SC moves to shield bureaucrats from transfers, verbal orders

The Supreme Court today took steps to protect bureaucrats from political pressure, ruling not only that they must get an assured minimum tenure in posting, but also empowering them to record on file the oral instructions of political bosses so as not to be hounded later on for a particular decision.

Supreme Court Suggesting sweeping reforms in the functioning of bureaucracy, a bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and P C Ghose said parliament must enact a law to regulate postings, transfers and disciplinary action against bureaucrats.

The apex court passed the verdict on a public interest litigation filed by 83 retired bureaucrats including former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian seeking its directions for insulating bureaucracy from political interference.

Holding that much of the deterioration in bureaucracy is because of political interference, it said that civil servants should not act on verbal orders given by political executives and all actions must be taken by them on the basis of written communication.

The court said such recording of political instructions by bureaucrats will also help in promoting transparency and will allow general public to access correct information.

"Fixed tenure of bureaucrats will promote professionalism, efficiency and good governance," the bench observed. "Much of the deterioration in the functioning of bureaucracy is due to political interference."

The court also directed the centre and state governments to pass an order within three months on giving fixed tenure to civil servants.

The judgement comes close on the heels of controversies surrounding Ashok Khemka, IAS officer of Haryana cadre over the DLF-Robert Vadra land deal, and Durga Sakhti Nagpal, the Uttar Pradesh IAS officer who was targeted by the state government for alleged misconduct.

The petitioners also include former Indian ambassador to the US Abid Hussain, former chief election commissioner N Gopalaswami, former election commissioner T S Krishna Murthy, former Indian Police Service officer Ved Prakash Marwah, and former Central Bureau of Investigation directors Joginder Singh and D R Kaarthikeyan.

"This is a landmark judgement. Public servants are not private servants," former cabinet secretary Subramanian said.

"Today our faith in our Constitution has been reaffirmed ... our faith in the strength of democracy has been reaffirmed because the highest court of the land has recognised the problems," he said, adding that malgovernance affected people and quality of administration.

Krishna Murthy lauded the verdict, saying "Good governance is critical to good quality democracy.

"Most of us have seen in our career how most of the transfers, promotions, postings and foreign assignments, all of them are decided on whimsical basis very often."

The PIL had alleged that at present, the system of transfers, postings, promotions, disciplinary action and other personnel matters pertaining to the members of civil services are ad-hoc and non-transparent.

"There is an urgent need to make the civil servants accountable, sensitive and responsive. If this is achieved, there will be across-the-spectrum benefits ... transfers are often used as instruments of reward and punishment, with officials being frequently transferred on the whims and caprices as well as the personal needs of local politicians and other vested interests. Officers, especially those in the All India Services serving in state governments, have no stability or security of tenure," it had said.