In asking for fixed tenures for bureaucrats, the Supreme Court has tried to deal with well-publicised cases of arbitrary transfers and high-handedness by the political executive. Indeed, various government commissions have been in favour of the same. And to the extent bureaucrats have secure tenure, they can be liberated from ministers giving them verbal orders. Independent Civil Servant Boards, similarly, are to deal with their transfers and promotions, even disciplinary action.
While any HR practitioner will tell you security of tenure is critical to successful functioning, there is another side to the story. For one, despite all the talk of insecurity of tenure, bureaucrats are protected by the Constitution, so no matter what, they cannot be summarily dismissed or their rank reduced—it is difficult to ask for more protection than this. Indeed, while the need of the day is to bring in more efficiency into government, it is often the bureaucracy that is the stumbling block. In cases of clearing ration cards, or issuing passports, putting numerical targets is easy but the task gets near impossible in cases involving larger policy—in most cases where government has tried to dismantle public sector monopolies, it is bureaucrats who put up objections. In telecom, as this newspaper has repeatedly argued, while the regulator has issued sensible suggestions, the telecom bureaucracy is raising mostly meaningless queries; in another case, where a telco was alleged to have violated the law to earn R 8 lakh a decade ago, the bureaucrats levied a RR650 crore fine; the dismal record of tax cases won in courts tells its own story of the havoc wrought by bureaucrats. Bureaucrats cannot become a law unto themselves.