Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to radically change the way senior bureaucrats are selected for key posts in the Union government after hearing a litany of complaints from secretaries in all government departments last week.
If Modi has his way, a transparent system to find the most qualified officers for specialised jobs could soon become the norm.
According to several senior officials present at the meeting, a common refrain from the secretaries was that the ministers had an inordinate influence in picking up senior officials for their ministries. All appointments of the joint secretary-rank and above at the Centre need the concurrence of the minister concerned on the file.
“This ensures adequate scope for ministers to pick people they are comfortable with, leaving us little scope to pick the most qualified or suitable officer,” a senior official present at the meeting with Modi told HT. Modi is the minister in charge of the ministry of personnel and public grievances that looks after all postings of senior officials.
“In the current system, an officer with expertise in finance may end up in a ministry that has nothing to do with the subject. It also opens up avenues for officers to lobby with ministers for a favourable posting. We as secretaries have little or no say in the matter,” the official said.
To avoid this, Modi has asked Shymal Sarkar, the secretary (Personnel), to look into this and come up with a more objective selection process. ‘If that happens, then it will correct a distortion that took place due to weakness of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO),” AN Tiwari, a former secretary (Personnel) told HT.
According to him “the ministers arrogated this power to select their favourites because the PMO was very weak. Even creating intermediaries like the central screening committee chaired by the cabinet secretary to select joint secretary level and above officers has not helped because the minister’s approval on file is required. In fact, this was the bane of the UPA government.”
In November last year, the Supreme Court also ruled in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that the bureaucracy has to be insulated from political interference. It had directed the Centre and the states to set up a civil services board to for managing the postings, promotions, transfers, inquiries and management of bureaucrats. “If this is true it’s a significant development since it will go a long way in insulating the bureaucracy from political interference,” Menaka Guruswamy, the advocate-on-record for that PIL told HT.