As Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung fights a bitter legal battle with chief minister Arvind Kejriwal for the power to post civil servants, there is one court verdict that both sides seem to have glossed over.
A 2013 Supreme Court directive said that civil servants should be posted on recommendations of a panel of officers called the Civil Services Board, not on the whims and fancies of the chief minister or the lieutenant governor concerned.
On October 31, 2013, the court had asked all states and union territories to set up the Civil Services Board (CSB) within three months to identify the best officer for each job after evaluating an officer’s track record.
Under this directive, the chief minister or the lieutenant governor would retain the right to reject the panel’s recommendation for appointment of all senior civil servants but every time they do so, they had to explain in writing why the civil services board’s view was flawed.
Raj Niwas — the Centre’s ears, eyes and hands in Delhi — did not operationalise this panel. The lieutenant governor of Puducherry, the only other union territory with a state legislature, had set up the panel in February 2014.
“This controversy would possibly not have arisen if the lieutenant governor had activated the Civil Services Board (CSB),” a senior police officer said, adding in a lighter vein, that it would have probably got Jung used to the idea of sharing his power over appointments.
Sanjay Bhoosreddy, secretary of the Central IAS Association — that represents Indian Administrative Service officers in Delhi — indicated the civil servants, who got caught in power struggles such as the one seen in Delhi, were running out of patience.
Bhoosreddy said the association will move the Supreme Court for enforcement of its verdict if states do not respond to set up the panels on priority. Over two dozen states including Gujarat do not have a board.
“A fixed tenure would be necessary not only for civil servants to achieve their professional targets but also help them in functioning as effective instruments of public policy,” he said.
There is acknowledgement that the civil services board system did have its limitations to protect bureaucrats. After all, the CSB did not come to the rescue of Haryana Indian Administrative Service officer Ashok Khemka when he was shunted out as transport commissioner when he started enforcing the law, all within 128 days of taking charge.