n the context of the second Covid surge, a group of 116 former civil servants has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi accusing the government of not addressing the crucial issues at stake.
What makes this “open letter” significant is that the signatories include former Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar, former Foreign Secretary and National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, former health secretary K. Sujatha Rao, former advisor to the Prime Minister TKA Nair, former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and former Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung, among others.
Now unfettered by civil service regulations and free to speak their mind, these former babus, who call themselves the Constitutional Conduct Group, have alleged that the Centre has botched the efforts to tackle the spread of the pandemic and urged Modi to take urgent action, including centralisng procurement and supply of vaccines which should be administered free and universally to all Indians. They have also expressed concern about the “steady erosion of the Cabinet system of governance” (too much PMO!) and deteriorating ties with the states.
Of course, there is nothing new in the missive. The ordinary citizens, Opposition parties, and even the judiciary in several states have been raising these same issues. The “coalition” of the willing that Modi seemed to have created since his ascent to power in 2014 is now beginning to crack. The government had managed the narrative adroitly so far, but in the face of the Covid pandemic, it now seems unable to contain the growing dissent in the country over its pandemic policy.
Khemka sets off Centre-Haryana tussle
The unrelenting Ashok Khemka has struck again. The Haryana cadre IAS officer and whistleblower has brought to light blatant violations of the civil service rules by the Haryana government. It appears that the state government has been appointing IPS, IFoS and IRS officers to IAS cadre posts such as principal secretary without the Centre’s sanction.
Sources say that Khemka had made a representation to Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba in December last year, but it has taken a while for the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to sit up and finally take notice.
The department has now called for a detailed report from the Khattar sarkar on the status of these postings. It has advised the state administration to stick to the IAS cadre rules and not appoint other all-India cadre officers to IAS cadre posts of principal secretaries and certainly not for a period beyond three months, without the department’s prior approval. Some may recall that a similar situation had arisen in Nagaland where the government was appointing state service officers to IAS cadre posts.
Khemka, the officer who flagged the issue, should be satisfied with the Centre’s response since it is such a rare thing!
The Modi sarkar has given a year’s extension for Intelligence Bureau chief Arvinda Kumar and RAW chief SK Goel in the interest of “continuity”. Both are IPS officers. Interestingly, these extensions come after the setback to plans when both senior IPS officers, Rakesh Asthana and YC Modi, were left out of the race to become the CBI chief. This, only after the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana objected to their names, citing a Supreme Court ruling which states that only officers who have more than six months left for retirement could be considered.
But the government lost no time in quickly approving extended terms, in the case of IB and RAW chiefs. Note, it is only an extension and not a new appointment. Insiders say that the extension to the two officers was given after relaxing the existing rules.
Similarly, there is buzz that the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) chief Pramod Chandra Mody is hoping for another extension. This, after two extensions, one of six months and another of three months already!
Of course, it will be argued that it is the PM’s prerogative to retain trusted officers in supra-sensitive posts such as the IB and RAW chiefs. It also doesn’t hurt a bit, if you are also close to the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
Questions will, of course, be asked about the problems such extensions create within the next in line. While the line of succession at IB is not really affected much by Kumar’s extended term, but in the case of Goel, the extension will ensure that at least two senior RAW officers will retire before his extended term ends.
While this practice allows the favourites to continue for a bit longer, it does kill the hopes of officers hoping to retire at the top of their service. But that’s the subject for another day… keep watching this space.
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