Every time there is a change in government, the change in the top bureaucratic posts has become a routine but that is now about to change.
Political transfers will soon be history which means no more examples like Gujarat where more than 160 IAS and IPS officers have been shifted this year as many as 39 of them this weekend.
In Uttar Pradesh Mayawati had transferred 1,350 bureaucrats without notice when she was chief minister only for six months in 1997.
The personnel ministry will soon notify a change in the All India Service rules that will give two years fixed tenure to all cadre officers.
That means collectors, SPs and chief secretaries cannot be removed without explanation and such orders will be open to litigation.
Karnataka, Jammu Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh have already implemented it but it will be mandatory for all states now.
''It will really take the pressure off officers, they will be free to work without the pressure from politicians,'' said Prakash Singh, former DG BSF.
Former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramaniam was the first to move this proposal 10 years ago.
''It is like its taking the Sword of Damocles away which was hanging over their heads,'' said TSR Subramaniam.
Most agree that the new rule will bring a fantastic change to the way the system and the Indian bureaucracy works but they warn that the centre should be careful in how they implement it and not thrust it on state governments.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has suggested that Government employees should not be transferred before two years to enable them to show results. He believes that they are basically honest and are prevented from securing people's welfare by corrupt politicians.
Our traditional understanding is different. Manu Smriti says, "Employees appointed by the king are mostly takers of property of others and cheats; from them the King should protect the people." Likewise Kautilya says in Arthasastra, "Just as it is impossible not to taste the honey or poison that finds itself at the tip of the tongue, so it is impossible for a government employee not to eat up a part of government revenue. Just as it is not possible to find whether the fish moving under water is drinking water or not, similarly it is not possible to find out how much money the government employees have embezzled". Giving security of tenure Government employees would surely enable them to deliver good governance, but it will also make it possible for them to embezzle Government revenue fearlessly and to cheat the people.
Frequent transfers do hamper the work of Government employees. But what is their "work"? It is to provide relief to the people? Or, is it to tyrannise them? Our tradition says that Government employees mostly tyrannise the people. Hence, political interference in their work leads to less tyranny. MLAs and MPs routinely haul up corrupt Government employees and get work of hapless people done. Mr Singh wants to withdraw this power of the politician to provide relief to the people.
Admittedly, it can be the other way round. Politicians maybe corrupt, while government employees honest. Politicians like Om Prakash Chautala and Lalu Prasad Yadav have been accused of corruption. But the question of accountability remains. Politicians have to face the electorate after five years. The people can replace a corrupt politician. Government employees do not face such accountability. The Prime Minister wants them to pursue their corrupt ways with impunity by ensuring they are not transferred before two years.
Mr Manmohan Singh thinks people's welfare will be secured by the government machinery. Not so in our tradition. Manu Smriti says the main work of the king is to protect the people, give in charity, to make investments and to study the scriptures. There is no endorsement of welfare state. The centre of polity rests on the naked fakir pursuing voluntary poverty, not the Government. The society is asked to make its own arrangement of health and education. Less functions for the Government means less tyranny and less corruption. This is opposite to the policy being pursued by Mr Singh.
Kautilya, however, endorses the welfare state. The king, he says, must appoint superintendents to regulate commerce, tolls, weaving, liquor, prostitutes, forests, etc. He should care for orphans, old, infirm, and sick. The Prime Minister is likewise running numerous schemes for welfare of different sections of the society.
However, Kautilya is aware of the pitfalls of heavy state. He, therefore, places equal emphasis on detection and control of corruption. He suggests that ascetics must be given land and asked to depute their disciples to detect pilferage of government revenue. Spies should be appointed to watch ministers, priests, commanders, gate-keepers, judges, collectors, commissioners, constables, police inspectors, revenue officers, etc.
Householders must be appointed to make an independent assessment of the number of households, level of production and tax collected by government officials. Officers must be trapped by spies offering bribes as decoy customers. Kautilya was aware that giving responsibility of various works to the Government would entail corruption; hence he set in motion a parallel system to, at least, partially control the leakage. He suggests that government employees shall be "transferred from one work to another so that they cannot misappropriate government money or vomit what they have eaten up".
The Mauryan empire, founded on the basis of Kautilya's suggestion, did not survive for long. It disintegrated soon after Asoka's death. In contrast, the policies enumerated in Manu Smriti have served the country relatively well for more than four millennia. This policy is seconded both by Lord Ram's discourse to Bharat in Chitrakut, and by Bhishma's advice to Yudhisthir in Shanti Parva of Mahabharat. Thus, we should rely on Kautilya less.
Manu Smriti is aware that kings become tyrannical. In Bhagvat Puran, we find the story of King Vena. The people were fed up with anarchy and they installed Vena as their king. But Vena became tyrannical. Thereupon, the Brahmins killed him by "shouting". Manu Smriti basically sees the state as a necessary evil and seeks to minimise its size as much as possible. Perhaps that explains the uninterrupted survival of the Indian civilisation, while others like Egyptian, Sumeric, Greek and Roman and our own Mauryan Empire collapsed like dominos.
Mr Manmohan Singh's policy can assessed in this backdrop. Both Manu Smriti and Kautilya say that government officers are generally corrupt. The king should protect the hapless people from them. The daily experience of our countrymen verifies these statements. The main work of the police is to collect its weekly hafta, that of revenue officers is to cheat the Government, that of Government teachers is to ensure that large number of students fail in exams and that of development departments is to collect commission. But Mr Singh thinks these employees will secure people's welfare. That is like asking the thief to secure the bank!
Our tradition suggests that the state should focus on protection of people. In the present context, one would expand this role to basic infrastructure like roads and dams, coinage, telecommunications, etc., since these functions can only be discharged by the state. But Mr Singh wants to overload Government employees with responsibility of providing things like housing, education, health, and iron supplements to pregnant women, eyeglasses for the old, etc. In this way, he will end up opening the floodgates for corruption.
Kautilya is not of much help to the Prime Minister. While he gives many responsibilities to government employees, he counterbalances this by putting in place an alert and active spy system to control the ensuing corruption. Mr Manmohan Singh slips here. He takes Kautilya's advice of welfare state, but not of the spy system.
Particularly relevant is Kautilya's advice to transfer of officials and employees. One expects that Government employees will have unfettered freedom to bleed the state exchequer and tyrannise the people under Mr Manmohan Singh leadership.