he Indian Forest Service (IFoS) and forest officers are important but more so in Uttarakhand than anywhere else because of its geography. With Assembly elections looming, the state government cannot afford to have a large section of forest officers feeling disgruntled.
The recent transfer of 30 IFoS officers including the Forest Chief, the Chief Wildlife Warden and the Principal Conservator of Forests by Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami for alleged illegalities in the Corbett Tiger Reserve has created an uproar in the service. Serving forest officers in Uttarakhand claim that the transfers are ‘arbitrary’ and in violation of the service rule book.
The postings have also opened up the door to the airing of old grievances of the forest officers. One major complaint is that IFoS officers are often given state deputation without their consent and that many posts meant for IFoS officers are filled by Provincial Forest Service (PFS) officers with ‘questionable’ track records. The state has a sanctioned strength of 113 IFoS officers.
The President of the IFoS Association of Uttarakhand Kapil Lal has reportedly protested with the government and the aggrieved officers are keen to pursue the matter and get themselves heard. Incidentally, the trigger for the current unrest within the ranks is because the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has confirmed several illegalities in the Kalagarh tiger division of the Corbett Tiger Reserve. But the forest officers insist that the transfers violate a Supreme Court order of 2013 in which the apex court had directed that IFoS officers must be given an assured minimum term in posting.
DoPT frowns on CSS babus
The Centre has taken a serious view on the rising number of transfer requests from assistant section officers (ASO) from the Central Secretariat Service (CSS) cadre forwarded via ministers and MPs, something that until now was considered par for the course. Yet, going by the order issued by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) this may soon be a thing of the past. The directive from DopT Secretary Pradip Kumar Tripathi makes the government’s stand clear.
Apparently, the department is flooded by numerous requests for inter-cadre transfer on personal or medical grounds to attached or outstation ASO rank officers of various ministries. These are usually forwarded from ministers and Members of Parliament to strengthen the said officer’s ‘case’. Even though ASOs are Group B non-gazetted officers, they are a key component of the Central Secretariat, manning the middle-level posts.
The government is apparently serious about this issue and such officers can face disciplinary action if they use ministers and MPs to press their case for a transfer of their choice. The directive from DoPT states clearly that no government servant “shall bring or attempt to bring any political or other outside influences… to further his interests.” We’ll have to wait and see how that pans out.
Punjab CM bows to Sidhu’s demand
As is expected, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi is making careful, well-calibrated moves, knowing Assembly elections are around the corner. He recently removed senior IPS officer and state Director General of Police (DGP) Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota and named Siddharth Chattopadhyay as the officiating DGP. An officer of the 1986-batch IPS, Chattopadhyay will hold this charge until a regular DGP is appointed from a panel of three IPS officers shortlisted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
According to sources, Sahota who is a 1988-batch IPS officer was also the CM’s choice and appointed after Channi became the Chief Minister of Punjab.
It is more than likely that people, some even from within his government and party, may make some noises about Channi’s latest move, even though some suggest that he has relented to pressure and obliged state Congress president and his political rival Navjot Singh Sidhu, who had been pressing for Sahota’s removal for long. He plugged for Chattopadhyay who during an earlier Congress government had led the investigation into the financial dealings of senior Akali Dal leaders. Earlier too, Sidhu had forced Channi to replace the state’s Advocate General APS Deol.
These moves are necessitated by the approaching elections and before the Election Commission announces the poll dates, most likely in January, when the code of conduct will come into play. Keeping his flock together in a rather fluid scenario for the Congress party may be just one of Channi’s many concerns.
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