Editorial: Another step
Consultation and cooperation are probably outdated words in the Narendra Modi-led government’s lexicon. As in pushing through legislation in Parliament so in deciding on amendments to established rules and laws, the government at the Centre prefers to be unilateral; federalism may be part of its leader’s rhetoric but is certainly not its cup of tea. The latest amendment being proposed would give the Centre overriding powers to call up Indian Administrative Service officers from the states. Administrative officers are appointed in cadres of states and Union territories and their deputation at the Centre is the result of consultation between the Centre and the state in question. This practice will be changed if the amendment is carried through. The Centre has decided that the officer it wants will stand relieved of his or her appointment in the state from the date given by the Centre whether the state government agrees to the deputation or not. This will serve a number of purposes. It could inject apprehension or uncertainty in officers who are supposed to serve fearlessly and faithfully, and that in turn would help erode the administrative strength of the states. Weakening the administration would be an excellent way to politicize it, making one political party dominant in every aspect of governance.
The proposal itself is politics in disguise, made ostensibly on the ground that the states were not deputing a sufficient number of officers to the Centre. For it is not merely the administrative efficiency of states that may be affected but also their autonomy in a federal polity. This was one of the themes of the West Bengal chief minister’s letters of protest to the prime minister, and now eight more non-Bharatiya Janata Party states have joined her. Protecting the federal structure cannot be the task of Opposition states alone; it is disconcerting that eight other states have consented to the Centre’s proposal. This indicates that the states are already split on political lines even in matters as fundamental as autonomy and federalism. Unless they unite to fight against attempts to alter basic systems and structures, Mr Modi’s government will succeed in augmenting its powers by pushing through its desired changes. There is still time to oppose the latest proposal with the full strength of all the states. That is the only hope.