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Service in absentia

Several senior IAS officers of Kerala and Bengal want to leave their states. Their preference: postings in Delhi. Is it a coincidence that the Left is the dominant political force in these two states? Ramesh Babu examines...

india Updated: Feb 24, 2010 00:33 IST
Ramesh Babu

A respected Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from West Bengal posted in New Delhi once assumed he would be transferred to his home state after a rebuke from the Prime Minister of the day.

At a workshop, the young Prime Minister was not satisfied with the “presentation” that the officer, with the rural development ministry, was supposed to make. However, the officer was not sent back. He was shifted to a more important ministry.

This was in the 1980s.

IAS officers are centrally recruited and assigned to states. Though each officer has a cadre, allotted at the discretion of the central government, she/he can serve the central government also. Hence the IAS is an all-India service.

Despite the tense environment in New Delhi, senior IAS officers from Kerala and West Bengal want postings in the Capital. Is it a coincidence that both are Left-ruled states?

KERALA

A chief minister takes his chief secretary to court and another chief secretary, after resigning from service, joins a school to learn magic.

In Kerala, there are plenty of such tales about senior bureaucrats. The equations between political bosses and bureaucrats are constantly changing. Some officers have gone to the extent of saying that communist masters treat officers like class enemies.

Marxist theory lays emphasis on class struggle and class conflict.

Rulers say this bunch of officials often misleads them. “Bureaucratic red tape” is a catchpenny phrase used for blaming officials for all “delay and confusion”.

In the past four years, 30 IAS officers have left the state. And from the state, 40 are on central deputation. And many are in the queue, Chief Secretary Neela Gangadharan being one among them.

In 2008, Kerala IT Secretary P.G. Tensing, an officer with 20 years’ experience, dumped his plum job to get on his bike and go on a ride across the country. His book, Don’t Ask Old Bloke for Directions, released last year, has enough potshots at politicians and bureaucrats. “I was never there (in the IAS). So how do I miss it?” he said when asked why he quit his job.

After quitting her job in 2007, Chief Secretary Lissy Jacob, a 1971 batch officer, joined a magic academy.

“Mutual respect between the political leadership and bureaucrats is necessary. Unfortunately, this (reciprocity) is not there,” said Jacob, adding that team spirit was fast disappearing in the administration.

“Decisions are taken somewhere else. So it is natural that frustration creeps in,” she said. She was indirectly referring to the AKG Centre [state headquarters of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)], where most of the decisions are supposedly taken.

Besides the growing arrogance of the political leadership, officers cite “faction feuds” as another reason getting bogged down (Achuthanandan and party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan are at loggerheads). “It (the fight) is intense these days. Some files that go to the chief minister’s table do not return. Sniffing corruption everywhere, he sits on them for months … We need a congenial atmosphere to work in,” said an official who is in the queue to leave.

Some big bureaucrats in New Delhi from the Kerala cadre, including K.M. Chandrasekhar (cabinet secretary) and G.K. Pillai (home secretary), couldn’t make much impact when they were posted in Kerala.

But political commentator and former Additional Chief Secretary Babu Paul differed. “Most of them got empanelled at the Centre because of their work in their home cadre. It is wrong to say they flowered only in Delhi,” he said.

WEST BENGAL

Things aren’t different in the left-ruled West Bengal, either. It is no secret that many at Writers’ Building (state secretariat) are queuing up at the residence of Mamata Banerjee, Union railway minister, for a central posting. Most of the officers who joined the service in or before 1975 have left the state.

While West Bengal is grappling with a shortage of IAS officers, the Centre’s increasing demand for senior officers has compounded the problem.

The Centre is insisting that of the sanctioned strength of 293 direct-recruit IAS officers, at least 65 should be spared for “deputation”. As a result, most of the serving ones have been burdened with additional departments.

The following officers have reportedly expressed their desire to move out of the state: Additional Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary (Transport Department) Sumantra Choudhury, Principal Secretary (Commerce & Industries) Sabyasachi Sen, Principal Secretary (Urban Development & Municipal Affairs) P.K. Pradhan, Principal Secretary (Environment and Disaster Management) M.L. Meena, Secretary (Agriculture) Sanjeev Chopra and State Chief Electoral Officer, Debashis Sen.

M.V. Rao was shifted from the post of executive director, West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, to secretary, animal resources department. Now he is on a lien and has taken up a non-government job in his native state, Andhra Pradesh.

Most officers in Bengal seeking postings outside the state refuse to talk to the media on the matter. One among them is from Rajasthan. He said: "A posting in Delhi would get me closer home and that's the reason for my seeking a transfer.”

With inputs from Kolkata