Power without responsibility

Power without responsibility

The recent incident in Andhra Pradesh state where the Chief Secretary was removed abruptly and unceremoniously within five months of taking over of charge has a lot to do with the functioning of the Chief Minister's Office.

The recent incident in Andhra Pradesh state where the Chief Secretary was removed abruptly and unceremoniously within five months of taking over of charge has a lot to do with the functioning of the Chief Minister's Office.

An office originally started as a small outfit to assist the Chief Minister with his appointments has grown in size over a period of time. With personalised administrative approach of the Chief Ministers and cabinets becoming mere rubber stamps Chief Minister's office started becoming the main centre of power.

Today it functions as a parallel administrative setup with half a dozen IAS officers serving and retired and a plethora of advisors . But this is one office in the whole government set up which enjoys enormous power without any responsibility.

That is because none of the functionaries advising the Chief Minister on policy issues and disposal of files keep a record of their advice.

AP secretariat business rules which govern the file movement and disposal in the Secretariat exclude the Chief Minister's Office from the operation of these business rules. In any government office responsibility on an employee is fixed in terms of the signed noting he makes on the file.

But since Chief Minister's office is excluded from the operation of the Secretariat business rules they don't maintain any such record. Whatever temporary record they may maintain to brief the Chief Minister is destroyed after the file is disposed by the Chief Minister.

Thus, they are not answerable to whatever advice they give to the Chief Minister and this gives them enormous power without responsibility.

It is now common for the Chief Minister's office to bypass the official hierarchy get files of their choice, to tutor the officers what they should write on the files, and chase files as per the interests of the lobbies that work in close cooperation with the Chief Minister's office.

But when tomorrow if there is an enquiry though the officers concerned may get into problem the Chief Minister's office is safe since they have not signed anywhere on the file.

In terms of their behaviour towards senior officers CMOs behaved well with senior officers and the Chief Secretary as long as there were very mature officers working in the Chief Minister's office.

They were able to maintain that delicate balance of safeguarding the interest of the Chief Minister and at the same time ensure that procedures are properly followed and none of the senior officers are rubbed on the wrong side.

Deterioration started about a decade and a half when persons of abrasive temperament started occupying these powerful posts and started throwing their weight around. Once officers from other cadres and other services started becoming part of the Chief Minister's office the personal touch that used to be there within the cadre was lost .

Present case is peculiar in the sense the person who is working as the Secretary to CM is also given the responsibility of Secretary, Political in the General Administration Department directly working under the Chief Secretary.

The same person in his capacity of Secretary to GAD reports to the Chief Secretary and at the same time as Secretary to CM exercises the powers of the CM over the Chief Secretary.

Normally since those who work in the Chief Minister's office do not double up as Secretaries to government they will only be following up with the Secretaries for issuance of Government orders but will not be issuing GOs.

But in this case the same person can get a file approved as secretary to CM and issue an order as Secretary GAD right under the nose of the Chief Secretary without his knowledge. This very situation has all the potential for a conflict and that is what seems to have happened .

Out of the two orders leading to friction one deals with removal of all the employees taken on contract and outsourcing basis. Instead of removing all at one go and creating an administrator vacuum in a number of corporations and government departments a better approach would have been to screen and decide who will go.

Similarly in the second order, responsibility was fixed on the Secretaries to send the draft Government Orders for the perusal of the Chief Minister wherever they think it is of public importance. Essentially this is the work of the Chief Minister's office.

If this responsibility is shifted to the secretaries to be on the safe side they will send all the files back to the CMO for approval of the draft orders delaying the administrative process.

I have filed a public interest litigation in 2018 to make the Secretariat Manual applicable to the Chief Minister's office so that the officers sign on each file and keep a record so that the advice given by them to the Chief Minister is there on record.

My argument was that since all of them draw their salaries from the treasury they have responsibility to maintain the record and take responsibility for the advise given to the Chief Minister. It is still pending in the High court.

Without waiting for the outcome of the court judgement in the interest of good responsive administration, Government of Andhra Pradesh can amend the AP Secretariat business rules to make them applicable to Chief Minister's office as well.

That would make the Chief Minister's office to think twice before pursuing or approving an irregular or an illegal file.

(Writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)

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