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Dilip Cherian | Mishra, Gauba, Bhalla and the ripple effect of many extensions


Published on: August 9, 2023 | Updated on: August 9, 2023

Enforcement Directorate chief Sanjay Kumar Mishra. (DC File Photo)

The Centre’s longing for an extension to its trusted and tested babus was made obvious when it approached the Supreme Court seeking an unprecedented extension to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) chief S.K. Mishra. It became the precursor to the extension of tenures of Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba and Union home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla.

For Mr Gauba, this marks the third consecutive extension, making him the longest-serving Cabinet secretary, while Mr Bhalla’s fourth extension also positions him as the second Union home secretary to complete five years in the role. These three extensions happened by relaxing rules and have raised concerns among other senior babus who may have missed out on career advancement. Sources have informed DKB that the babus most impacted are those from batches up to 1986,

Why did the Cabinet secretary and Union home secretary get extensions for consecutive terms? There is a growing perception among senior bureaucrats that the extensions for the Cabinet secretary and home secretary are linked to the 2024 general elections. The Modi Sarkar is known to prefer continuity and retaining experienced individuals. But as elections approach and the focus shifts to electoral campaigns, administration matters take a backseat. And chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar, Mr Gauba and Mr Bhalla — all batchmates — can make a formidable combination, prioritising seamless collaboration between the Cabinet secretariat, home ministry and the Election Commission.

In the process, however, the ambitions of several senior babus have been thwarted. The disruption will have a ripple effect which may spread beyond those immediately affected by the unprecedented extensions. If it becomes the norm, some babus fear that there would be just one Cabinet secretary across seven to eight batches and one home secretary across five batches. It is this fear that some are expressing privately, knowing that the government can amend any rule.

Kerala IAS officers challenge frequent transfers

In a move aimed at challenging a deeply entrenched administrative practice, the Kerala IAS Officers’ Association and two serving IAS officers — B. Ashok and Priyanka G — have taken the Pinarayi Vijayan government to the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) over what they deem to be arbitrary and disruptive transfers in the state.

Their plea contends that the current transfer policy not only hampers effective governance but also compromises their ability to execute long-term development initiatives. They have argued that the constant upheaval caused by transfers adversely affects the continuity of government programmes, leading to inefficiencies and even stalling of crucial projects. Apparently, they blame the LDF government’s administrative failures such as stray dog menace, poor solid waste management and even low-level corruption on the short tenures of officers.

According to sources, the application states that such orders are issued to accommodate babus who are favourably disposed towards the political executive, often displacing eligible and efficient officers who, according to the rules, are entitled to enjoy a minimum two-year tenure in their allotted posts. Apparently, only 12 of the 126 IAS officers in Kerala have completed more than two years in a post.

The IAS officers approached CAT as a "last resort" a year after their complaint to the Chief Minister did not have any effect on the transfers. There are other issues too, such as the government allowing non-IAS officers to encroach on the IAS turf, but clearly, the transfers are the biggest bugbear.

CAT’s eventual decision on the issue has the potential to set a precedent, not only influencing transfers in Kerala but in other states as well.

2024 in view, babus eyeing netagiri

As the 2024 general elections approach, the BJP is reportedly scouting for potential candidates from among individuals who can resonate with the public. Apparently, its discerning eye has fallen on an eclectic mix of talent from various walks of life, with a particular focus on over 50 bureaucrats. These include both current and former IAS and IPS officers, who are currently being vetted by party seniors.

Among the emerging names are Pratap Digavkar, a former IGP of Maharashtra Police, who recently aligned with the BJP, and is reportedly being considered from Dhule constituency in north Maharashtra, along with another prospect Sumit Wankhade, who is reportedly close to Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis. Mr Wankhade is likely to contest from the Wardha district, sources say.

The most interesting is the name of Parambir Singh, former Mumbai police commissioner, who had faced allegations in the past. But now, we are told, he has been exonerated and could find himself a plausible candidate for a seat in Haryana or Rajasthan.

These are early days, and some of the talk may be just gossip, but it is clear that the interplay between babus and netas is dynamic and ever-evolving. Watch this space for updates.