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GoI move to 'redact' Sardar Patel’s vision of civil service, replace it with apparatchiks

Counterview Desk 

In our open letter to the President of India, the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), a group of former civil servants of the All India and Central Services who have worked with the Central and State Governments, have requested her to convey their concerns to the Government of India (GoI) on the alleged attempts being made to change the character of the civil services, “with its serious implications for the future of constitutional government in India.”
Claiming to believe in “impartiality, neutrality and commitment to the Constitution of India” and insisting that they “do not owe allegiance to any political party”, the letter said, “Measures are being taken that threaten the unique federal design of the IAS and the IPS, which underlies Sardar Patel’s vision of a permanent civil service that would both bind the country together and enable it to maintain a balance between the interests of the Union and the interests of the States.”


A systematic attempt is being made to change the character of the civil services, particularly the IAS and the IPS, which, in our constitutional scheme, were uniquely intended to be a protective ring around the Constitution, unaffected by political changes, having an All India perspective rather than a regional, parochial one and being secure enough to maintain an independent, nonpartisan outlook, without fear or favour. It is in this context that we seek to approach you on a matter which, of late, is causing much concern to us and which we are duty bound to bring to your notice.
The bedrock of all civil services in any democracy worth the name is their independence, neutrality, non-adherence to any political ideology in the discharge of official duties, the freedom to articulate their views to the political executive and the security of knowing that they would not be subjected to arbitrary actions for adhering to these values.
These foundational characteristics had been forcefully expressed by Sardar Patel in his address to the Constituent Assembly in October 1947 in the following words:
“There is no alternative to this administrative system… The Union will go, you will not have a united India if you do not have a good All India Service which has the independence to speak out its mind, which has the sense of security that you will stand by your work… If you do not follow this course, then do not follow the present Constitution… Remove them and I see nothing but a picture of chaos all over the country.”
Contrary to the above exhortation, we fear that the government, of which you are the constitutional head, is now attempting to distort this basic framework and historical understanding.
Further, measures are being taken that threaten the unique federal design of the IAS and the IPS, which underlies Sardar Patel’s vision of a permanent civil service that would both bind the country together and enable it to maintain a balance between the interests of the Union and the interests of the States. There are noticeable attempts to pressurise officers to show exclusive loyalty to the Union rather than to the ‘parent’ state cadre to which they are allotted. On occasion, arbitrary departmental actions have been taken against those who refuse to do so. Service Rules are sought to be amended to compel central deputations without the consent of either the officers concerned or their state governments, effectively undermining the authority and control of Chief Ministers over their officers. This has disturbed the federal balance and left civil servants torn between conflicting loyalties, thereby weakening their ability to be impartial.
In the past governments have permitted lateral recruitment at senior levels and many such officers have distinguished themselves. Lately, however, there has been opacity in the recruitment process at mid-levels and concerns that candidates are being chosen based on their ideological predilections. The consequences of this for the future of an independent civil service requires no comment.
The actions and words of some very senior functionaries of the central government increases our concern on the future of the civil service and the consequent danger to democracy in India.
In this context we would like to mention that the National Security Advisor (NSA), while addressing IPS officers at their passing out function in 2021, had emphasised that they should treat civil society as the “fourth generation of warfare, that can be subverted, suborned, divided and manipulated to hurt the interests of the nation”. Such sentiments are antithetical to any democratic dispensation and aim at placing civil society in a position of conflict with the state.
On the 21st of April this year, the Prime Minister addressed a gathering of civil service officers on Civil Services Day. The address was unremarkable and comprised largely of a litany of the achievements of the present government over the past nine years, with a proforma acknowledgement of the contributions of the civil services. What was disturbing was his exhortation to the officers to be firm in dealing with malfeasance of political parties while in power. Though couched neutrally, the intent and objective were unmistakable.
Attempt to change the character of the civil services is fraught with extreme danger, as Sardar Patel had warned many years ago
Our concern about the future of the civil services is heightened by the reaction of some civil servants. The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie (LBSNAA) is the foundational training institute for All India Services and Central Services. In a recent op-ed, the Director of the LBSNAA wrote, “The task of defining an Indian ethos for the civil servants began in the 75th year of India’s independence, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address where he spelt out the country’s vision….”. Such unwarranted encomiums to the Prime Minister, by the Director of the premier academy for training future civil servants, are deeply disturbing.
We apprehend that moves are afoot to redact Sardar Patel’s vision of an independent and apolitical civil service and replace it with apparatchiks and foot soldiers whose loyalty shall be to the ruling party and not to the Constitution of India.
At a time when politics is leaning dangerously towards a centralised, authoritarian, national security state with a leadership seemingly amenable to abandoning, without demur, the fundamental principles on which our Constitution is based, it has become critical for citizens to ensure that institutions and systems like the civil services which can check this frightening erosion of constitutional values in the manner envisaged by the great Sardar are protected and strengthened. By virtue of their allegiance to the Constitution and not the government of the day, the All India Services, particularly the IAS and IPS, have a critical role to play. As the Constitutional Head of the Republic, we appeal to you to convey our concerns to the Union Government and caution them that this attempt to change the character of the civil services is fraught with extreme danger and, as Sardar Patel had warned many years ago, will spell the death of constitutional government in India.
Satyameva Jayate
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