As per the government resolution (GR) issued by the general administration department (GAD) of Maharashtra government on 20 July 2020, the reasons given for the sudden transfer of 14 Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officers in various parts of the State, between 11th July and 14th July - that is within four days flat - are 'administrative’ and `for public good’! And these two reasons have become convenient, vague and mechanical ways of addressing the so-called transparency in the matter of transfers of government officers by the chief secretary’s office. This office has been bowing to the whims and fancies of its political masters even though the 2013 Supreme Court judgment had directed it to give 'specific reasons’!
We’ve seen that even during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, with Maharashtra as one of the hottest spots in the country, sudden transfers of three municipal commissioners and 10 deputy commissioners of police (DCPs) (which were later revoked) met with similar excuses - 'administrative’ and 'for the public good'.
Disgusted at this continuous stonewalling of the truth, a group of citizen activists across Maharashtra have sent a letter to Sanjay Kumar, chief secretary, on 22nd July, to demand transparency in appointments and transfers of civil services and all government officers by implementing the Supreme Court Order of 31 October 2013, and also by abiding by the Maharashtra Government Servants' Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act, 2005 and making it accessible to citizens under the RTI (Right to Information) Act.
The letter states: "Despite the Supreme Court Order of 31 October 2013, which mandates that the reason/reasons for transfer of a government official should be put on the record and be made available in the public domain by the state government, the directives are not being followed. It is also a violation of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) which recognizes the right of the citizen to secure access to information under the control of a public authority, in order to promote transparency. This opaque approach is contempt of court and gross violation of the RTI Act, leading to suspicion amongst citizens of political interference in such transfers, which have been condemned by the Supreme Court."
The activists have request Mr Kumar to put up on the website, "`all the official documents and official correspondence pertaining to the transfer of all officers who have been transferred from 1 January 2020 until 15 July 2020 with immediate effect. The urgency is because Maharashtra is the hot spot of the COVID-19 pandemic and during such a sensitive period, transfer of officers holding crucial positions are being done at frequent intervals."
Quoting from the Supreme Court’s order of 31st October, the citizens have brought to the notice of Mr Kumar, the following directives which he must adhere to fully or else it would imply contempt of court:
• Officers of the IAS, other all India services and other civil servants are not bound to follow oral directives of political leaders or others, as they "undermine the credibility"
• Establishment of a civil services board (CSB), headed by the cabinet secretary at the national level and chief secretaries at the state level, to recommend transfers and postings of all India services (the Indian administrative service, the Indian foreign service and the Indian police service) officers. Group 'B' officers would be transferred by heads of departments.
• No interference of ministers, other than the chief minister, in transfers or postings of civil servants at the state level.
The letter also cited the complaint registered with the Maharashtra State Information Commissioner (SIC) Ratnakar Gaikwad in 2013 by RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, founder of Surajya Sangharsh Samiti, regarding the sudden transfer of Dr Shrikar Pardeshi, the honest and dynamic municipal commissioner of Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) as inspector general of the registrations and controller of stamps. He had stated in his complaint that the State government is required to communicate to the public at large the reason for the untimely transfer of IAS officers. However, there is no information available on the website.
The then CIC, Ratnakar Gaikwad had issued a notice of hearing of the complaint to the chief secretary and ordered an inquiry into the transfer case as per Section 18(2) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. He had also directed that the reasons for each transfer be put in the public domain as per the regulation of transfers and prevention of delay in discharge of official duties act, 2005 as and as per proactive disclosure under Section 4 of the RTI Act within 15 days of the order. The CS complied but the reasons of transfer given were `administrative reason’ and `public interest’ which are vague and irrelevant replies as the SCIC in his order had stated that `specific’ reasons which elaborate the cause of such sudden transfers, be given and uploaded in the public domain.
The letter also mentions stalwart social reformer, Anna Hazare’s campaign because of which the Maharashtra Government Servants Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act, 2005 was passed which mandates that an officer cannot be transferred no sooner and no later than three years, except in an emergency or in exceptional circumstances but "your office continues to disregard this vital law which would bring down transparency and accountability."
The citizen activists have demanded that in view of the clear legal position and repeated judicial directions, chief secretary Mr Kumar should immediately publish on Maharashtra government’s official website the following information for all the transfers effected from 1 January 2020 to 15 July 2020:
1. Office File Notings of all transfers orders
2. Minutes of meetings of all civil service boards concerning those transfers.
3. Copies of all transfer orders, all orders issued to stay execution, cancelled orders, changes made in orders already issued.
4. All copies of letters recommending/requesting transfers and postings of officers during the above period received from political executives, representatives of people and citizens in respect of alltransfers effected during above period.
5. Copies of compliance made in terms directions contained in para 4(iii) of the High Court of Bombay order in the aforesaid writ petition No. 8987 of 2018.
The activists are hoping that by making transfers transparent and available on public domain, the Maharashtra government will become a role model of transparency by publishing all required information within 15 days of receipt of the letter and will not compel them to knock the doors of transparency watchdog and courts for such vital information of public interest.
The letter is signed by Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner,
Mahesh Zagade, IAS (Retd), former principal secretary, GAD, Maharashtra,
Vijay Kumbhar, founder RTI Katta, Vinita Deshmukh, senior journalist, Vivek Velankar, Sajag Nagrik Manch, S.K. Nangia , RTI activist, Bhaskar Prabhu, convenor, Mahiti Adhikar Manch, Jugal Rathi, Sajag Nagrik Manch and Mohammad Afzal, RTI activist.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall