IN mid-January 2017, Chhattisgarh State Home department, complying with the order of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) dated January 5, gave compulsory retirement to Rajkumar Dewangan (IPS: 1992) in “public interest”. Reportedly, Dewangana, an IG rank officer, was facing a departmental enquiry in connection with a 1998 case of loot that took place during his tenure as superintendent of police in Janjgir-Champa district of the State. He was still continuing when the Centre decided to retire him compulsorily.
Alongside, the Central government compulsorily retired UT cadre IPS officer, Mayank Sheel Chouhan (IPS: 1998), on the basis of a performance review conducted at the end of 15 years of service under Rule 16(3) of the All India Services (Death-cum-Retirement Benefits) Rules. MHA approved the recommendation of the State cadre to compulsorily retire him from service “in public interest.” Both the IPS officers were found to have put in sub-optimal performance by the concerned State cadre on the basis of ACRs, service records and assessment of their seniors. In the case of the former, compulsory retirement was on completion of 25 years of service.
Couple of days later it was the turn of K Narasimha (IAS: 1991, UT), sacked on grounds of “non-performance” and alleged corruption without any notice, in “public interest”. The action came after a departmental review of the officer’s service declared him “unfit” for the job. The CBI has filed a case against Narasimha for allegedly possessing assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. Allegations against Narasimha also include misuse of his official position during his tenure as Secretary, Sports Authority of India.
Technically, ‘Compulsory Retire-ment’ is merely an action taken to remove officers seen as deadwood by their respective cadres and the Centre for not being serious in discharge of their duties. It is not considered as a punishment at all and they get all post-retirement benefits. It is a rare and harsh message to civil servants who fail to perform well in their careers. But, looking at the way governments are run, if these charges-‘non-seriousness in discharge of duties’, ‘sub-optimal performance’ and ‘public interest’-were the criterion for compulsory retirement of IAS and IPS officers, at least half the cadre should receive the “order of the boot” as they call it in the Army!
Under the original AIS (Death-cum-Retirement Benefits) Rules, 1958, the Central government may, in consultation with the State government concerned and after giving a member of the Service at least three months previous notice in writing, or three months’ pay and allowances in lieu of such notice, require that member to retire in public interest from service on the date on which such member completes 30 years of qualifying service, or attains 50 years of age, or on any date thereafter to be specified in the notice.
THE 2012 Amendment to this Rule introduces two reviews-one after 15 years of qualifying Service and another after 25 years, or on attaining the age of 50 years, as the case may be. However, if these two reviews were not conducted for any reason, the same could be done at any other time as the Central government deems fit in respect of such member. The Rule also stipulates that continuous review should be done of the record of service of the member regarding suitability or otherwise of such member for further retention in the Service after completion of 15/25 years of qualifying service, or on his/her attaining the age of 50 years, as the case may be.
The government claims that this rule, commonly referred to as the rule of premature retirement, is based on sound policy and to sub-serve public interest. It quotes Supreme Court observations in the case of Union of India vs ME Reddy and another (AIR 1980 SCC: 563):
“The object of the Rule is to weed out the deadwood in order to maintain a high standard of efficiency and initiative in the State Services. It is not necessary that a good officer may continue to be efficient for all times to come. It may be that there may be some officers who may possess a better initiative and higher standard of efficiency and, if given the chance, the work of the government might show marked improvement. In such a case, compulsory retirement of an officer who fulfils the conditions of Rule 16(3) is undoubtedly in public interest and is not passed by way of punishment.”
“Compulsory retirement contemplated by the aforesaid rule is designed to infuse the administration with initiative so as to meet the expending needs of the nation, which require exploration of ‘Yields and pastures new’. Such a retirement involves no stain or stigma, nor does it entail any penalty or civil consequences. In fact, the rule merely seeks to strike a just balance between the termination of the completed career of a tired employee and maintenance of top efficiency in the diverse activities of administration.”
Objectives to be kept in mind while considering the entire service record of the officer before deciding on compulsory retirement are two: firstly, to weed out officers of doubtful integrity and secondly, those who have outlived their utility and have become inefficient or ineffective.
The Supreme Court in the case of State of Gujarat vs Umedbhai M Patel (Civil Appeal No.1561 of 2001, 3 SCC:320) has virtually laid out the modus operandi for compulsory retirement of civil servants:
(i) Whenever the services of a public servant are no longer useful to the general administration, the officer can be compulsorily retired for the sake of public interest.
(ii) Ordinarily, the order of compulsory retirement is not to be treated as a punishment coming under Article 311 of the Constitution.
(iii) For better administration, 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.
(iv) Any adverse entry made in the confidential record shall be taken note of and be given due weightage in passing such order.
(v) Even un-communicated entries in the confidential record can also be taken into consideration.
(vi) The order of compulsory retirement shall not be passed as a shortcut to avoid Departmental enquiry when such course is more desirable.
(vii) If the officer was given a promotion despite adverse entries made in the confidential record, that is a fact in favour of the officer.
(viii) Compulsory retirement shall not be imposed as a punitive measure.
All this is fine. But if past experience is to go by, most of this exercise would be subjective and not objective and the recent compulsory removal of two IPS and one IAS officers may not be any different. Nevertheless, there are people who hail this as a great ‘revolution’, saying it has taken more than 40 years for the Centre to administer a shock to a complacent civil service.
One of them is RK Raghavan, former Director of CBI, who says: “The Central government’s recent decision to compulsorily retire two IPS officers and one IAS officer for ‘non-performance’ is bold and laudable… Such action was a long-needed corrective…Cynics may say this is a gimmick or a symbolic act that would hardly mend the ways of the bureaucracy. This is a defeatist approach. We need to uphold the basic democratic principle of a healthy executive control over the civil service, and actions like these, undertaken clinically and without malice, are a sine qua non if we want to enhance the currently poor standards of public administration.”
I am neither a cynic nor a defeatist, certainly not when it comes to civil services. But I do not know in which world the likes of Raghavan are living. I know of instances wherein incompetent, corrupt and dishonest senior IAS/IPS officials as well as Ministers/Chief Minister have deliberately damaged the ACRs of dynamic, honest and competent juniors, effectively blocking their promotion in the State and empanelment for deputation to the Centre. Some of these decadent worthies even had the audacity to write adverse remarks on the integrity of honest officials who did not play second fiddle to their acts of loot and plunder! Besides, competent and honest officials are transferred from one innocuous post to another so frequently that they become mere rolling stones unable to gather any domain knowledge or expertise to establish their worth in performance. It is these officials who become ideal candidates for compulsory retirement under the amended Rule 16 (3).
Volumes can be written on this issue. The fact is that between 1958, when the original rule was framed, and now All India Services have been deeply diluted with all kind of mixtures coming in. India has also morphed from democracy to autocracy (during the Emergency era of 1970s) and subsequently into ‘kleptocracy,’ which is government of the thieves, by the thieves and for the thieves. I know of States that have assiduously built kleptocratic networks comprising of politicians, power brokers and IAS/IPS/IFoS officials to carry out systematic loot of resources and run a mafia empire. Any conscientious or competent officer belonging to these services opposing the kleptocrats is ruthlessly dealt with, including suspension and even registering of false cases. Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Tamil Nadu are known examples. Now, under the new euphoria, it is these officials who would be given the ‘order of the boot’!
Nothing is being done to set right these grievous maladies. Instead some select officials are being booted out in an unceremonious manner. Why this all of a sudden? Perhaps Gopalkrishna Gandhi, distinguished civilian, diplomat and former Governor of West Bengal, has a rhetorical answer, but in a different context: “Who rules India? I will not mention the name of a person. I shouldn’t say who. I should say what. Fear rules India. How does fear manifest itself? Why is the Lokpal still dangling in mid-air?
Why is the Whistleblower’s Protection Act not yet notified? There is a kind of fear to face reality in our legislatures, not just Parliament, but in our State legislatures too.”
I would like to add some more. Why RTI Act is so shabbily dealt with? Why this ongoing war between Central government and the Supreme Court? Why the whimsical and draconian ‘demonetisation’ that made the common man run around as ‘headless chicken’? Why no reforms to eliminate criminal and corrupt elements from the electoral process, thereby making it clean and mafia-free? When number of corrupt and servile civil servants-past and present-are enjoying coveted posts and sinecures or laughing all the way to foreign/Indian banks why target these three officials and make a show of it?
The answer is simple: As the name of the 1961 Alistair MacLean bestseller suggests, ‘Fear Is the Key’. Yes, for “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance!”
The writer is a former Army and IAS officer. He is also former Administrator, Chandigarh Capital Project.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org