The Supreme Court had given a landmark judgment in 2006 to reform and restructure the police. In what appears to be a follow-up pronouncement, the apex court gave another landmark judgment on October 29 that the civil servants should have security of tenure and that they should not act on oral orders of the superiors.
The court recognised that, in the present political scenario, the role of civil servants has become very complex and onerous, and that quite often they have to take decisions which have far-reaching consequences in the economic and technological fields. As such, their decisions must be transparent and in public interest, and they should be fully accountable to the community they serve.
The court, therefore, directed that a Civil Service Board (CSB) consisting of high-ranking service officers who are experts in their respective fields, with the Cabinet Secretary at the Centre and Chief Secretary in the states, be constituted to guide and advise the government on all service matters, especially on transfers, postings and disciplinary action. The court, however, clarified that the views of the board could be overruled by the political executive, but only after recording reasons. This, the judiciary felt, would ensure good governance, transparency and accountability in government functioning. These directions are to be implemented within three months and will hold good till such time as the Parliament, under Article 309 of the Constitution, enacts a Civil Service Act setting up a CSB to guide and advise the political executive.
The court, in this context, deplored that the civil servants are not having stability of tenure and that transfers and postings are being made for political and other considerations and not necessarily in public interest. Taking cognisance of the fact that 13 states had accepted the necessity of minimum tenure for civil servants, the court directed the Union, state governments and Union Territories to issue appropriate directions to provide a minimum tenure to the civil servants. An assured tenure, the court observed, would not only enable the civil servants achieve their professional
targets but also help them function as effective instruments of public policy.
On the subject of oral instructions to civil servants, the court referred to the recommendations of the Hota Committee and Santhanam Committee, and stated that those reports highlighted the necessity of recording instructions and directions to the public servants. Rule 3(3)(iii) of the All India Service Rules specifically required that all orders from superior officers shall ordinarily be in writing. In exceptional circumstances, where action has to be taken on the basis of oral directions, it is mandatory for the superior officer to confirm the same in writing. The court expressed its view that the civil servants cannot function on the basis of verbal or oral instructions and they must be protected against wrongful and arbitrary pressure exerted by the administrative superiors, political executive, business and other vested interests. Recording of directions is necessary for fixing responsibility and ensuring accountability in the functioning of civil services and upholding their institutional integrity. The court also felt that the practice of giving oral directions/instructions by the administrative superiors or the political executive would defeat the object and purpose of RTI Act and would give room for favouritism and corruption.
The directions are unexceptionable, but the point is whether the political class would implement them. One Central minister, Jairam Ramesh, has already struck a discordant note. The directions on police reform are yet to be implemented. The apex court has been chary of wielding the stick, but perhaps that will have to be done. Exemplary punishment of one or two states will send the appropriate message across the country. Unless that is done, the Supreme Court’s directions—both on police reform and civil services reform—would remain on paper only and a dream and aspiration for the people. Khemkas would continue to be brutalised. Nagpals would continue to be the sacrificial lambs.
The steel frame has already been bent. Police are in a shambles. The stakes are very high. If reforms are not carried out, the entire administrative structure could collapse. That would be the death-knell of governance—and democracy—in the country.