It has been a contentious issue for as long as many can remember – that of political interference in the bureaucracy. The Supreme Court has now taken the matter into hand with its recent judgment asking the Centre and state governments to ensure that civil servants have a fixed tenure.
To work out the modalities, the apex court has suggested setting up independent civil servants boards (CSB) at the state and Central level within three months that would make recommendations to the government on matters relating to disciplinary action, transfers and postings of civil servants.
Acting on a two-year-old PIL filed by a group of retired bureaucrats, the apex court's judgment requires that the Centre and states pass supporting legislation.
The court was particularly critical of the political establishment in observing that civil servants had no stability in their tenure and were at times being transferred at the "whims and fancies of the executive head for political and other considerations and not in public interest".
The court has asked bureaucrats to put in writing the oral orders given by their superiors. The observation that a fixed tenure would "promote professionalism, efficiency and good governance" highlights the plight bureaucrats currently face because of political interference.
Seen in the light of the recent events which highlighted the case of IAS officer Ashok Khemka, who was transferred while investigating land deals by Robert Vadra in Haryana, or the case of Durga Shakti Nagpal, who was suspended and later reinstated for taking on the sand mafia in Uttar Pradesh, an independent CSB will put a check on arbitrary transfers and suspensions.
That these are not one-off cases adds more urgency for a politically independent body like the CSB. While the BJP has welcomed the judgment, the UPA government has criticised it which is no surprise.
Many feel that the court order is unworkable and is seen as yet another instance where the judiciary and political establishment will be at loggerheads.
The government's claim that it has been working towards bringing more transparency through its draft 'Civil Services Performance, Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010' comes a bit late in the day and cannot but be seen as a poor effort to counter the CSB.
The euphoria over the judgment will be short-lived if it goes the way earlier administrative reform suggestions have gone. The 2006 directive of the apex court calling for sweeping police reforms to make the force more professional and free from political interference is still gathering dust.
But the need for a drastic overhaul of the civil services is long overdue and can only add value to our democracy.