Rasheeda Bhagat

The curious case of Archana Ramasundaram

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on: Mar 12, 2018

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The nation is ill-served if States don’t spare officers with experience to serve at the Centre

If you thought any Indian State, particularly one headed by a woman Chief Minister, would be happy to send a senior police officer to Delhi as the first ever woman Additional Director, CBI, you’d be wrong.

DGP-rank Tamil Nadu IPS officer Archana Ramasundaram was suspended by the Tamil Nadu government for taking up that post on May 8, obeying an official Government of India order. The reason: she joined without the Tamil Nadu government’s relieving order, which didn’t come for three months despite her two reported meetings with Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa to obtain one. The suspension, however, came the same evening, for deserting her post as Chairperson of the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board!

Her selection turned controversial following the Central Vigilance Commission curiously recommending only one name — RK Pachnanda, three years junior to the Tamil Nadu cop – instead of recommending three names as per the norms. This, despite the Department of Personnel, the CBI’s administrative body, suggesting five names. Archana was the lone woman officer and senior-most on that list. The Cabinet’s Appointments Committee turned down the CVC’s recommendation and selected Archana, triggering a petition in the Supreme Court questioning her selection.

In its latest interim order, taking up the earlier petition, the Supreme Court has restrained her from discharging her duties at the CBI, noting that this is not a “reflection on her competence” for the post.

Centre-State blues The outcome of this case notwithstanding, for the time being Archana is caught in the stand-off between the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government. Jayalalithaa has been frequently lambasting the UPA government for issues ranging from hikes in petroleum product prices to its failure to safeguard Tamil Nadu’s interest vis-à-vis Sri Lanka. The issue also boils down to the powers of the Centre and the States.

Experts point out that Articles 256 and 257 of the Constitution clearly state that the executive power of a State should be exercised so as not to “impede or prejudice” the executive power of the Union. So, doesn’t the Tamil Nadu government’s dogged stand on this issue fly in the face of these provisions, particularly after it gave the officer its consent to apply?

Of course, like many States, Tamil Nadu too has been reluctant to part with outstanding senior officers to the Centre. Former CBI Director RK Raghavan defends this, adding, “Not many officers actually want to shift base to the Centre because there are more perks serving the State than in Delhi.”

But Archana chose to serve the CBI, where she’s already had stints as DIG and Joint Director. Also, one wonders why the Tamil Nadu government sidelined to an inconsequential post an “outstanding” officer it is reluctant to part with.

Skewed gender ratio State-Centre relations apart, the delay in relieving a senior officer set to take up a prestigious position at the Centre, where she has all chances of becoming Director, CBI, as she has four years of service left, raises serious questions. Particularly, when the gender ratio in the IPS is a 10 per cent or so. Also, the increasing cult of suspending and humiliating senior officers, in this and other States on politicians’ whims, leaves junior officers demoralised.

How do other States treat officers aspiring for better postings at the Centre? Senior IAS officers point out that though Bihar has a real shortage of good officers, the State continues to send its talented officers on deputation to the Centre. Sure enough, Biharis, as also Tamils, have dominated Delhi’s babudom.

A bureaucrat from a northern State cadre points out that the All-India Services were created to serve both the Centre and the States. “The benefit is that members carry the dust from their field-level experiences to policy-making in the States as well as in Delhi. The nation is ill-served if States don’t spare officers to serve at the Centre.” Similarly, the practice of the Centre not returning the deputed officers to the States in time deserves criticism.

But in this particular case, he adds, “the Tamil Nadu government cannot escape the charge of vendetta because it inordinately delayed the officer’s relieving order after offering her services to the Centre on deputation in October 2013, but then went ahead and suspended her when she obeyed an order from the Centre.”

TN’s administrative record As for suspensions, the summary suspension of Durga Shakti Nagpal by the UP government is well known and the earlier Mayawati government could also match Tamil Nadu’s record on this dubious issue. “But the difference is officers had access to her and could reason with her to remedy the situation,” says a retired IAS officer from the Tamil Nadu cadre, adding, “In Tamil Nadu, these days, I understand officers need approval of the Chief Minister even for touring, something that the Chief Secretary would clear in our times.”

This might or might not be an exaggeration but, unfortunately, this controversy, which has captured media space across India, has cropped up in a State once known for the excellent quality of its senior bureaucrats and its enviable administration record. Lok Satta Party chief Jayaprakash Narayan, an IAS officer himself, said this to me 10 years ago, pointing out emphatically and enviously: “You are lucky because despite the AIADMK-DMK bickering, the administration system in Tamil Nadu works; it doesn’t in Andhra. That is why we have so much criminalisation of politics here.”

And, while the Gujarat model of development is being touted this election season, Tamil Nadu’s better social indicators in health, education, and other spheres are discussed at various forums. Surely, these haven’t come about without an exemplary working relationship between politicians and executives.

Last, but not the least, is the issue of competence; Raghavan, who has worked with Archana, both in Tamil Nadu and the CBI, certifies her “competence and investigative skills; she is right material to head the CBI”. ( >Click here to read full interview ).

When that happens she will, of course, be the first woman CBI Director. While that will be a badge of honour for the State too, introspection is required on the demoralisation of officers by frequent suspensions and a climate of fear where the senior-most bureaucrats are terrified of talking to the media!

On the need to spare the CBI from Centre-State wrangling, Raghavan says, “You cannot legislate for this. Only cordial relations between the State and Centre can avert a spat like the one we are now witnessing.”

Published on May 12, 2014
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