Dismissing Civil Servant in India : Rules, Attrition Rate and Performance Management

Removal in the government, particularly those in prestigious civil service, is far more difficult than those in the private sector. Job security has proverbially been the significant charm of Sarkari/Government jobs. But, it is no longer applicable, and one has to perform his/her duty diligently. With an increase in transparency, the element of accountability to has increased in the government.

The government higher ups can and will fire you, do not assume otherwise. This is particularly true of the high-visibility jobs like Police and Civil Servants. The public sector hates complacence as much as the private sector.

Attrition Rate in the Civil Services Sector

The apparent observations of a low-level of attrition are due to the following reasons:

  • No organization – private or public sector – will “fire” employees.
  • When they say “fire”, they typically mean the termination of an employee’s services as a punishment for insubordination, poor performance or some other reason.
  • Most establishments, even in the private sector, will not indulge in this unless it is explicitly mentioned in the employment contract* that all employees whose performance falls below a specified level will be terminated.
  • The reason for this is existing legislation that requires all companies to hold proper quasi-judicial proceedings before they can mete out termination as a punishment. Failure to follow the due process can and does get companies sued for wrongful termination.
  • What most companies (private & public) do instead is that they ask the employee to resign. Legally speaking, this is an entirely different animal compared to firing somebody. It is challenging to prove in court that you have been asked to leave, and the burden of proof here is entirely on the employee.
  • Government & PSE’s are far more likely to be sued in court than private companies.
  • Public sector employees are highly unionized and consequently have better moral and legal support structures. The “ask the employee to resign” tactic is also less effective in PSU’s because of these reasons. Also, most labour laws were drafted with the primary and secondary sector industries in mind, and not the tertiary sector (service sector).
  • In contrast, the private sector tends to hire better lawyers and IR specialists. There are MNC’s in India which actively subvert their employees’ right to unionize.
  • Firing or detention is not the worst thing that can be done to an employee, especially when the employee has no bargaining power.
  • Recall that at the time of independence and in the License Raj era, there were few large scale employers, and entrepreneurship was difficult (to put it mildly). This mostly made the public sector the only source of steady and gainful employment for most people.

Performance Management before Civil Servant Termination

In this era, the performance management in the public sector was done through Annual Confidential Reports (ACR’s), which were:

  • Manual
  • Opaque
  • Based on the sole input of the immediate superior (known as Controlling Officer)

Under this system, the CO had infinite discretionary powers over the career path of any employee. It is very easy to see and understand how this system could be used to protect unproductive but sycophantic employees. But the most common use of this system was to punish undesirable employees, who were trapped in those jobs without career growth and salary increments.

Post-1991, this has changed. Not only do employees have more bargaining power now, but the performance appraisal systems in many PSU’s have also already been shifted to an automated and transparent system, with inputs from the employee as well as multiple superiors. At managerial positions, an appraisal is even more rigorous.

Article 311(1) of the Constitution of India provides that an authority subordinate shall remove no member of a civil service of the Union or an all India service or civil service of a state to that by which he/she is appointed. The power of removal thus is vested in the Appointing Authority, which in case of Class1 / Group A Civil Services/ All India Services is the President of India.

A civil servant can be compulsorily retired or dismissed based on finding in any disciplinary proceedings/departmental enquiry.

There is another provision FR 56 (J) or Rule 48 of CCS (Pension) Rules 1972 regarding periodical review for removal of deadwood in the bureaucracy based on non- utility or non-performance of the officer(s).

Members of All India Services can be compulsorily retired in terms of Rules 16 (3) of AIS(DCRG) Rules, 1958. The circulars issued by the Dept. of Personnel & Trg specify the conditions and periodicity of such reviews.

The extensive use of this provision recently across all ministries and departments of the central government has sent shock waves across bureaucratic circles.


In conclusion, every employee can lose the job irrespective of whether the employer is a private firm/ company/ an autonomous body/ government. An employee is expected to be in the position as long as he/ she enjoys the confidence of the employer. The government job is no exception to this cardinal principle.

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