A little before noon, former Tamil Nadu IAS Officer Ramasundaram wrote on his facebook timeline: “In the Supreme Court, hoping justice will be rendered to my dear wife Archana Ramasundaram.” The post managed to drum up moral support in the form of 38 likes and 51 comments from bureaucrats, journalists and other professionals. But Ramasundaram's wish wasn't quite fulfilled today as the Supreme Court restrained the country's first woman Additional Director of the CBI from functioning in her new post till it sees the files and rules on the legality of her appointment. Just yesterday, the 1980 batch IPS Officer was suspended by the Tamil Nadu government for not getting its nod before moving to the CBI on deputation from her assignment as the head of the Tamil Nadu Uniformed Services Recruitment Board.
The tough but extremely affable and diligent officer is caught in the crossfire at three levels. The first tug of war is with the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Union Home Ministry on the one hand versus the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Department of Personnel on the other. The CVC and Union Home Ministry had forwarded just one name – that of R.K.Pachnanda, a 1982 Batch West Bengal cadre officer, junior to Archana, instead of a panel of names to the Central government. The CBI Director Ranjit Sinha had pushed for Archana's case and it was cleared by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) headed by the Prime Minister from a panel of 5 names. So where was the irregularity? The Public Interest Petition dismissed by the Allahabad High Court and taken up to the Supreme Court alleges that the prescribed procedure was given a go-by and the CBI Director has bulldozed his way and roped in his own person. A reading of Sec 4 C of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946, amended by the CVC Act of 2003 suggests that the CVC is not the final authority in the selection of officers of the rank of Superintendent of Police and above but just one of the agencies involved in the selection process. Sending only one name gives the other agencies a Hobson's Choice and effectively makes the CVC the sole selector. The CVC's powers are not very different from those of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) which sends a panel of names sent to the State government for the post of Director General of Police (DGP). Imagine the UPSC sending a State government only one name! Remember the case of former DGP R.Nataraj, a 1975 batch officer and a brilliant one at that who was sidelined during the previous DMK regime and his junior Letika Saran was chosen for the top job?
The second tussle is between the Tamil Nadu government and the Centre. Is the State government's concurrence mandatory for an officer to go on deputation? In an Office Memorandum by the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) Rule 6(1) of the IAS (Cadre) Rules and analogous provisions in the IPS (Cadre) Rules comes with a clause that effectively gives the Centre the power to override a State government's refusal to let go of an officer. “Provided that a case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the Central Government and the State Government or State Governments concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government. This is what CBI Director Ranjit Sinha probably relied on when he took the stand that the Tamil Nadu government's suspension of Archana is “infructuous” as she has already taken charge. I am however intrigued by a Circular 3 years later dated 28th November, 2007, where it is stated that the Consolidated Deputation Guidelines were under “consideration” and “approved by the Competent Authority” and “come into immediate effect” and in which the Clause giving the Centre the final say is conspicuous by its absence.
In any case, the IPS is an All India Service. And although officers are assigned to a particular State, the parent body governing them remains the Centre. Which is why even recently the Centre did not accord sanction to the Tamil Nadu government to prosecute Additional Director General of Police Jaffer Sait in a corruption case as the former's nod was required under Sec 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act. But this remains a grey area. In 2001, following the sensational midnight arrest of DMK supremo M.Karunanidhi, the NDA Govt at the Centre, of which the DMK was then an ally, made an unsuccessful bid to transfer 3 top cops – K.Muthukaruppan, S.George and Christopher Nelson. The officers went to Court and the Centre's action petered out. The Supreme Court's decision in Archana Ramasundaram's case will be a landmark judgment and throw light on a contentious aspect of service law.
The third factor is the perceived politicisation of the bureaucracy. Officers in Tamil Nadu, as in the rest of the country, are wittingly or unwittingly branded. There are 4 categories of officers. Those who openly flaunt their political allegiance and get plum posts when their political bosses come to power and lie low or go on deputation when there is a change of guard. Those who are fence sitters and cosy up to any side that is voted in. Those who are neutral and don't hanker after posts irrespective of who is in the saddle. And those who get caught in the crossfire for reasons beyond their control. I am tempted to believe that Archana Ramasundaram falls in the last bracket. If whispers in the corridors of power are to be taken seriously, the fact that her husband Ramasundaram was considered close to the DMK, some say, could have gone against her. A colourful IAS Officer, Ramasundaram who opted for voluntary retirement in 2011 was the Public Works Department Secretary during the previous DMK regime and instrumental in the construction of the new Secretariat. One remembers images of him dancing with construction workers on its completion! The AIADMK government is now converting it into a multi specialty hospital. In Archana's defence, she has a squeaky clean track record and had also served as the country's first woman Joint Director of the CBI.
I have always maintained that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's biggest strength is her firm grip over Law & Order in the State and her brilliant choice of officers for key posts. Under her watch, Tamil Nadu was the first State to set up All Women Police Stations and an All Woman Commando Battalion. Here's a chance for the State to have its own officer as the country's first woman Additional Director (Archana who was recently empanelled as a DGP by the Centre is also set to become Special Director). Tamil Nadu deserves this distinction. Archana Ramasundaram's appointment should be viewed as a badge of honour. Will the 'caged parrot' get to fly high?
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Columnist, Author & Former National TV Journalist)