THE NATION: BUREAUCRACY
Bureaucrats don't retire. Their terms are extended or
they are reappointed to counsel political mentors.
As the saying goes,
experience makes a man perfect. But this hardly applies to the BJP-led
National Democratic Alliance Government. Even after three years in office,
it has not learnt the art of spotting the right people for the right job.
Ad hoc, subjective selection, cronyism and an inexplicable sense of insecurity
have fashioned a new level of politician-bureaucracy nexus that is freezing
government and upsetting both political allies and officials down the
| EXTENDED MUSICAL CHAIRS
DULAT: Inducted into the PMO as adviser after retiring as director
PRASAD: Due to retire in July, his tenure has been extended to October
SINGH: Revenue secretary to secretary in PMO, now Planning Commission
RAJAN: Appointed adviser in MEA after his retirement on March 31
RAGHUNATH: The former foreign secretary is to go as ambassador to
SINGH: Ex-minister of state for defence appointed special adviser,
Last week, when the Union Cabinet decided to
amend All India Service Rules to enable the Government to extend the tenure
of a cabinet secretary beyond the mandatory retirement age of 60, it was
more to cover up its clumsy civil service policy than to retain an otherwise
experienced and relatively controversy-free Cabinet Secretary T.R. Prasad.
It was known at the time of Prasad's appointment as cabinet secretary
seven months ago that he would be retiring on July 31. But at that time,
he was not given a two-year term. However, a week before he was ready
to pack his bags to return to his native state Andhra Pradesh, it dawned
on the Government that it wouldn't be able to survive without him.
Predictably, the Government's last minute decision
led to intense speculation among the 9,000-strong army of All India Services
officials that they were due for another extension bonanza, mirroring
what happened in 1998. In May that year the BJP government decided to
extend the age of retirement from 58 years to 60 with a rider that it
would not give any extension beyond 60. The Central government bureaucracy
was also to be reduced by over 30 per cent by 2003. Even in his last budget
Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha promised to trim the bureaucracy so that
there were fewer roadblocks in taking decisions. For Atal Bihari Vajpayee's
BJP Government, right sizing is an abject failure.
Essentially, the Government's current dilemma
stems from its failure to anticipate its administrative requirements well
in advance and put in place an effective personnel policy to provide,
as it has claimed many times over, "a government with a difference".
There is little doubt a cabinet secretary ensures
continuity of governance and should not be changed frequently, but no
government since Morarji Desai's Janata regime in 1977 has ever fixed
the tenure for this post. As a result, there have been nine cabinet secretaries
in the past 12 years. According to senior officials, the prime minister
and his senior colleagues could not arrive at a consensus on Prasad's
successor. While the all-powerful Prime Minister's Office was in favour
of Ajit Kumar, finance secretary and a 1963 batch officer from the Punjab
cadre, other senior cabinet ministers, including Home Minister L.K Advani,
Sinha and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, were opposed to him
because Kumar had only six months to go before retirement. In fact, there
was general agreement on Home Secretary Kamal Pandey, a low-profile Uttar
Pradesh cadre official. But Vajpayee was not willing to supersede eight
others who were senior to Pandey in the service. As a compromise, Prasad
was asked to continue in office till October 2002, paving the way for
Pandey to take over from him.
Curiously enough Jaswant, otherwise seen as
a proactive, open-minded statesman, has shown an extraordinary penchant
for hiring advisers and retaining those who were to retire. Currently,
he has two advisers each in the Foreign Office and Defence Ministry. Jaswant
introduced the office of the adviser in the government when he appointed
Arun Singh-an old friend of the Gandhi family-as adviser (security) in
the Ministry of External Affairs in 1999. In March Arun Singh was also
appointed special adviser (defence) with the rank of a minister of state.
In addition, B.G. Verghese, a prominent journalist, was hired as media
consultant with the effective rank of secretary to the government.
If that wasn't enough, Jaswant Singh extended
his munificence to yet another foreign service officer, K.V. Rajan, by
appointing him an adviser for six months soon after his retirement on
March 31. Last year Rajan was recalled to Delhi from Nepal, where he was
posted as ambassador, and given charge as secretary (east). Despite controversy
about his stint in Kathmandu during which India-Nepal ties hit rock bottom
and the influence of Pakistan's ISI grew enormously in that country, Rajan
stayed on. The amazing reason: he was the only official who could advise
the prime minister during his visit to Iran in April. Rajan, predictably,
extended his sphere, sat in on meetings with Foreign Secretary Chokila
Iyer and went so far as to brief the media on Iyer's USP, her expertise
on India's neighbours. The mild-mannered Iyer finally had enough and prevailed
on Jaswant Singh to sidetrack Rajan.