The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered governments to protect civil servants from corrupt politicians and vested interests. Two key measures are a minimum tenure for officers and an impartial postings and transfers system. Former Union home secretary RK Singh – who ran into trouble with home minister Sushilkumar Shinde – asserts that honest officers have been at the receiving end at the Centre too, not just the states. Excerpts:
Does the SC directive to guarantee a minimum tenure help honest civil servants?
Even now, there are honest officers who do what they believe is right and are willing to run the risk of being transferred, and persecuted for standing up. The order will give them protection.
But wouldn’t civil servants still be persecuted when it is time for their next posting?
That danger will be there. But if officers are posted on the recommendation of the Civil Services Board, this could be a remote possibility. But the cabinet secretary at the Centre and the chief secretary in the states- who head these panels- must be selected by a collegium as recommended by the Administrative Reforms Commission and not by the PM or CM, as happens today.
So the pre-requisite for an effective Civil Services Board is a cabinet secretary appointed by a collegium?
Yes! Otherwise you will have a pliable person… a stenographer cabinet secretary or a stenographer chief secretary, most of whom today are.
Why is so much importance given to pre-mature transfer?
It is a huge dislocation. Plus, the officer is often moved to a charge with no work. So you feel restless… the society calls you foolish, impractical and looks down upon you. Unfortunately, the society looks up to officers with important charge even though they may be dishonest.
Have you also run into problems?
Yes, a number of times. As Patna district magistrate, I arrested an MP and detained a minister during elections (in 1985). I was transferred the next day. As the state home secretary, when I objected to postings of police officers in violation of norms, I was moved out as secretary, sugarcane development. I was again transferred when I was IG Prisons for objecting to the minister’s interference in postings of jailors.
Do civil servants face such pressure in the states or at the Centre too?
It happens everywhere. When I was a joint secretary at the home ministry (2000-05), I spotted irregularities in the way a northeastern state had contracted its online lottery for a ridiculously low amount. I asked for action according to the law and the contract was cancelled… There were attempts to browbeat me but I stood my ground. So I was transferred.