An extraordinary order issued by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s most trusted bureaucrat is being examined by the department of personnel and training (DoPT) at the Centre. As reported exclusively in this newspaper, UP Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh thereby assumed a position at par with the chief secretary, who is supposed to be the seniormost civil servant in a state. The order left no scope for ambiguity on the cabinet secretary’s enhanced powers. He would, along with the chief secretary, be empowered to call for any file and to review decisions taken by the previous government. The word from the Mayawati camp has been that Singh is being given power to speed up development works. Against this lofty objective, weigh the damages.
According to Singh’s order, he would be empowered to “coordinate and supervise work of all departments”. There is a very well established line of accountability that runs right up to the chief secretary. Will the “cabinet secretary” be a parallel centre of power and accountability? Ensuring accountability would in any case be problematic, because he comes to the post from outside the state cadre, with his tenure more or less coterminus with his CM’s. Would service rules be applicable to him in that case, as they are to other bureaucrats, including the chief secretary?
Mayawati’s attitude to the bureaucracy demands a question larger than Singh’s terms of appointment. Is she not, by her record of large-scale transfers, undermining an institution that could be beneficial to her in honouring the demands of her historic mandate? As our columnist emphasises today, elected governments need a permanent executive that is sufficiently alert to rules so as to help them frame policy and legislation that would pass, among other things, legal scrutiny. This implies officers emboldened enough to point out to the minister or CM that certain proposals, say, may not be recommended in terms of procedure. But when the civil service is politicised because of rapid transfers — and for this Mayawati alone must not be blamed, other CMs have been equally cavalier in this regard — officers become fearful of appearing contrarian. The DoPT should scrutinise Singh’s appointment with the severity it deserves. If left unquestioned, it will set a dangerous precedent. So no one should ‘remind’ it that Mayawati is politically important to the UPA. :: Chief’s chief