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EDITORIAL

APSC in confrontation mode

The chairman or a member of a public service commission holds a constitutiol post. How weighty such a post is can be gauged from the fact that it is the President of India who can remove a PSC chairman or member, that too only after a report from the Supreme Court. As for the powers of the Governor, he gets to appoint the PSC chairman or member on the Chief Minister’s recommendation; he can make a recommendation for removal to the President on the CM’s advice, and in the meantime, suspend the PSC chairman or member until the President’s fil order comes along. This is not a process that can be trifled with, and rightly so. After all, it is the public service commission that selects public servants to man the administrative apparatus. Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) chairman Rakesh Paul knows his position well, which is why he recently asserted that the State government can only ‘advise’ the autonomous commission, not ‘direct’ it. It is true that the PSC chairman or members must not be pressurized by the Executive (which is thrown up by the Legislature under our system), because that would hinder the commission’s prime job of selecting public servants. But the manner in which the APSC chief has pooh-poohed the concerns of the new government, does not bode well for the future. And what are these concerns? Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal has merely voiced the long public disenchantment with the APSC, that the people want ‘transparency and accountability’ from it.

Ideally, a public service commission should be like Caesar’s wife — totally above suspicion. Only such an unimpeachable reputation can guarantee that the people will have faith in a PSC’s selection as free from any fear or favour, as clean and transparent beyond the slightest doubt. Practically, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and several state PSCs have by and large maged to measure up to such high expectations. Then what is it about the APSC that makes it lurch from one controversy to another? One APSC chairman had to face the ignominy of sleuths seizing a huge stash of cash from his residence; another APSC chairman had to witness the public outcry after a member’s tell-all letter to the secretary, detailing brazen irregularities in candidate selection, was scooped by the press. The Gauhati High Court in 2009 quashing the APSC’s fil list of candidates for 2006, on ground of violation of reservation provisions for women and SC/ST/OBC candidates, was an entirely avoidable fiasco. The present APSC chairman is waging a legal battle against KMSS chief Akhil Gogoi, who has made several damaging claims citing RTI petitions, about the manner Paul was appointed to the post. Next month, the Supreme Court is also slated to take up hearing on the stay order it had issued last year on the Gauhati High Court’s directive for a CBI prelimiry probe into allegations of corruption and holding disproportiote assets by Rakesh Paul and some of his family members. The matter will take its due course in court.

But it is ironical that the APSC chairman has chosen to turn on its head CM Sarbanda Sonowal asking the commission to intimate the people through press conference about its functioning. What came through in the press conference on Monday was more belligerence and less concern. According to the APSC chairman, ‘even God cannot’ make results happen within three hours of interview. Would he then specify exactly how much time will be needed for this? Paul also said that the CM’s proposal to collect CCTV footage of the evaluation process ‘is an old one which the previous government did not sanction’. So does he mean this proposal must not be revisited? Surely there must be a reason why the CM wants other measures like evaluation of all answer scripts in a single room and an end to appending extra pages to answer scripts. These are widely believed to be some loopholes that need to be plugged to make the evaluation process cleaner. The APSC chairman has earlier spoken about plans for receiving applications and sending e-admit cards online, introducing OMR sheets and other technology-based measures. All that is very well, but it is the basic cleanliness of the selection process that he should have reassured the public about. The people want to know whether candidates not taking written exam get called for interview, whether the interview stage has been reduced to utter mockery, whether merit at all counts in the APSC’s scheme of things. By ascribing the allegations about widespread sleaze to ‘discontentment of candidates uble to crack the civil services exams’, Paul is sending out a very wrong message. He may be spoiling for a showdown with the government, but the commission he heads is not above the people. Its constitutiol status does not give that license.