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The Big Picture – Bureaucratic Reforms: Retiring Non-Performing Officers

The Big Picture – Bureaucratic Reforms: Retiring Non-Performing Officers

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Summary:

For years, we have had much discussion in this country about administrative and bureaucratic reforms. We have had two administrative reforms commissions that have given voluminous reports and suggested many changes. But the common feeling is that little has changed. Last year, after the new government came to power it issued a 19 points Do’s and Don’ts to the bureaucracy aimed at improving the administration and making it responsive and transparent. Though none of the points were revolutionary, it did give the bureaucrats a clear picture of what is expected of them. Now the government through the DoPT has come up with another order which seeks to retire compulsorily bureaucrats who are either incompetent or tainted. This order also says once these officers are identified through a process, they will be given a three months time to pack their bags.

Experts say that there is nothing new in this circular. Such rules were already there under the fundamental rules since 1919. After the constitution came into force these rules were adopted under Article 372. Fundamental Rule 56(J) and Rules 48 of the CCS (Pension) Rules, 1972, speak about retirement of inefficient and corrupt officers. As per the Fundamental Rule 56(J), the government has an absolute right to retire, if necessary in the public interest, any Group A and B employee who joined service before the age of 35 and has crossed the age of 50. Group C government servants, having crossed the age of 55, can also be retired prematurely under the rules.

The government has asked all central ministries and departments to take into account all relevant records including personal file of such officers, besides assessing their performance based on files dealt by them. The review is not confined to the consideration of the ACR/APAR dossier. The personal file of the officer may contain valuable material. The work and performance of the officer could also be assessed by looking into files dealt by him or in any papers or reports prepared or submitted by him. The government has also clarified that compulsory retirement shall not be imposed as a punitive measure.

Some experts say that it is necessary to chop off dead wood, but the order of compulsory retirement can be passed after having due regard to the entire service record of the officer.

The problem, however, is that compulsory retirement can also become a tool to persecute bureaucrats since the SC orders can be interpreted quite widely. In S Ramachandra Raju vs State of Orissa, the supreme court of India has said that while “there may not be sufficient evidence to take punitive disciplinary action but his conduct and reputation is such that his continuance in service would be a menace to public service and injurious to public interest”.

Previous government had amended All India Service Rules to provide for compulsory retirement of substandard bureaucrats after just 15 years of service. Compulsory retirement is a desirable approach as the efficacy of a system is determined by the set of incentives facing people who exercise power. The Supreme Court, in a 1980 judgment, has said that compulsory retirement “is undoubtedly in public interest and is not passed by way of punishment”. This judgment was backed by another one supporting the idea of letting go of people in public interest.

The government should also act on suggestions made by the last three pay commissions to link a bureaucrat’s salary to performance. There is a need to link pay to performance to improve work culture. The sixth pay commission suggested an independent external agency measure the performance of bureaucrats with the aim of linking overall payment to performance. Another pay commission has recommended that underperformers be denied normal increment.

A large proportion of the annual budget is earmarked for salaries and pensions. Only the residual amount of money can be used for developmental needs. In this context, getting more out of the bureaucracy is an essential element of administrative reform.