Dilip Cherian | Non-IAS cadre officers making inroads in PMO
The acronym IFS seems to be working rather well for those lucky enough to hold it. Three Indian Foreign Service officers — Deepak Mittal, Vipin Kumar and Nidhi Tewari — are joining the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) following their appointment at the joint secretary, deputy secretary and undersecretary levels, respectively. Their ingress into the hallowed portals of the PMO is being seen in the context of India assuming the presidency of the G-20 recently. It is clearly going to be a busy year for India’s foreign service officers and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lean on them to ensure that India’s one-year tenure as head of the summit passes flawlessly.
But some observers also note that increasingly the Modi Sarkar is keen to promote non-IAS services to positions that formerly only the IAS held. The government is increasingly empanelling officers from all services, and elevating them to crucial positions in important ministries. It is now no longer surprising to see Indian Forest Service (IFoS) officers and Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officers posted to positions that the IAS long considered their own turf.
The government states that no position is reserved for IAS officers. It is appointing officers from all services based on their efficiency. Of course, it could also be a way to address the current crunch of IAS officers at the Centre.
MHA under Shah gets tough on babus
Since the start of his tenure as the Union home minister in 2019, Amit Shah has constantly sought to burnish his “tough guy” image. He’s taken the Modi Sarkar’s crackdown on wayward babus to a whole new level.
Sources have informed DKB that 2021 was a ‘good’ year, with the ministry of home affairs (MHA), on average, taking strict action against at least one gazetted officer every week! At least 10 gazetted officers have faced dismissal, removal and compulsory retirement in 2021 compared to two officers each in 2020 and 2019. The Andaman & Nicobar Islands chief secretary, J. Narain, suspended on charges of sexual harassment, is one of the most high-profile cases of recent times.
The ministry’s annual report reveals that 237 disciplinary cases were filed between April and December 2021 against 249 gazetted officers. The action was taken against 52 gazetted officers involved in 48 cases. Punishment, say observers, is for offences that range between minor infractions and major misdemeanours. In some instances, the ministry censured and issued warnings to the erring babu, while in more serious offences, it ordered the dismissal, removal and compulsory retirement of the officer.
Mr Shah’s way seems less to censure or warn an officer and more in favour of major punishment such as dismissal from service and removal. In this, the minister is aided by a vigilance cell within the ministry headed by a joint secretary-rank officer, who acts in part as chief vigilance officer. Sources say that there are separate vigilance divisions in each organisation under the MHA’s control, and these cells are responsible for all disciplinary and vigilance activities of the ministry.
ED chief’s tenure extended ‘in public interest’
Going by current form, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) seems to be the busiest government agency by a mile. A third extension for ED director S.K. Mishra, who has spent four years already as the chief, has been sought to be justified by the several high-profile key investigations that he is leading, and which may lose momentum if someone new takes over the helm. With this extension, Mr Mishra would be able to complete five years in the post next year.
Last year the government brought an ordinance mandating that the tenure of CBI and ED directors can be extended up to three years after the mandated two-year term. This is how Mr Mishra got his second extension.
However, now there are several petitions pending in the Supreme Court challenging the extension of Mr Mishra’s tenure. The petitions have questioned not just Mr Mishra’s continuation but also the amendments in the CVC and DSPE acts.
The Centre has argued in the SC that restricting the tenure of the director of ED or CBI would be counterproductive to India’s concerted action against corruption and money laundering. It added in its affidavit filed in September this year that enough safeguards are in place, as any extension beyond two years is to be given on the grounds of larger public interest and for reasons recorded in writing by the committees appointing them.
With the apex court currently sceptical of the government’s replies to its query on the tenure of election commissioners, it would be interesting if it takes a similar view on Mr Mishra’s third extension or sees it as well within the purview and powers of the executive.