would be a menace to public service and injurious to public interest”. While many would sympathise with this view, it is prone to serious abuse and may be difficult to defend in court. The government, for its part, has tried to make the process as abuse-free as possible by saying that the officers’ entire service record is to be kept in mind before compulsory retirement is considered and laid down rules for setting up review committees for this. While the courts will eventually decide if the process is fair – it is certain many of those asked to retire will head to court – the fact that the review will have to be conducted before an officer is 50/55 years old, means the bureaucracy has been put on notice. Perform or perish is the new mantra.