Is extension to MP Chief Secretary a poll exercise?

DB Post 30 June 2018

NK SINGH

The opposition Congress party has objected to the extension in service given to Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary BP Singh. MPCC chief Kamal Nath complained to Election Commission this week that the BJP government was trying to “influence the process of free and fair elections” by extending Singh’s tenure by six months.

Singh was supposed to retire on June 30, but last week the government decided to delay his superannuation till the end of the year.

The six month extension to the Chief Secretary would cover the period of forthcoming assembly elections, due by November this year. The Congress alleged that the Chief Secretary’s tenure was increased “to use his administrative clout” for the upcoming polls.

Although the CS was not directly involved in election work, argued Nath, “he has direct control over officers who are assigned with election duty.”

The Congress party, said the letter to the EC, had “reasonable apprehension that the Chief Secretary who has been favoured by way of extension by the State will use his power and authority henceforth to promote political interest of the ruling BJP party.”

The Congress reasoning is that officers who are given extension in service or reappointments “feel indebted” to the incumbent government and “become easy prey” to misuse their authority for the benefit of the ruling party.

It has asked the Election Commission to direct the MP Government to change the CS “in the interest of purity of elections” and provide a panel of names to replace Singh during assembly elections.

Raising doubts about the impartiality of the Chief Secretary ahead of polls is a serious issue. What is the factual position? It was a Congress Government itself which had first given an extension to a chief secretary in MP on the eve of elections.

Cong Govt started extension

In 1990, just ahead of MP assembly election, then chief minister SC Shukla extended the tenure of his chief secretary, RS Khanna. In fact, the chief secretary’s tenure was extended with the specific purpose of conducting the impending election.

“Khanna told Shukla that he would work only till elections and would not stay in office beyond that,” recalls Nirmala Buch, a former chief secretary.

Going by Nath’s logic, Khanna should have felt “indebted” to the Congress for the extension. Did SC Shukla try to influence elections by using his chief secretary’s “clout”? Even if he did, it does not seem to have worked.

The ruling party was trounced in 1990 assembly elections and the BJP came to power with Sunderlal Patwa as Chief Minister. Khanna, the 16th Chief Secretary of the state, was considered a first rate officer, and so is Singh, the 30th CS.

It is true, as Nath has pointed out, that rule book does not provide for extensions to chief secretaries or director generals of police. It depends upon the discretion of the government.

Probably that is why extensions to chief secretaries are rather rare in MP. Of the 29 chief secretaries (RCVP Noronha graced the office twice) the state has had so far, only five were granted extensions.

The state of Madhya Pradesh came into existence in 1956. For a quarter century thereafter, none of the chief secretaries was granted extension in service.

The first ever extension to a chief secretary in MP was given by a Congress government in 1982, according to Manohar Keshav, a retired officer of MP cadre. Then chief minister Arjun Singh extended Jagathpathi’s tenure.

RS Khanna was the second chief secretary to get extension. The third bureaucrat to get extension was Khanna’s successor, RP Kapoor, a favourite of former CM Sunderlal Patwa.

Although Digvijay Singh, as chief minister was on backslapping terms with most officers, he did not give extension to anyone during his decade long tenure.

The longest serving Chief Minister of MP, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, also reserved this honour for only two of the half a dozen chief secretaries he worked with during his 13 year tenure.

R Parasuram was the first to get an extension, and BP Singh is the second. Incidentally, both have unblemished records and known for their integrity.

Why are extensions in service rare? What makes a chief secretary favourite enough to get an extension? It could be due to a variety of reasons, including diligence, integrity and hard work, differing from chief minister to chief minister.

But most important of all is comfort factor. A chief secretary can carry on only if his political master feels comfortable with him. After all, it is a selection post.

Another reason behind the extension is that the CM did not want to stir up hornet’s nest by selecting a new chief secretary at this juncture, with just a few weeks left for elections.

There are quite a few contenders for the post, many with fragile ego. He would not like to annoy them.

Publicly, Chouhan may threaten to “hang upside down” IAS officers. But privately, he is known to eat out of their hands. At least this is what his detractors within the ruling party feel.

Published in DB Post on 30 June 2018, updated on 3 July 2018

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