Though the Chief Secretary is at the apex of the administrative hierarchy of a state, the Indian Constitution does not list his powers and functions. His functions are defined in the Rules of Business, which each state government frames for itself. These are amended from time to time. Some of the functions, however, have also evolved through custom and conventions.
Role in Policy Formulation:
The Chief Secretary of a state acts as the ex-officio Secretary to the Council of Ministers and, in that capacity, he is known as the Secretary to the Cabinet. His role in this capacity may be studied under the following heads:
Head of the Cabinet Secretariat Department:
The Cabinet Secretariat Department works under the overall control of the Chief Secretary with the Chief Minister acting as the political head.
The functions of the Cabinet Secretariat are also prescribed by the Rules of Business of each state. But, in broad terms, its functions are: providing secretarial assistance to the cabinet, ensuring the implementation of decisions, acting as the policy coordination centre, serving as a data bank of information, organizing conferences etc.
Each state government specifies certain matters, which have to be sent to the Chief Secretary for his endorsement or approval. For instance, the standing orders of the Cabinet Secretariat Department of Rajasthan provide that the following matters be sent to the Chief Secretary for his approval:
(a) All papers relating to cabinet meetings.
(b) Matters which affect Centre-state and intra-state relations and the conduct of Zonal Council oil meetings.
(c) Establishment matters, relating to Governor, C.M., ministers etc.
(d) Matters relating to senior officers, conferences and regional meetings.
(e) Parliamentary and Assembly questions relating to the Chief Minister /ministers.
(f) Functions relating to census.
(g) Approval of incentives to civil servants.
(h) Medical aid to be given outside the state.
Work Pertaining to Cabinet Meetings:
The Chief Secretary decides whether the memo submitted by a particular department regarding the case to be discussed is adequately furnished with required facts and data. He is also responsible for the preparation of the agenda papers.
In his capacity as the ex-officio Secretary to the Council, he attends all the cabinet meetings and also of the sub-committees of the cabinet. He arranges for the recording of the decisions taken in the cabinet meetings and forwards a copy to the Governor, the C.M. and the council of ministers.
Participation in the Policy Formulation Process:
The Chief Secretary, while attending the meetings of the cabinet, may be asked to express his views on important matters. He acts as the main source of information and advice to the C.M. and other ministers. As the Secretary to the Council, he attends all the meetings of the cabinet.
His presence in the cabinet meetings becomes crucial because the ministers present are elected by the masses and, they are prone to be easily swayed by the winds of public opinion and, sometimes, only to please their constituency, they pressurize the C.M. to take decisions that might not be proper in the long run. Here, the Chief Secretary, with his long administrative experience, “may be in a position to strike a balance between the policy preferences of the politicians and their implementation ramifications.”
Role in the Follow-up of the Implementation of Cabinet Decisions:
When a decision is arrived at by the cabinet, it is the task of the secretary of the concerned department to implement that particular decision. Here, the Chief Secretary plays an effective supervisory role, as the most important cases of the various departments are sent to the Chief Secretary for final decision or for onward transmission to the C.M. or the concerned ministers.
All-important cases involving adoption of new schemes have to be approved by the Chief Secretary. He is also empowered to ask for any paper relating to any case of any department and such a request has to be complied with by the secretary of the department concerned.
In the Central Government, although the Prime Minister has a few ministries and departments under him, the convention regarding the Cabinet Secretary has been otherwise.
The Cabinet Secretary is not the administrative head of any specific executive departments except, of course, the Cabinet Secretariat. On the other hand, at the state level, the Chief Secretary is generally the administrative head of a few departments, the most important among them being General Administration, Personnel, Administrative Reforms and Planning.
There is no uniformity among the various states in regard to the administrative departments directly under the charge of the Chief Secretary. However, as a rule, only those departments, which have a crucial role in the coordination and supervision of state administrative departments/agencies, are given this status when a department works directly under the Chief Secretary, its overall influence increases substantially. Concomitantly, with a view to enhancing the status and influence of a department, it is brought under the charge of the Chief Secretary.
Traditionally, the Planning Department is placed under the Chief Secretary. In Rajasthan, for about four decades, the Chief Secretary functioned-.as the Planning Secretary and it was only in 1992 that a separate post of Planning Secretary was created in the state. Even after the introduction of this change the overall responsibility of the Chief Secretary in matters of planning remains.
He represents the state at the national level consultations concerning the annual and the five-year plans. Besides, he continues to be chairman of the Planning and Development Coordination Committees, which are instrumental in effecting interdepartmental/agency coordination for undertaking, associated developmental activities.
In several states, the Chief Secretary continues to be the Planning Secretary and, in that capacity, he has to supervise the formulation and monitor the implementation of the plans and effect close collaboration of the Planning Department with the Finance Department and other executive agencies.
Another department that is generally placed under the charge of a state Chief Secretary is the Department of Personnel. It may be recalled that the Administrative Reforms Commission of India had recommended that the Department of Personnel of each state should be put under the charge of the Chief Secretary.
Accordingly, in a number of states, the Chief – Secretary functions today as the Personnel Secretary. In that capacity, his role involves the following functions:
(a) He is responsible for personnel matters of the state cadre officers of the IAS, the highest state service, and any other service described in the Rules of Business of the state. He deals with all matters relating to vacancies, appointments, transfers, placements, seniority, promotions and retirement of personnel of the higher civil services.
He also plays a crucial role in the promotion of state service officers to the IAS. All matters pertaining to determination of seniority of the above-mentioned officers are sent to him for consideration.
(b) His approval is sought for amendments in service rules.
(c) He is also generally consulted by the Chief Minister while making appointments to the posts of chairman and members of the State Public Service Commission.
(d) As personnel Secretary, the Chief Secretary has to ensure that conduct rules are followed strictly by the state civil servants. Hence, cases regarding disciplinary action against all the services mentioned under his charge are brought up before him. The decisions of the Chief Secretary on disciplinary proceedings against all-India service officers, heads of departments and other state civil service officers are generally endorsed by the Chief Minister.
(e) He also writes the Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) or performance appraisal reports (APRs) of the officers of all-India services posted in his state.
(f) Some states have the office of the Lok Ayukta to examine complaints made by citizens against defaulting officers. The C.M. may consult the Chief Secretary while appointing the Lok Ayukta. The annual reports of the Lok Ayukta are routed through the Chief Secretary, before being sent through proper channel to the legislative assembly of the state.
(g) He can intervene in matters involving staff welfare and service conditions of state government officials.
(h) He is the overall in charge of training and career management of the Civil servants of the state. In Rajasthan, he also works as the chairman of the State Advisory Committee on Training and the Training Coordination Committee.
In certain states, a separate post of Personnel Secretary has been created. In Rajasthan, this post was created in 1992. However, by virtue of being the head of the civil service, the Chief Secretary continues to be directly involved in the regulation of personnel administrative matters. A number of important cases relating to personnel matters are routed through the Chief Secretary before being sent to the Chief Minister, who generally happens to be the Minister for Personnel in the state government.
Another department, which in some states is directly under the Chief Secretary, is the Administrative Reforms Department that deals with the reorganization of the administrative machinery and revamping of procedures in government. Even when a separate secretary is in charge of this subject, the role of the Chief Secretary in matters of guiding, directing and monitoring administrative reforms remains crucial.
It may be mentioned that in most of the states in India, the Chief Secretary functions as the Secretary, General Administration. This department is responsible for taking care of the general administrative matters of different state government departments and provides miscellaneous facilities to the departments and officers.
This can be done effectively under the leadership of the senior most civil servants, whose judgment and controlling authority are trusted and accepted. The role of the Chief Secretary regarding general administration involves a number of tasks.
(a) During visits of dignitaries to the state, he looks after all the necessary arrangements.
(b) He chairs an expert body, which decides matters of awarding honours and distinctions.
(c) All the matters relating to the property of and compensation to ex-rulers and freedom fighters are referred first to the Chief Secretary and then to the C.M.
(d) He deals with matters relating to inter-state disputes.
(e) The Chief Secretary can initiate changes in Rules of Business but, the final decision in this respect rests with the cabinet
(f) Matters concerning motor garage and state vehicles are under his jurisdiction.
(g) Cases concerning grants-in-aid to NGOs engaged in social and cultural development are routed through him to the C.M.
(h) All matters of housing accommodation and government buildings and circuit house fall under his jurisdiction.
These responsibilities of the Chief Secretary affect all the departments and, therefore, the role of the Chief Secretary as head of the General Administration Department remains of substantial significance.
The last but, by far the most important, function of the Chief Secretary is to coordinate the activities of the entire state government machinery.