The Chief Secretary is the administrative head of state administration in India. He is, in many ways, the counterpart, at the state level, of the Cabinet Secretary. As the chief coordinator of the state secretariat and other administrative departments and as head of the civil service, he is the pivot of the state governance system.
His role in policy formulation, formal and informal, is substantial and so is his supervisory role in the policy implementation apparatus.
Unit 1973, the Chief Secretary was not necessarily the senior most civil servant of the state and certain officers, for instance, the Finance Commissioner in Punjab, were considered senior to the state Chief Secretary.
In 1973, the post of the Chief Secretary was upgraded and, presently it is regarded as the most prestigious and influential post in the state civil service structure. It is held by one of the senior most officers of the Indian Administrative Service. His status is equal to that of a Secretary to the Government of India.
The incumbent to the post of Chief Secretary is chosen by the Chief Minister of the state. The trend is that the Chief Minister consults the Union Government regarding the appointment of the Chief Secretary but this consultation is not obligatory. Likewise, the C.M. may consult the cabinet or a few of his ministerial colleagues on this matter but the final decision is his. Three main factors are considered by the C.M. while selecting an officer for this post. These are as follows:
This is the most important criterion and, generally, the choice is restricted to the four or five senior most IAS officers. In a study conducted on the office of the Chief Secretary, as regards appointments in Rajasthan, Meena Sogani observes that, generally, administrators with 20-25 years of experience have been appointed as Chief Secretaries.
(b) Service Record, Performance and Merit:
Since this is the most crucial post in the administrative hierarchy of the state, it is carefully ascertained whether the officer is meritorious enough, has an excellent service record and possesses such personality traits that may help his in the performance of his duties.
(c) Confidence of the Chief Minister:
This is the most important factor in the appointment of a Chief Secretary. Since the C.S. and the C.M. have to work in close association, the officer’s personal rapport with the C.M. is of crucial consideration.
Although the last is the most significant variable, it is a combination of all the three factors that leads to the final choice.
Besides these factors, different states have evolved different conventions regarding the appointment of the Chief Secretary. For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, it had at one time become a tradition to appoint the senior most officers (who happened to be the first Member of the Board of Revenue) as the Chief Secretary. It was done in view of the fact that such a member would be processing a wide variety of experience in administration. In Maharashtra, until 1976, the post was held by an ICS officer and it was in 1977 that an IAS officer was appointed for the first time to this post. In Rajasthan, on several occasions, a number of senior officers were superseded officers, to avoid embarrassment, were given grade/salary equal to that paid to the Chief Secretary and were posted outside the secretariat, as chairman of public enterprises or as chairman of the Board of Revenue.
Tenure of service
The issue of an appropriate degree of security of tenure has been a central problem of personnel policies.
There is no fixed tenure for the post of Chief Secretary. In this context, the Administrative Reforms Commission, in its report on State Administration in 1969, had recommended that a Chief Secretary should have a minimum tenure of three to four years.
This suggestion has, however, not been accepted and has not been considered feasible either because, in that case, a C.M. may find himself laden with a Chief Secretary appointed by his predecessor. However, it can be said that a C.S.’s tenure depends upon his administrative tact, experience, rapport with the C.M. and, to a large extent, on his capacity to take an objective stand on sensitive matters. A piece of sound advice given by Dharma Vira to civil servants is extremely relevant in this regard. He says:
You are an executive officer; you should keep your mouth shut as far as possible. The less you talk the less trouble you will get into.
And, truly, such civil servants who are able to maintain dignity, neutrality and a degree of anonymity are able to work with the Chief Ministers of any political party or group. There is, for instance, an example, when a Chief Secretary in Rajasthan worked on the post for five and a half years (until his retirement) under four Chief Ministers, including those belonging to two major national political parties.
It is wrong to assume that pliability is a virtue always; what is valued is a person’s objectivity, acumen and a sense of balance in decision-making. After all, Chief Ministers need a competent administrative system to back them, and only a capable Chief Secretary can ensure that.