In April 2015, the central government introduced the 360-degree appraisal procedure for the empanelment of civil servants for central government posts. Three years on, while the government is yet to frame any guidelines for its implementation, the process has received heavy criticism for its lack of transparency and its susceptibility to discrimination. Empanelment is the process through which a pool of civil-service officers is selected for appointment to the top bureaucratic posts of joint secretary and above with the government of India. The 360-degree appraisal system, or the Multi Source Feedback—introduced as an additional overarching step during the review for empanelment—is designed to consider feedback on the candidates from peers, subordinates, and other stakeholders, in addition to superiors.
The 360-degree appraisal first came under the spotlight in August 2017, when aparliamentary committee criticised the system for its opacity and subjectivity, noting that it was also “susceptible to being manipulated.” It also came under scrutiny that month after Vineet Chawdhry, an Indian Administrative Services officer who was denied a secretary-level appointment with the central government, challenged the decision before the Central Administrative Tribunal. Chawdhry argued that the system led to discrimination against officers and that it was not governed by any legal procedure. He stated that the 360-degree system was “neither reasonable nor rational, a whimsical exercise of arbitrary executive authority far in excess of any delegated legislation, neither resting on any legislation nor any rules and neither transparent nor fair.”
Both former and current upper-level secretaries of the government of India have expressed similar concerns about the 360-degree system. In an interview with The Caravan, KM Chandrasekhar, one of India’s longest serving cabinet secretaries, identified key concerns with the system, such as the lack of transparency, the absence of an appeal process, and the possibility of bias and discrimination. Further, an additional chief secretary told me he believed that he had been wrongfully denied a secretary-level position, but that he was choosing not to speak up because he did not want to invite “any trouble.” In its report, the parliamentary committee recommended the central government to “frame guidelines on the entire aspects of the process of 360 degree appraisal.” But despite the shortcomings and the committee’s recommendations, the 360-degree system continues to operate without any guidelines that could address these concerns.
The procedure for empanelment for senior positions in the government of India is prescribed in the Central Staffing Scheme. The CSS does not have any legislative backing—it is instead governed entirely by executive orders and primarily by a January 1996 order issued by the Department of Personnel and Training. Under the CSS, a pool of officers from 37 participating services, including the All India Services—the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Police Service, and the Indian Forest Service—and some of the Central Civil Services, are recommended for empanelment. From these recommendations, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, which presently comprises the prime minister and the home minister, decides on the final list of civil servants empanelled for appointment to the government of India.
Till 2007, the empanelment process under the CSS relied on Annual Confidential Reports, or ACRs, submitted by superior officers, the contents of which were not disclosed to the officers being appraised. Only adverse remarks against an officer were disclosed and only if the officer made a representation seeking such a disclosure. In 2008, the Supreme Court held that the non-disclosure of details such as the grades awarded to the officers was “arbitrary and as such violative of Article 14 of the Constitution”—which enshrines the right to equality. Following this, the ACR was replaced by a more transparent system that mandates superior officers to submit Annual Performance Appraisal Reports, which are not confidential, of their subordinate officers who were eligible for empanelment.