Tribunal asks Pinarayi government to stop arbitrary transfers of IAS officers

civil services examination.
A total of 761 candidates -- 545 men and 216 women -- have cleared the civil services examination.

IAS officers in Kerala who have been battling the "frequent" and "arbitrary" transfers of the Pinarayi Vijayan Government secured a big win on Monday, November 13.

The Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), in an interim order on Monday, prohibited the Kerala government from appointing or transferring IAS officers without the recommendation of the Civil Services Board. The CAT endorsed the argument of the IAS officers that such quick transfers were affecting governance.

Kerala IAS Officers' Association and two senior IAS officers - B Ashok (Agricultural Production Commissioner) and Priyanka G (Director, Women and Child Department) - had approached the CAT saying that the Pinarayi government was transferring IAS officers with no respect for the legally mandated minimum tenure of two years.

This is the first time in history that IAS officers in Kerala have jointly sought action against a government. The IAS officers submitted that a civil servant in Kerala, on an average, spends less than a year in a given cadre post in the state. The legal requirement is two years minimum.

The CAT endorsed all the contentions of IAS officers in matters related to transfers and postings. It pulled up the Kerala Government for not involving the Civil Services Board (CSB) in the matter of IAS transfers and postings.

The Ernakulam branch of the Central Administrative Tribunal. For representational purpose:

The IAS officers, in their application submitted to the CAT, have stated that the Supreme Court, in its 2013 landmark judgment in the TSR Subramanian case, had directed the Centre and states to give all civil servants a 'minimum assured tenure' at a particular posting.

Following the apex court verdict, amendments were made to the IAS (Cadre) Rules in 2014. From then on, it was understood that an IAS officer will hold her post for at least two years unless promoted, retired or sent on deputation outside the state or on training beyond two months.

If at all a tenure has to be cut short, it requires the approval of the Civil Services Board. A notification issued by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions (MoPPGP) on January 28, 2014, states that all appointments of cadre officers should be made on the recommendation of the Civil Service Board (CSB), a three-member body chaired by the Chief Secretary.

The CAT observed that the Kerala government had neither obeyed the Supreme Court directions nor has it adhered to the rules and notifications issued by the Centre in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict.

Though a CSB was formed in Kerala soon after the notification, the IAS officers say it had become dysfunctional after the first two meetings, the last of which was in 2015. The IAS officers said that chief secretaries had been unable to withstand political pressure.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

The CAT found this a serious lapse. "We feel that this cannot be permitted to continue since the directions contained in TSR Subramanians’s case, which has translated into statutory provisions have to be strictly followed, for effective administration," the CAT said in its order on Monday.

Referring to the 2013 Supreme Court order in the T.S.R Subramanian case, the CAT spoke of the necessity of ensuring minimum tenure and insulating the civil service against political influence.

Here is what the Supreme Court said in 2013: "We notice, at present the civil servants are not having stability of tenure, particularly in the State Governments where transfers and postings are made frequently, at the whims and fancies of the executive head for political and other considerations and not in public interest. The necessity of minimum tenure has been endorsed and implemented by the Union Government. Fixed minimum tenure would not only enable the civil servants to achieve their professional targets, but also help them to function as effective instruments of public policy. Repeated shuffling/transfer of the officers is deleterious to good governance."

Citing examples of arbitrary transfers, the IAS officers pointed out in their application that within a span of six months, seven persons were posted as director, Scheduled Castes Development.

The IAS officers also submitted a copy of a government order on July 7, 2021, that summarily transferred 20 IAS officers, and created two ex-cadre posts (Director of Industries and Commerce and Executive Director, Kudumbashree), without convening the CSB.

Another order, in June 2022, transferred two officers without the CSB approval. Yet another order on May 22, 2023, had transferred six IAS officers bypassing the legal route.

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