Promoting merit is one thing; breaking the hierarchy in the name of merit is open to questioning. Of course, it’s the fundamental right of the political dispensation to pick up and employ civil servants of its choice; but this right can’t be exercised at the cost of breaking the hierarchy which is the bedrock of functioning of the civil services in an ordered way.
Breaking the hierarchy is becoming too common these days. Take, for instance, the case of Punjab. CM Capt Amrinder Singh took over on 16 March 2017 and one of the first orders that was passed was the appointment (on a contract basis) of a 1983 batch retired IAS officer Suresh Kumar as Chief Principal Secretary to the CM Punjab in the pay scale of Union Cabinet Secretary on 17 March 2017. His appointment order clearly underlined that Suresh Kumar would get leave, facilities & perks as allowed to the officers in the rank of Cabinet Secretary, Govt of India.
It may be noted that level 18 in the Matrix carries a pay of Rs. 2.50 lakhs per month which is drawn by Union Cabinet Secretary. However, Union Secretaries and Chief Secretaries of the states fall in level 17 (Rs. 2.25 lakhs per month).
Suresh Kumar had retired from the post of Additional Chief Secretary in the pay scale of level 17, but in his current position he was equated with Cabinet Secretary (GoI) which is one rank higher than Union Secretaries and Chief Secretaries of the state.
Suresh Kumar’s promotion post-retirement promotion created a peculiar situation where his several seniors serving in state & at the Centre became his junior in rank and pay. For example, Himmat Singh (IAS:1980:PB), former Chief Secretary Sarvesh Kaushal (IAS:1982:PB) are now junior to Suresh Kumar as also Union Secretary (DFS), Ms Anjuly Chib Duggal (IAS:1981:PB), who get their pay in level 17 of the pay matrix as Suresh Kumar is in level 18 of the Pay Matrix. Though it is considered a rare case of suppression of senior serving officers, it has broken down order and institutional hierarchy of IAS.
Of course, breaking the hierarchy couldn’t have been the objective of the CM. Maybe, it escaped his attention or not advised properly or both that his arrangement would make the Chief Secretary, the head of the civil services in the state, report to a retired IAS officer drawing higher pay than the CS. It may well be substantiated by the fact that the state Chief Secretary is neither consulted regarding various policy issues nor taken to Niti Ayog Meetings and various government of India meetings.
Punjab does not stand alone in this kind of strange official arrangement but in other states, even while picking up officials of their choice, the CMs didn’t break the hierarchial order. No state other than Punjab is seen as having created a post equivalent to the rank & status of ‘Union Cabinet Secretary’. Moreover, Suresh Kumar is made Chief PS to CM against the existing post of PS to CM which is an encadred post. Since there has never been any provision of encadred post in the state in the rank of ‘Union Cabinet Secretary,’ questions are being asked how such an ex-cadre post has been created in the state.
There have been many such cases, though slightly different, of creating special posts of Chief Principal Secretary to CM in UP, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and many other states on contractual basis on formula of ‘last pay drawn minus pension’.
The post of state cabinet secretary, which is often described as unconstitutional, was especially created in UP for Shashank Shekhar Singh (a pilot by professon & not an IAS officer) by Mayawati in 2007 which had made the post of chief secretary almost redundant. Shashank enjoyed the status of Cabinet Minister and not the Union Cabinet Secretary. Further the High Court had ordered the withdrawal of his status as a Cabinet Minister.
In Gujarat K Kailashnathan (Retd IAS:1979:GJ) in June 2013 retired from the post of ACS to Gujarat CM Narendra Modi and was subsequently made a Chief Principal Secretary on the same formula of ‘last pay drawn minus pension’ but it did not disturb the hierarchy in the state. Similarly, Rakesh Sharma (retd IAS:1980:UD) was made Special PS to the CM but on the same formula of ‘last pay drawn minus pension’. They were never given the status of ‘Union Cabinet Secretary’.
Indianmandarins spoke to dozens of Secretaries& Chief Secretary rank IAS officers on the subject. Most of them were of the view that Capt Amrinder Singh’s Govt may not be technically wrong as a retired IAS officer becomes ex-cadre officer who may be accommodated anywhere by a state govt. However, they believe at the same time that disrupting the historically evolved hierarchy of an All India Service is something which could have been avoided. They point out that there has been a thumb-rule that the seniors should not draw salary less than their juniors as it hampers the cohesion and mutual cooperation among officers which is essential to effective governance and administration. The State Govt has all the right to fix pay and perks to an ex-cadre officer but the official description ‘in the rank of Cabinet Secretary, Govt of India,’ is something which could have been avoided.