It was as early as 1858 when India adopted a permanent civil service appointed through competitive examination. UK adopted a similar system twelve years later and USA opted for such a system only twenty five years later. USA had been manning government posts by people picked up as political patronage. The pernicious system, known as Spoils System, started during the administration of President Andrew Jackson in 1829 and continued till it was abolished by a law known as the Pendleton Act in 1883. The merit system of recruitment commenced in India since 1858, and continued after India attained independence in 1947. Indian Civil Service (ICS) was considered one of the finest public services of the world and it became a model for other countries. The system insulated recruitments from political patronage and ensured neutrality of the civil service - so essential in a pluralistic society and a polity that has opted for a parliamentary democracy and a multi-party system. Spoils system was never the preferred option in India for manning government posts.
It is relevant to recall Odisha Chief Minister’s stand on contractual appointments. On October 14, 2022, Chief Minister said to the media, “I am delighted to announce that the State Cabinet has decided to abolish the contractual system of recruitment permanently – the era of contractual recruitment has come to an end. The Chief Minister further said, “In 2000, with the blessings of all of you I got an opportunity to serve mother Odisha. The post-Super Cyclone situation and the fragile financial conditions then were biggest challenges for me……. It was indeed a black period for the Odisha economy. The state exchequer was empty. There was tremendous pressure on our economy. We were lagging behind in various fields including health, education, infrastructure, agriculture, irrigation and many others. Our priority then was to bring improvement in all these sectors within our limited resources,” he added, “Under the circumstances, the government was forced to abolish regular posts. It was a difficult decision and very painful for me. The youths of my state were running from pillar to post for employment. The only thing that was on top of my mind was – when would the situation improve? When would our children get regular recruitment in state government?..... Now our economy has improved significantly. Odisha has created a new identity for itself in the field of development in the country.”
Against this backdrop, one needs to view the sudden and unexpected appointment by Government of Odisha of Manoj Kumar Mishra as Principal Secretary to Government, Electronics and Information Technology on contractual basis. The decision is important and merits a discussion. The General Administration Department Notification dated the 29th of December while appointing him as such, stated that Mishra’s resignation from the Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS) had been accepted on the 28th December by the Ministry of Railways. It also said Mishra would remain in additional charge of Special Secretary to Government (Rail Coordination), Commerce and Transport Department. He shall be entitled to consolidated remuneration as is paid (Pay plus DA) to the officer of equivalent rank and shall be provided with the required facilities for smooth discharge of his official duties.
Let us have a look at the office memorandum of GA and PG Department of Government of Odisha bearing number GAD-SC-GCS-0169-2020 10682/Gen., dated 19th of April, 2022 on regularisation of qualified workers appointed against sanctioned posts. The office memorandum has flagged a few very important issues on the matter of recruiting for government posts. These include the following:
(i) Equality of opportunity is the hallmark for public employment and it is in terms of the Constitutional scheme only.
(ii) The filling of vacancies cannot be done in a haphazard manner or based on patronage or other considerations.
(iii) The state is meant to be a model employer and can make appointments only in accordance with the rules framed under Article 309 of the Constitution.
(iv) Regularisation is not and cannot be a mode of recruitment by any State within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India.
(v) Any regular appointment made on a post under the State or Union without issuing advertisement inviting applications from eligible candidates and without holding a proper selection where ail eligible candidates get a fair chance to compete, would violate the guarantee enshrined under Article 16 of the Constitution.
(vi) If it is a contractual appointment, the appointment comes to an end at the end of the contract.
Orissa Government Rules of Business which have been framed by the Governor in exercise of powers conferred by Clause (3) of Article 166 of the Constitution of India states that (i) each Department of the Secretariat shall consist of a Secretary to Government who shall be the official head of that department.(ii) "Secretary" means a Secretary to the Government of Orissa and includes a Principal Secretary, a Special Secretary, an Additional Secretary, a Joint Secretary, a Deputy Secretary and an Under Secretary.
In the case under discussion, a person, not in any government service has been picked up by the Government and appointed as Principal Secretary in one Department and Special Secretary in another Department. These two departments do not have any functional similarity nor do these departments need similar or same domain expertise. The person selected does not seem to be specially equipped to do justice to both the assignments. Why he was picked up from the market in a secretive manner without an open advertisement that would have elicited response from people having better domain expertise and practical experience, is not known. Why one department of Government has been placed in charge of an outsider deviating from the normal practice of posting a suitable officer from the IAS cadre is also not clear and seems to be in conflict with the IAS Cadre Rule.
It could be argued that the selected person while on deputation from the IRTS with the state government did function as Special Secretary, Commerce and Transport Department and Commissioner, Rail Coordination and also as Secretary, Electronics and Information Technology. This, however, cannot be a ground for picking him up from market and putting him in charge of these posts. Odisha’s performance in handing over land for critical railway projects, however, has been highly unsatisfactory. In software sector the state continues to remain a poor player, exports of software sector in last three years have reached a plateau. Odisha is yet to adopt RTI Online. E Despatch arrangement is yet to become robust and sustainable.
In the Schedule of Posts in the Odisha IAS cadre, there are nine posts of Principal Secretary. Equivalent number of IAS officers is also in position in ex-cadre posts. Two IAS officers of 1998 batch of IAS were posted as Principal Secretary only recently. An officer of 1999 Batch of IRTS could be in the grade equivalent to Principal Secretary in state Government only after many years. Here is however a case where the person has been appointed as Principal Secretary even when there was no such vacancy. The contractual appointment also seems open-ended. The procedure followed is in stark violation of the norms stipulated in GA Department’s Memorandum referred to above and also the Chief Minister’s public stand on contractual appointment.
Government decision in this case looks inexplicable; it violates the time tested merit system in recruitment for government posts prevalent in the country and is a clear endorsement of Spoils System that could have far reaching consequences and compromise political neutrality of state’s bureaucracy. There are strong reasons for Government to set things right by nullifying the decision. If that does not happen, Government of India needs to look at the issue and issue appropriate advisory.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
More From The Author | Airlinking Bhubaneswar to Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok: Viability of flight operations doubtful