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Tribune Special
Babus mock rules to stick to seats
Some officials sitting in one ministry for over three decades
Aditi Tandon/TNS

New Delhi, September 18
The Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues may have declared their assets in the wake of recent anti-corruption movement but they need to do a lot more to ensure probity. First, they need to answer some simple questions - what interest does a government officer have in serving a single ministry for 39 years where his mandated service period is just 7 years?

How does a babu manage to skirt transfer for decades even when it is to just another ministry in the same building?

Thousands of officers - from assistants and section officers (SOs) in the lower rung, right up to directors and deputy secretaries to the Government of India - are sticking to their positions in one ministry for far longer periods than the rules permit; some have spent a lifetime in one place.

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) under the Ministry of Personnel, which the Prime Minister heads, has a strong Rotational Transfer Policy (RTP) to prevent Central Secretariat Service (CSS) officers from developing interests in one ministry. DoPTís April 29, 2009 memo fixes the maximum service period of babus in one ministry: not more than 7 years in case of assistants/SOs and not more than 5 in case of under secretaries, deputy secretaries and directors. The memo also clarifies that officers, upon promotions, must be essentially transferred to another ministry.

But in reality, this major anti-corruption rule is being blatantly violated. By DoPTís own admission, 14 directors/deputy secretaries have been overstaying in one ministry; some serving their 10th year while rules require them to be transferred after 5. The longest-serving director is RD Sahay in the HRD Ministry. He has been here since January 1, 2001 and was promoted to the rank of a joint secretary three months ago.

Satish Kumar, another director, has completed a decade of service in the Department of Administrative Reforms, which he joined in March 19, 2001. Ironically, this department is under the Personnel Ministry, which must enforce the Rotational Transfer Policy.

Many deputy secretaries are also flouting the provision - AK Gambhir and MM Singh (from defence) have served 9 and 8 years, respectively. Directors posted in one ministry since 2005 against rules are Subhash Chander (pharmaceuticals); Sumar Agarwal (science/technology); N Venugopalan (urban development); Sunil Mishra and KL Sharma (Cabinet secretariat); Vijay Kumar (environment); Arvind Suri (HRD); Bina Prasad (power), Ranbir Singh (labour) and VP Bhardwaj (financial services).

The above-mentioned data forms part of the RTI replies (dated March 31, 2011) which the DoPT furnished to Noida-based Devashish Bhattacharya. The DoPT says it has about 132 additional pages of information on over staying officers. Even if one page were to contain 30 names, 3,960 officers in all would be found overstaying in some ministry or another.

An analysis by The Tribune of DoPT documents pertaining to the sensitive Corporate Affairs Ministry (the only ministry for which DoPT gave complete details) reveals far more shocking facts. In this ministry - some officials of which are being quizzed by the CBI in the 2G scam to know the profile of certain telecom licences - some section officers have been serving for 11 to 39 years! Out of 23 SOs in all, 14 (61 pc) have already overstayed in violation of the seven-year service period cap.

Of these 14 violators (11 of these are ad hoc), six had crossed 31 years of service by May 1, 2009. Importantly, this ministry like most others is violating another DoPT rule, which directs every department to annually furnish details of service officers and their period of stay to enable periodic transfers.

As per the latest - May 2009 data - available with the DoPT (which didnít get data for 2010 and 2011), KK Reddi, with 37 years of service, was the longest-serving SO in the Corporate Affairs Ministry. He retired last year. Others in his league were Veena Batra and RK Dhar (36 years each); Kamlesh Makkar (32 years); Vinod Kumar, RL Arora (31 years each); RS Kaushik and Sanjeev Kumar (16 and 14 years). All these officers are still serving and are ad hoc workers. Eight other SOs have served for 7 years each; one under secretary (NK Vig) has served for 35 years against the mandated 5 while one deputy secretary UK Jindal has served 8 years instead of 5.

In further violation of DoPT rules, all longest-serving SOs secured several promotions in the same ministry: RK Dhar, Kamlesh Makkar, Veena Batra and RL Arora rose three notches from lower divisional and upper divisional clerk to assistant and SOs - in the same place against the RTP which mandates transfer upon each promotion. Likewise, out of 39 assistants in this ministry, 7 had 23 to 30 years of service as of May 1, 2009, while 9 had 18 to 19 years of service.

The DoPT for its part appears helpless. Documents reveal how it has failed to implement transfer orders of two overstaying SOs (Vinod Kumar and RL Arora) issued on August 27 last year. They were to be moved to rural development. The Tribune has copies of letters (dated October 29, 2010 and November 30, 2010, respectively) which special secretary, corporate affairs PD Sudhakar and later secretary R Bandopadhyay wrote to the DoPT, seeking their retention on grounds of staff shortage. The requests were declined but the officers still continue to be posted in the Corporate Affairs Ministry.

Later, DoPT failed to enforce its own punitive orders (issued vide a memo dated February 14, 2011) which fixes a 45-day deadline to relieve transferred officers and says in cases of failure, such officers wonít be able to draw salary from the old ministry. Asked if the department initiated action against corporate affairs officers for violating rules, Suresh Kumar, under secretary, DoPT, on June 10, 2011 said none but added that they sent three reminders to the ministry - on December 14, 2010, February 15 and May 31, 2011. Asked if the DoPT took action against any of its officers for not implementing RTP, Kumar said no. Asked why, he said, ďNo documents available to answer that query.Ē

the mess

  • The Department of Personnel and Training has a strong Rotational Transfer Policy to prevent Central Secretariat Service (CSS) officers from developing interests in one ministry.
  • Under rules, the DoPT has fixed the maximum service period of babus in one ministry. Itís not more than 7 years in case of assistants/section officers and not more than 5 in case of under secretaries, deputy secretaries and directors.
  • But thousands of officers - from assistants and SOs in the lower rung, right up to directors and deputy secretaries - are sticking to their positions for far longer period, which in some cases is over three decades.

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