The number of vacancies at the level of senior IAS officers at the Centre has increased substantially in the last few years, as the government has raised the bar while giving Central deputation to officers; and also because many older bureaucrats are no longer keen on a Central posting, as these now mean more work, more accountability, and less doling out of favours than earlier. Officials said that those bureaucrats who preferred Central deputation during the rule of the UPA I and UPA II governments, now want to stay with their parent cadres. As many as 49 joint secretary level posts are vacant at the Centre as on 31 July 2017. The corresponding figure for 2016 was 35 vacancies; 24 for 2015; 14 for 2014; and 11 for 2013.
According to officials The Sunday Guardian spoke to, the apparent “disenchantment” of these bureaucrats towards Central deputation has increased since 2014 when the NDA government came to power. “The number of officials who are going back to their parent cadre is increasing, whereas the number of officers seeking Central deputation is decreasing, because of which we are witnessing an increase in vacancies. Nowadays, not every officer seeking a Central deputation is given a Central posting, unlike in the past where the recommendations of even an MP would work. Secondly, and more importantly, officers are not willing to come to the Centre because they realise that things have changed and their discretion to favour individuals and organisations, without considering merit, has been taken away by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Now only those officials who want to work are moving to Delhi, rather than those who want to ‘earn’,” a senior IAS officer said, requesting anonymity.
The officer recalled how a particular bureaucrat from the Maharashtra cadre, who had a very poor reputation, was given a significant post at the Centre in 2012, after a journalist recommended his name. “These things don’t happen anymore. You will see that there are vacancies in virtually every department (Central ministries), as the entry bar for them (officers) has increased. Now they cannot just walk into the post of secretary because they have political recommendations and the mandatory 14 years of service. The government has become very stringent while giving someone Central deputation, as in most cases, corruption is done at the level of the officers, but they rarely get caught,” said another officer, who went back to his parent cadre recently after spending six years on a Central deputation.
The message that the government is promoting officers with a clean and dynamic image, has resulted in more and more enterprising young officers being moved to Delhi. “Last month a young IAS officer joined the Ministry of Urban Development after doing tremendous work in Chhattisgarh. Earlier he was handling the remote areas of Chhattisgarh, now he is handling the buildings of Lutyens Delhi. This kind of encouragement motivates officers to carry out their work honestly,” a young IAS officer from one of the Central states said.
Similarly, a DCP rank officer of the AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territories) cadre, who recently joined a Central agency, said that the only criterion for moving to a Central deputation post now is past performance, rather than political links.
Some of my colleagues, who do not have satisfactory ACRs (annual confidential reports), are finding it difficult to get a Central deputation,” he said.
According to people in the know, the top political leadership is working to remove the perception that a posting in Delhi is financially lucrative. “Hence quality is being preferred despite the increasing vacancies. Officers have been told that they are under constant watch and corruption in any form is not acceptable,” the officer said.
The Centre has been repeatedly asking the states to send a list of officers who want Central deputations as that would help make up for the shortfall in the proportionate Central Deputation Reserve (CDR). An officer’s name, once placed in the offer list for Central deputation, has to remain available for a year and can be withdrawn only under exceptional circumstances. If the officers decline the Central deputation on personal ground or because of refusal of the cadre to relieve him, then he is barred for five years from seeking Central deputation.
“The CDR of each state cadre determines the extent to which officers could be sent on deputation to Government of India. That has gone down very much in the last few years. There was always a shortage of IAS officers at deputy secretary/director level, but that has increased even more. One way of tackling it is to recruit specialists by way of lateral entry, which the government is considering seriously,” an official familiar with the development said.
As of now, there are 4,926 officers of Indian Administrative Service (IAS) as against the total authorised strength of 6,396. The highest vacancies are in Bihar (128), followed by 117 in Uttar Pradesh and 101 in West Bengal.