KM Chandrasekhar is the only cabinet secretary in India to have had a four-year tenure. On retirement, Chandrasekhar moved back to Kerala in 2011 where he took over as the vice chairman of the Kerala Planning Board. Chandrasekhar spoke to HT on the need for systemic reforms in the backdrop of young IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal's suspension. Excerpts:
Is suspension and transfer something that most civil servants learn to live with?
Suspensions are not common. Also, care is taken to ensure that there are substantive charges on the basis of which temporary removal of the officer from active service is required in order to further proceed with the case. Political punishment is generally inflicted in some states through transfers - in some cases, repeated and frequent transfers designed purely to harass the officer.
Why is it so difficult to protect All India Service officers from arbitrary transfers?
All India Service Officers are subject to state jurisdiction when they work in states and to Central jurisdiction when with the Centre. The powers of the Centre and the states are clearly defined. As far as I can recall, the department of personnel & training (DoPT), some years ago, had laid down guidelines relating to minimum tenure of officers, which had been adopted by several states. However, in reality, I have come across many cases where this mechanism has been ignored in practice by the political executive.
Why is the civil service perceived to be inefficient and status quoist?
I think there are serious systemic flaws in our administrative mechanism. We operate under a set of archaic rules using procedures no longer relevant. Our systems are still based on colonial concepts of concentration of power.
Has decision-making within the bureaucracy slowed down since the 1970s, when you joined the service?
When I entered the civil service in 1970, the range and ambit of government services was much smaller. Besides, other components of national governance, namely, the political executive and the judiciary have grown in their reach and authority, thus shrinking the space available for the administrative executive. The regulatory system, including audit, has also grown much larger. For these reasons, I think decision-making, like other aspects of governance, has been affected. Also, uncertainty breeds delay in decision making.
You have spoken about the need to put civil service reforms on the same pedestal as economic reforms. Why hasn't that happened yet?
I sincerely believe that systemic reform of administration is absolutely essential. This cannot be done by following a business-as-usual approach. Mechanisms would have to be created for identifying areas where change is needed and to enforce such changes. Such reform would certainly require a resolute political executive. It would also require bringing administrative reform to the top of the national agenda and working on it through appropriate institutions at the central and state level.