Government jobs and job security go hand in hand in India, a government officer can’t be easily fired. But a government officer can be transferred.
And when it comes to using the lever of transfers, governments can make job security in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy seem like an oxymoron.
Concern expressed by Civil Services Survey report:
- The Civil Services Survey report noted: frequent transfers has been a concern for most respondents as it adversely affected job satisfaction, children’s education, and family togetherness and placed officers at the mercy of corrupt influences.
- A Central government database on transfers of Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officers who sit atop the bureaucracy in the Centre and in states shows that the average duration of their posting in the last five years was 464 days.
- The good part about this reading is that over the last 20 years, this number has improved the most in the last five years, and this improvement has been both at the Centre and in states.
- The bad reading is that a bureaucrat is still averaging only about 15 months in a posting, which is a considerable distance away from the standard of three to five years that is commonly spoken of in organizational and human resource contexts.
- The analysis of the SUPREMO (Single User Platform Related to Employees Online) database of the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, shows that the average posting spell of civil servants in India is only about 15 months.
- Job transfers are a huge matter for governments and their employees, a source of constant worry for employees and apparent satisfaction for governments.
Critical example on Transfers: The J&K example:
- Consider the case of Jammu and Kashmir. If the purpose of administering the region is to ensure peace and development, then it is unlikely to succeed till there is a proper transfer policy.
- As it stands presently, officers are transferred too often. This denies them the opportunity to settle down into an official role.
- At times, a particular administrative location is used as a testing lab where officers keep arriving and leaving, with a deleterious impact on officer morale, leading to a reduction in efficiency and effectiveness.
- The latter effect impacts development and governance and acts as a collective punishment to the population of that place. It has been a major reason for distrust, disconnect and alienation.
- The issue of frequent transfers is not limited to J&K, of course, but is found across India.
- This is despite an increase in the median tenure since 2014 at the national level. Ashok Khemka and Pradeep Kasni are two Haryana-based IAS officers whose cases symbolise this issue.
- Khemka has been transferred more than 50 times in his career and Mr. Kasni 65 times.
- The Union Minister of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Jitendra Singh, publicly accepted his helplessness in 2016 about the frequent transfer of officers in States.
Political interference in transfers led to substantial inefficiency:
- Civil servants at the regional level work in coordination with the political representative.
- They both are required to serve the common people by bringing development, welfare, well-being and peace to the society.
- The political representative for the sake of fulfilling the populist demand, influences the functioning of administrative officials.
- Hence, an administrative official has to adhere to the will of the political master.
- This interference sometimes leads to issues like corruption, arbitrary transfers of honest civil servants.
- Also, this led to substantial inefficiency where the vital positions are not held by the best officers and ultimately this can lead to institutional decline.
- On the other hand, Due to rule book bureaucracy, some civil servants have developed the attitude ‘bureaucratic behaviour’, which evokes issues like Red-Tapism, the complication of procedures, and the maladapted responses of ‘bureaucratic’ organisations to the needs of the people.
A major shortcoming highlighted by various committees : undermining of transfer guidelines:
The undermining of transfer guidelines has been a major shortcoming of personnel administration in India.
The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has highlighted it.
The Fifth Pay Commission had recommended that no premature transfer should be allowed and that there should be fixation of a minimum tenure for each post.
Minimum secure tenure will yield best results:
Many respondents suggested a fixed tenure of at least 2 to 3 years for all civil servants (except officers of suspect integrity) to ensure accountability and maximise their impact on the job.
While fixed tenures have not materialised, the reduction in the last five years in the number of transfers, and a corresponding increase in average tenures across both Centre and states, is a silver lining.
But true, and lasting gains, calls for systemic reforms, and that is not visible at the moment.
Way Forward: The Hota Committee:
- The Hota Committee argued against frequent transfers, noted that “absence of a fixed tenure of officials is one of the most important reasons for tardy implementation of government policies, for lack of accountability of officers, for waste of public money because of inadequate supervision of programmes under implementation and for large-scale corruption.”
- An oft-repeated argument used for transfers is that they are “in the interest of administration.”
- However, they essentially weaken administration. Transfers often reflect administrative favouritism and create divisions among civil servants.
- If they are done on a political basis, this impacts the neutrality of the civil services.
The core values of the civil services neutrality, impartiality and anonymity cannot be maintained without an efficient transfer policy.
Good governance and better administration of development is often offered as a plausible solution to conflict management.
At the heart of this solution are public administrators. Civil servants, no matter how dedicated, innovative and efficient they may be, need a stability of tenure to govern well.
A healthy working relationship between Ministers, MPs, MLAs and civil servants is critical for good governance.
Therefore, the state needs to take every stakeholder of governance in confidence.