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New Bill to protect bureaucracy from political interference

June 08, 2009 16:33 IST

When the Civil Services Bill, 2009, becomes an Act, bureaucrats will no longer be at the mercy of the arbitrary transfers and postings regime that operates currently.

The Civil Services Bill, 2009, which envisages an enforceable code of conduct for all bureaucrats through a new Central Public Services Authority, will be piloted immediately after the Budget session of the Lok Sabha.

This will provide statutory backing to the conduct of all civil servants and appointments, transfers and postings will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The Bill is being designed to prevent political interference in the bureaucracy.

The CPSA will be the body to professionally manage the civil services. This will include the appointment, performance, promotions, transfers and tenures of civil servants and how they spent the money allotted to departments.

The CPSA will have between three and five members, and will have a chairman who will have the rank of the Chief Election Commissioner. He will be appointed for five years by a committee comprising the prime minister, a judge of the Supreme Court and the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. The Cabinet secretary will act as the convenor of the committee. Persons from political parties, Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assemblies are debarred from membership of the CPSA.

The central idea behind the Bill is to monitor and evaluate government programmes by linking their performance to that of the bureaucrats who run them and to protect the bureaucracy from political interference.

When this Bill becomes an Act, bureaucrats will no longer be at the mercy of the arbitrary transfers and postings regime that operates currently. No minister or chief minister will be allowed to shift a bureaucrat without explanation. A draft of the aims and objectives of the Bill said: "The public servant needs to be protected from victimisation or other adverse consequences and refusing to follow directions of superiors in service which are not in accordance with applicable rules and regulations."

Once passed, the Bill will initially be applicable to the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service. Later, all other services for which the Union Public Service Commission holds recruitment examinations, including the Indian Foreign Service, will come under its purview. In consultation with state governments, it will be applicable to the state services as well.

In other words, the Bill will, over a period of time, be applicable to all public servants in India who draw their salaries from the government.

Appointment criteria

The draft Bill visualises the appointment of all civil servants for a tenure not less than three years in one posting. If there is deviation from this, the public servant will have to be "compensated for the inconvenience and harassment caused due to such transfer before term". The draft Bill doesn't spell out what form this compensation will take.

The chief secretary and the director general of police of a state will be selected out of a panel of suitable candidates of required seniority to be drawn up by a committee comprising the chief minister, leader of the Opposition and the home minister. Currently, it is the chief minister who is at liberty to choose chief secretaries and DGPs. In Uttar Pradesh, as in other states, DGPs are known to have been appointed for less than a year at a time.

Similarly, the Cabinet secretary will be selected from a panel by a committee comprising the prime minister, the leader of the Opposition and the home minister. Currently, the leader of the Opposition has no say in such an appointment. If there is deviation from the system, the Bill says Parliament must be told why it happened. By implication, the seniormost civil servant will not have an automatic right to become the Cabinet secretary, as is the current norm, weighted with performance parameters that are often termed subjective.

Performance evaluation

Currently, through the Annual Confidential Report, ministers and superiors have the power to make or mar a civil servant's career.

With the new Bill, the ACR will become only a part of the evaluation exercise. The others are an enforceable code of conduct and a performance management system that will not only evaluate their individual performance but that of the department and the programme they run.

The ACR is a panoramic view of a civil servant's work. In addition, what will be evaluated is job-specific achievements, through Annual Performance Agreements to which signatories will be the secretary (or head) of the department, the minister and the CPSA.

It is not that the government doesn't currently evaluate performance of departments that run various programmes. This is done on a quarterly and annual basis. But in the absence of priorities and weighs, "some programmes get an implementation rating of 2 on 10, some get 10 on 10. The net result is the bureaucrat gets 9 on 10, but the people of India -- the consumers of the programmes the state provides -- give it 2 on 10. How can this happen?" asked Prajapati Trivedi, newly appointed secretary in the Department of Performance Management created in the Ministry of Personnel.

The new evaluation system will be based on a matrix of ratings given on the basis of performance agreements, drawn up and signed by the minister, the secretary and the CPSA. Currently, performance is evaluated based on a comparison of achievements against targets set between the evaluator and those being evaluated.

But Trivedi argues that what is needed is a selection of criteria and levels of targets by the evaluator at the end of the year.

He cites the example of a health minister in a country who agrees with the director general of hospitals on a set of criteria by which to evaluate the latter's performance. One of the criteria is: total number of hospital beds available in the country.

The minister could also agree to allocate necessary funds from his ministry's budget to help achieve the target of, say, 350,000 hospital beds. The quality of hospital beds has to be agreed on beforehand.

During the year, however, the minister is forced to divert funds allocated to hospital beds for an emergency programme to fight an unexpected epidemic. As a consequence, the director-general of hospitals is able to provide about 250,000 hospital beds that year.

How must the director-general's performance be judged?

Clearly, the performance of the hospital department has been poor. But is the director general to blame for this? In fact, it is possible that the director-general managed to perform even under adverse budgetary conditions.

Therefore, mechanical task-setting will be replaced with a more flexible system giving weights to a number of tasks that a bureaucrat will perform as the leader of the team. In turn, he will set weighted targets for his team

Rewarding efficiency

Dimly recognising the problems in evaluation, the Sixth Pay Commission had recommended the introduction of a new performance-based pecuniary benefit, over and above their regular salaries, for government employees. The benefit was called the Performance Related Incentive Scheme, payable to employees taking into account their performance over a period of time. It was based on the principle of differential reward for differential performance. However, while the salary increase was quickly implemented, almost no work has been done on this for the last two years.

One of the first suggestions on an accountability road map came in the report of Veerappa Moily, the Administrative Reforms Commission chief in the last government. He suggested that departmental minister and the secretary of the ministry sign an annual performance agreement providing "physical and verifiable details of the work to be done during a financial year". He also said that the actual performance be assessed by a third party.Fired by the need to have a more responsive government structure, the government put in place a consultative exercise as far back as 2006 when the Cabinet secretary held a consultation with chief and home secretaries of states on a new system to govern bureaucracy.

Following this, Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrashekhar set up a new department called the Performance Management Department which has already taken baby steps to asses how the new systems will go down with the bureaucracy.

Workshops have been held in the ministries of commerce, labour, tourism and heavy industry to test receptiveness. The response is overwhelming: bureaucrats are happy to embrace a new, additional system of evaluation that does away with the subjective element. "There is a hunger for this, that surprised us," Trivedi said. Bureaucrats see the new system as a hedge from ministers who for reasons of patronage or cronyism, try to tweak government programmes.

"Efficiency is equity's best friend. If there is performance, there will be efficiency (in spending public money) and there will be equity," Trivedi said. "The worst way to achieve equity is to spend more money to achieve it," he said, in the context of reports of leakage in public schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantees Scheme.

Salient features of the draft Bill

A politically neutral, professional, accountable and efficient public service is an essential instrument for promotion of good governance.

The public servant must conduct themselves in a manner as to promote the principles underlying the Constitution of India while providing honest, impartial and frank advice to political executive in discharge of their function

They must ensure that public money are used with the utmost economy and care. A Central Public Services Authority will aid and advice the central government in all matters concerning the organisation, control, operation and management of public service and public servants.

It will recommend to the central government, policies on recruitment, tenure, nature of employment transfers, deputation, retirement, termination discharge, evaluation of performance, performance-linked payments to public servants, and all other matters concerning the services of public servants

It can review performance parameters of public servants

It can, subject to the declared policies of the central government including 'but not limited to, reservations in the public service', recommend ways in which recruitment to and career advancement in public service is 'increasingly based on merit and on open competition'.

It will ensure transfers and postings are undertaken in a 'fair and objective' manner.

Aditi Phadnis
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