The Union Government’s proposal to amend the All-India Services (AIS) Rules to take powers to force any AIS officer to come on deputation to the Central government without consulting the state government concerned is fraught with serious consequences for the future of the AIS. This is likely to become yet another flashpoint in the already strained Union-state relations.
Let us briefly recall the history of the creation of the AIS. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Home Minister of India, was keen that two AIS, namely, the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service, should be created to put India’s administration on a sound footing. The recruitment to these services was to be done by the Union Public Service Commission and the Union Government was to be the cadre-controlling authority. Officers were to be allotted to the states, but they were expected to also work in the Centre.
This was a unique experiment for the quasi-federal structure of India which was on the drawing board. Patel wanted these services to uphold the rule of law and give fearless and objective advice to the new political rulers.
Several provincial governments were opposed to the creation of the AIS as it would have divested them of control over these vital services. The question was discussed by Patel at length in the Provincial Premiers’ Conference on October 21 and 22, 1946. As I have brought out in my book, India-A Federal Union of States: Fault Lines, Challenges and Opportunities (2021), the creation of the AIS was approved.
In his concluding remarks, Patel had stated, ‘Except in the matter of control, we are agreed on all points. There is very little difference and I think that difference will disappear.’ It was also due to the insistence of Patel that constitutional protection was given to these services in Article 312. By the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976, a provision was made for creation of more AIS, including the All-India Judicial Service.
But due to the resistance of states, other services, except the Indian Forest Service, have not come into being so far. Invoking Article 370 of the Constitution, the J&K had refused to take any AIS officer for a number of years and special efforts had to be made to extend this provision to that state.
Admittedly, India has come a long way from the vision of Patel. As I have emphasised in my book, Good Governance Never on India’s Radar (2014), during the last few years, the image and credibility of these services have taken a big hit. I have made a number of suggestions to deal with this deteriorating situation. The concept of a committed civil service ushered in by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi led to the politicisation of the higher civil services. The consequences of this were highlighted by the Justice JC Shah Commission in its reports on the Emergency excesses.
All political parties which have come to power after Indira Gandhi have happily encouraged these unhealthy practices. The most striking instances of this are the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi (1984) and the communal riots in Mumbai (1992-93), Godhra (2002) and those over the demolition of the Babri Masjid (1992).
The Liberhan Commission has made a series of observations regarding the politicisation of the police and higher civil services. In my book, The Babri Masjid Ram Mandir Dilemma: An Acid Test for India’s Constitution (2019), I have underlined some serious issues and the urgent need to find solutions to them. The role of the All-India Services, which were expected to act as the bridge between the Centre and the states, has also fallen short of expectations. The issues require urgent attention.
The issue of the control of the AIS, as mentioned by Patel, has been coming up again and again. The two recent examples are of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. The issuance of transfer orders by the Centre to AIS officers serving in the states, without the approval of the state governments concerned, is rightly being seen as an infringement of the federal spirit. The convenience of the states in releasing officers must not be overlooked.
At the same time, the situation which has led to the proposed amendment of the rules also needs attention. The very justification for the creation of the AIS comes into question if there is no rotation of AIS officers between the Centre and the states. In fact, it needs to be scrupulously ensured that all states are equitably represented in the Central deputation quota at various levels.
One reason for the increasing reluctance of AIS officers to go on deputation to the Centre is the increasing nexus between political parties and the AIS. Urgent steps must be taken to put a stop to it. The other reasons also need to be examined sympathetically. These include the long wait for getting residential accommodation in Delhi, difficulties in children’s admissions in schools and colleges, change in the medium of instruction and the compulsion of learning Hindi. Without solving these difficulties, merely enforcing the Centre’s mandate to make officers go on deputation to the Centre will not serve any purpose.
A dialogue between the Centre and the states, both at the political and administrative levels, can go a long way in resolving these issues.
The Justice Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State Relations had recommended in its report submitted in 1988 that the AIS are as much necessary today as they were when the Constitution was framed and continue to be one of the premier institutions for maintaining the unity of the country. Any move to disband the AIS or permit a state government to opt out of the scheme must be regarded as retrograde and harmful to the larger interest of the country. Such a step is sure to encourage parochial tendencies and undermine the integrity, cohesion, efficiency and coordination in the administration of the country as a whole. The commission had advised that the AIS be further strengthened and greater emphasis given to the role expected to be played by them.
The contribution of the AIS in the rapid development and stability of the country has been widely recognised and favourably commented upon even by international
agencies. But the successful working of this unique experiment
calls for maturity and statesmanship. It will be short-sighted to take any hasty or precipitous steps which would jeopardise it.
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