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Indian Administrative Service Officers Recruited Without Significant Posting

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In his theory of workplace motivation, American Psychologist Frederick Hertzberg said "if you want someone to do a good job, give them a good job to do."

Put this in context of top level HR management in Jammu and Kashmir and it turns out that a good job is neither required of nor given to most of the senior officers in the so called prestigious cadres of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).

The Chief Secretary

When Mohammad Iqbal Khandey took over as new Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir earlier this week, he was welcomed by different people in their own different contextual ways. First native of J&K after BR Kundal, first Kashmiri after Vijay Bakaya and first Kashmiri Muslim after Sheikh Ghulam Rasool. None of these contexts offer any big deal. What really makes a difference is Khandey's reputation of a thoroughly upright, scrupulously honest and time-honoured competent officer.

In a traditionally politicised bureaucracy, Khandey was tagged as a PDP man when Mufti Mohammad Sayed as Chief Minister picked him up as his Principal Secretary. Mufti's two successors - Ghulam Nabi Azad and Omar Abdullah - briefly sidelined Khandey on the basis of their first impressions but it was his competence that brought him back to key positions in the Secretariat on both occasions. His ability to bounce back to best of performance in office after two personal setbacks in five years is yet another attribute for an officer for the top job. This list of acclamations, of course with no exaggeration, is good only for anyone's personal glorification.

What matters for the system he has been chosen to head is the difference he makes there - by way of leadership, innovation and standing firm in way political expediencies without taking offence with the political executive, the final authority in this case. The gentleman with these tall attributes to his credit has taken over as head of the bureaucracy when this non-elective part of the government is in unprecedented disarray, seriously affecting governance in delivery and also in terms of perceptions. The problem is hereditary and symptomatic of flawed political infections which will have to be corrected some day or other. At the heart of this problem distressing the bureaucracy is "who mans which post, for how long and at whose behest."

Merit versus sentiment

Of all states in India, Jammu and Kashmir enjoys special dispensation in proportion of directly recruited IAS officers to the locally promoted. This is 50:50 here against 67:33 in other states. Despite this privilege there has always been a debate on invoking the special status and greater autonomy to make a case for packing off the IAS officers or until then having KAS officers at key positions of influence. This case of merit versus sentiments has been a cause for not only promoting culture of lobbying but also blurring the lines between impartial bureaucracy and party politics. In the earlier years the NC workers and bureaucrats used to be interchangeable positions, then Congress came in and of late PDP also emerged as stakeholder.

In the bureaucracy debate the self rule document of PDP has proposed to the extent of wrapping up IAS, IPS and other central services from J&K for once and all. This is a political debate beyond the scope of this column but until final decision on who rules the roost there is imminent need of withdrawing the political motives from bureaucratic machinery. Take the example of how heads of district administration are appointed and it will give you reflections of political reasons district after district. As of today only four of the 22 districts in the state -Jammu, Udhampur, Rajouri and Poonch -have direct recruit young IAS officers, with less than ten years of service, as District Development Commissioners or the Deputy Commissioners. In four other districts -Srinagar, Pulwama, Budgam and Reasi -they are IAS but from the promotion quota and all above the age of 52. In remaining 14 districts -Kathua, Samba, Ramban, Kishtwar, Bandipore, Anantnag, Baramulla, Shopian, Kulgam, Doda, Kupwara, Ganderal, Leh and Kargil -the Deputy Commissioners are from Kashmir Administrative Services and almost all of them at the verge of their retirements.

Questions will always strike about young versus experienced but the precedent has it that the officers close to their retirement tend to be more like workers of the ruling parties. With three DCs having investigations running against them, four others overrunning the terms by 12 to 18 months the institution of Collector has become purely political office to the pleasure of local Minister. The former DC of Ganderbal who gets 'apolitical' state award five days before his superannuation and joins the ruling party 17 hours after demitting office is just tip of political iceberg shrouding the bureaucracy.

Dilemma of IAS officers

The middle rung officers having whole spectrum of politics rallying behind them, those at the top crack big deals. At the topmost position, one of Khandey's predecessors -BR Kundal -was so deep in politics that he hurried up stepping down as Chief Secretary to take oath of Minister. Except C Phunsog and the short term IS Malhi every CS in last two decades has been able to lay hands at a direct political position or an important office with political backing. Vijay Bakaya and Sheikh Ghulam Rasool have made way to Upper House of legislature, SS Bloeria is Vice Chancellor and SS Kapur is Chairperson of State Water Resources Regulatory Authority. Now, what happens to the bureaucrats who have not been able to learn the art of politics or have refused to do so? Seventeen senior officers are on central deputation. Some of them like Parvez Dewan, Rakesh Gupta, PK Tripathi and Dheeraj Gupta have not returned in many years, others like Lokesh Jha and PG Dhar Ckakrabarty have come back only occasionally to spend the compulsory years in cadre state to be able to qualify for another yet deputation.

From the fresh lot, except one no IAS officer from 2005 batch onwards is on any significant post in the administration. This number totals to 17. To summarise the scenario, of 97 IAS officers, there are 59 directly recruited and out of them nearly 40 are either on central deputation or without any significant posting. The Chief Secretary can make a big difference in striking balance between merit and political sentiment only if he doesn't have a post-retirement political priority already cut off.

Zafar Choudhary is a senior journalist and Asia Society Fellow on the India-Pakistan Young Leaders Forum. He can be reached at zafarchoudhary@gmail.com Read more stories by Zafar Choudhary.

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