Why bureaucracy in Andhra Pradesh is in a mess

Chief Secretary, principal secretary, Jagan Mohan Reddy, bureaucrats
Trouble began when CM Jagan Mohan Reddy brought Praveen Prakash from Delhi and posted him in the CMO | Twitter

Good governance and investment-friendly ecosystem are the two things that Andhra Pradesh needs most at a time when it is still reeling under the bifurcation blues.

Ironically, both have remained elusive.

If the bitter turf war in the top echelons of the administration has created a gulf between political leadership and bureaucracy, a string of policy reversals by Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy that smack of political vengeance have created a negative perception of the state, scaring away potential investors.

Also read | Biz-friendly yesterday, Andhra Pradesh scaring off investors today

On one hand, there is a growing disconnection between the chief minister and bureaucrats over policy issues and developmental priorities while on the other, a sense of despondency that gripped the industry circles due to continued uncertainty over the future of several mega projects, including capital city Amaravati, envisioned during the previous Telugu Desam Party (TDP) regime headed by N Chandrababu Naidu.

This double whammy could not have come at a more inopportune time for Andhra Pradesh which is reeling under a severe financial crunch and struggling to mobilise resources to fund populist schemes.

Unceremonious transfer

The sudden and unceremonious transfer of Chief Secretary LV Subramanyam to a nondescript posting on Monday (November 4) has set off ripples in the bureaucratic circles. The way the senior most officer was shunted out has sent shock waves across the state.

The move, which is widely being seen as a sign of arrogance and administrative ignorance on the part of the chief minister, is likely to further widen the gulf and adversely affect the morale of the administration.

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Subramanyam, a 1983 batch IAS officer, was picked for the top post by the Election Commission just a week before the general elections in April and he continued in the post even after the polls. He is believed to have earned the wrath of Jagan for ‘deviating’ from the policy priorities set by him.

There has also been a simmering turf war involving senior bureaucrats in the state.

Turf war

At the heart of the tussle was the growing differences between the chief secretary and a Principal Secretary (political) in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), Praveen Prakash.

The differences came to the fore when the chief secretary issued a show-cause notice to Prakash on Saturday. Prakash was accused of “grave misconduct” and “wilful insubordination” reportedly for introducing items into the Cabinet meeting agenda without following proper procedure. Prakash was asked to respond within a week.

Prakash, a 1994 batch IAS officer, was the resident commissioner of Andhra Pradesh in Delhi before being drafted by the CMO recently.

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On Monday, the irony was not lost on anyone. The order transferring the chief secretary to a loopline posting as Director General, Andhra Pradesh Human Resources Development Institute in Bapatla, was issued in Praveen Prakash’s name. The institute does not even have proper infrastructure where an officer of Subramanyam’s seniority can work from.

This is the first time in the history of the Telugu states that a chief secretary has been transferred abruptly. Subramanyam, who has five months to retire, was earlier ignored for the top post by the previous TDP government, which opted for Anil Kumar Punetha as the chief secretary.

However, the Election Commission removed Punetha for defying its orders and picked Subramanyam for the post. At that time, Naidu had protested saying it was unprecedented and unwarranted. He had alleged a plot by the EC in cahoots with his political rivals — the BJP and the YSR Congress — to defame him and his government.

What went wrong?

Trouble began when Jagan brought Praveen Prakash from Delhi and posted him in the CMO. Since then, he started wielding power over other bureaucrats.

Last week, Prakash issued a controversial government order (GO) modifying the business rules, saying that the senior officers were not following instructions from the chief minister in issuing GOs on time. He even threatened to serve show-cause notices to the top IAS officers if they failed to issue GOs within the stipulated time set by the chief minister. His order led to rumblings in the state bureaucracy.

On Saturday, the chief secretary issued a show-cause notice to Prakash for bypassing him and including certain items on the agenda for the cabinet meeting.

Differences with CM

There have been simmering differences between the chief secretary and chief minister over a plethora of issues. According to sources in the ruling YSR Congress, the ‘inordinate delay’ in implementing the chief minister’s orders was the main reason for Subramanyam’s transfer.

There were also complaints against him from ministers for delay in issuance of orders pertaining to the appointment of advisors.

Subramanyam’s disagreement with the chief minister during a recent review meeting on housing for the poor when the latter suggested that the lands should be purchased, if necessary, was also said to be one of the reasons for the fallout.

Also read | Quota for Kapus another bone of contention between Jagan and Naidu

His strongly-worded show-cause notice to the principal secretary in the CMO, accusing him of ‘wilful disobedience and ignoring the business rules’ came as the last straw.

The whole episode exposes Jagan’s inability to get a grip on the administration even six months after taking charge. Apparently, much time and energy has been spent on identifying senior bureaucrats deemed close to his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu and posting them in loopline assignments.

“CMO is becoming an institution with all powers and no responsibility and is responsible for the downfall of CMs who are failing to control it,” former Andhra Pradesh chief secretary IYR Krishna Rao in a tweet on Monday. “Though CM has all the powers to replace CS, the manner in which this was done is unfortunate and avoidable,” added Rao who himself had a bitter fallout with Chandrababu Naidu.

Meanwhile, senior IAS officer Nilam Sawhney, currently posted as secretary, ministry of social justice on central deputation, is being tipped as the next chief secretary and orders are likely to be issued soon.