Mystery of the missing IAS dozen

Twelve IAS officers have been "missing" from the country for years and are believed to be surreptitiously working with private organisations abroad for more lucrative pay packets.

By Imran Ahmed Siddiqui
  • Published 14.06.15
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New Delhi, June 13: Twelve IAS officers have been "missing" from the country for years and are believed to be surreptitiously working with private organisations abroad for more lucrative pay packets.

Each of them had gone abroad on study leave or official deputation, which generally lasts about eight months to a year. They never returned, apparently using the international contacts gained during the assignments to bag jobs, state and central government sources said.

The sources cited how a 1983-batch officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre had disappeared 20 years ago - in 1995 - and was apparently working for a private company in Bangkok.

Most of these vanished babus have probably taken their families abroad, the sources added.

Lack of coordination between the Centre and the state governments to whose cadre the "missing" bureaucrats belonged, however, meant little action had been taken so far.

Now, the vanishing act appears to have caught the eye of the Narendra Modi government.

"The Prime Minister's Office has taken the matter up and asked for an updated list of such IAS officers who have been on unauthorised leave for years, along with their whereabouts," said an official at the department of personnel and training.

All the states have been asked to provide the updated lists. Sources said the subject cropped up during a meeting here last month that was attended by principal secretaries from all the states.

"We were both shocked and amused to find that a dozen IAS officers have been on unauthorised leave for years.... In some cases, their whereabouts are unknown to their state cadres," another personnel department official said.

Manoj Kumar Agarwal, principal secretary (personnel and administrative reforms) in the Bengal government, named the two "missing" officers from the Bengal cadre: Prashant and Amitabha Mukherjee.

Prashant, a 1988-batch officer, had in August 2009 gone on a year's assignment to Washington to work as a senior disaster risk management specialist with the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. Neither the Bengal government nor the Centre knows where he is, Agarwal said.

A native of Bihar, Prashant - who uses a single name - was district magistrate of North Dinajpur in the 1990s but later went to Delhi on deputation with the Union ministry of petroleum and natural gas, Agarwal said.

It was only last month that the department of personnel and training acted, issuing an order saying Prashant "is deemed to have resigned from the service with immediate effect".

No action has been taken against Mukherjee, a 1983-batch officer who disappeared in 2001, Agarwal said. Agarwal had attended last month's meeting in Delhi on the Bengal government's behalf.

"Mukherjee is believed to be working with the World Bank in the US. He had taken some loan from the government and is yet to repay it," Agarwal told The Telegraph over the phone. "We are trying to reach him to ask him to repay the loan. Once that is done, he will be deemed to have resigned from service."

This newspaper could not corroborate the version with the two officers concerned as they could not be contacted.

Asked why the bureaucrats did not quit the service when they bagged their overseas jobs, a personnel department source explained the advantages.

One, he said, the government often continues to pay the babus for months, if not years, after they disappear and stops only after becoming certain that they wouldn't be coming back.

Two, the "missing" civil servant probably hopes he can return after years and rejoin the service.

"The problem is compounded because neither the Centre nor the states have been strict on the matter. For instance, an IAS officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre returned after nine years but was allowed to resume service and got a plum posting," the source said. "It's all about having the right political connections."

Ironically, a bureaucrat's offence of disappearing without notice can itself become a shield against punishment - because it becomes hard to trace him and seek an explanation.

Rule 7(2) of the All India Services (Leave) Rules of 1955 says: "A member of the service shall be deemed to have resigned from the service if he/she is absent without authorisation for a period exceeding one year from the date of expiry of sanctioned leave or permission; or is absent from duty for a continuous period exceeding five years even if the period of unauthorised absence is less than a year; or continues in foreign service (assignment) beyond the period approved."

It, however, adds: "A reasonable opportunity to explain the reason for such absence or continuation of foreign service shall be given to the member of the service before the provisions of this sub-rule are invoked."

Before taking any action, therefore, the Union personnel department asks the state government to send notices and reminders to such a "missing" officer.

"But the problem is that the officer has shifted abroad with his family. So the letters and reminders - sent to his old address - don't reach him. That delays the process," the source said.

Asked if there was no alternative, K.S. Dhatwalia, spokesperson for the department of personnel and training, merely said it was "difficult to trace" bureaucrats who go missing abroad.

Sometimes, another source added, "the lack of co-ordination between the state governments and the Centre" means that the officer's disappearance remains unknown to the personnel department for years.

Most of the babus disappeared sometime towards the end of their bureaucratic career. For example, a 1980-batch Uttar Pradesh cadre officer has been incommunicado since 2008. However, a 1991-batch Sikkim cadre officer went "missing" as early as 2003.

Apart from the sack and withholding of benefits, the government is entitled to lodge a police case against such bureaucrats for flouting the document they signed undertaking to return after a specified period of time, sources said. But this has never been done.

Agarwal said the Bengal government could not do much against Mukherjee or Prashant except for sacking them.

"They had gone on official assignment after taking clearance from the government. What can we do if they are not willing to come back?" he said.