In a landmark verdict aimed at insulating bureaucrats from political interference, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered fixed tenure for them and the setting up of a board to advise governments on transfers, postings, promotions and disciplinary action. These matters should be handled by a Civil Services Board (CSB), it said.
A bench of justice KS Radha-krishnan and justice Pinaki Chandra also said bureaucrats must not function on verbal instructions from superiors and the political executive as it leads to “favouritism and corruption” and defeats the rights guaranteed to citizens under the Right to Information Act.
The top court gave the Centre, states and union territories three months to implement its directions. The promotions-transfers board would continue to function till the time Parliament brings in a proper legislation to set up the CSB. However, the political executive could overrule the board’s views by recording reasons, it said.
The call for sweeping administrative reforms comes close on the heels of transfer controversies surrounding IAS officers Ashok Khemka, who flagged alleged irregularities in a DLF-Robert Vadra land deal in Haryana, and Durga Shakti Nagpal, who took on the powerful sand mafia in Noida.
Bureaucrats are often transferred on the whims and fancies of politicians. The court indicated as much when it said deteriorating standards of probity and accountability in bureaucracy were due to political influence.
On fixing minimum tenure for civil servants, the court said it would not only enable them to achieve their professional targets but also help them function as effective instruments of public policy. “Repeated shuffling and transfer of officers is deleterious to good governance. Minimum assured service tenure ensures efficient service delivery and increased efficiency,” it said.
The court had issued a similar order on police reforms in September 2006 but most of its directives are yet to be implemented.
“In the present political scenario, the role of civil servants has become complex and onerous. Often, they have to take decisions with far reaching consequences in the economic and technological fields. Their decisions must be transparent and in public interest. They should be fully accountable to the community they serve,” the bench said.
The verdict came on a petition filed by a group of former bureaucrats, including former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanium and former election commissioner TS Krishna Murthy. “Public servants are not private servants. Mal-governance affects people and quality of administration,” said Subramanium.
According to Murthy, “Good governance is critical to good democracy. Most of us have seen in our careers how most transfers, promotions, postings and foreign assignments are decided on whims.”