In government report cards on babus, “adequate” will now mean “inadequate” and “satisfactory” signify “unsatisfactory”.
No, India’s government isn’t turning into a doublespeak-driven Orwellian Big Brother; nor is it taking lessons in obfuscation from Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minister fame.
What it has done, for the first time, is to define “non-performance” on the part of senior bureaucrats, nudging states to prematurely retire those whose annual reports routinely judge their performance as “average”, “adequate” or “satisfactory”.
Ditto for those who receive “a lukewarm or equivocal certificate of integrity (which) would indicate there is some doubt in the mind of the reporting/reviewing authority about the integrity of the member”.
A letter sent on Thursday to all state and Union territory chief secretaries says such assessments in officials’ annual reports over a period of five to seven years, without mention of any notable achievement, suggest they have reached a “plateau” and become “mere passengers”.
“They become either stale or listless; they do not exhibit any creativity or innovativeness; and they do not achieve results,” the letter adds.
“To describe a member of an all-India service as average is not complimentary. While it may not be an adverse remark, it is nevertheless a reflection upon his work or conduct and should be taken to indicate output, which is ordinary and routine.”
The new rule has been recommended only for bureaucrats who have completed at least 15 years, making it plain that seniors are the targets.
The letter advises the states to always guard against the “Peter Principle”, which states: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”
The idea is that promotion policies tend, paradoxically, to take employees out of their areas of competence and place them in jobs they are unfit for, where they remain entrenched.
As long as an employee excels, he keeps getting promoted out of the work he excels in. When he reaches a level he is unsuited for, he shines no longer and receives no promotions — ensuring he stays at that job the longest.
Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull proposed the theory in their satirical 1969 book The Peter Principle, which also introduced the “salutary science of hierarchiology”.
Thursday’s letter was sent by the additional secretary in the department of personnel and training, S.K. Sarkar. It follows up on an amendment to the All India Service (Death-cum-Retirement Benefits) Rules, 1958, earlier this year.
The January 30 amendment specified that incompetent babus can be prematurely retired, in consultation with the states, anytime after they complete 15 years of service. It also introduced a performance review for all IAS, IPS and Indian Forest Service officers at the end of 15 and 25 years of service or after they have attained 50 years of age.
Under the old rules, the government could prematurely retire an official after 30 years of service, or anytime if convicted of corruption.
Sarkar has cited four Supreme Court rulings that support the principle of retiring non-performing officials prematurely. The objective is to embolden state administrations that shy away from acting against such bureaucrats for fear of long-drawn legal battles.
“(The) judicial pronouncements are clear... that premature retirement is not a punishment... (and) does not involve a stain or stigma and that (it) is in the public interest,” says the letter.