The why and how of civil services reforms

Another important feature of these reforms is loosening the iron grip of IAS on various positions of joint secretaries to the Government of India.

Published: 05th March 2022 01:52 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th March 2022 07:36 AM   |  A+A-

Justice, court, judge

Image used for representational purpose only.

One of the many reforms, silently introduced and vigorously followed up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is about doing away with the monopoly of civil services officials on our public administration edifice. 

In October 2019, Anoop Kumar Mendiratta was picked from a pool of 60 candidates to become the first serving judge to be appointed Union law secretary. Earlier he had served as district and sessions judge at the Karkardooma courts in the capital. 

Now, in a recent development he is set to become a judge in the Delhi High Court. Before him, Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha, a Padma awardee and former VC of Gujarat Ayurved University, was appointed secretary of the Ministry of Ayush in July 2017. During the last four and a half years, he has galvanised this department remarkably.

Another important feature of these reforms is loosening the iron grip of IAS on various positions of joint secretaries to the Government of India. Currently, at least over a dozen joint secretary-level officials are from IRS, railway service and a few even from the forest service.

All these are very welcome and long-awaited moves. Sadly, even after the post-Independence conversion of ICS into IAS, it failed in bringing about a more indigenous element in it. This was because no substantive attempts were made to link IAS with our very own and essentially Indian philosophy of public administration. As a consequence, the transformation of ICS to IAS ended up being just in the abbreviations. What remained almost unchanged was the core of the content of training of IAS and also the conduct of services officials. The governance philosophy of the likes of great Indian administrators like Arya Chanakya, Rajendra Chola, Harihara and Bukka of Vijayanagara fame, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj or Sayajirao Gaikwad continued to be largely ignored even after Independence.

Add to this the systemic flaws in the rigid, steely framework of the civil services, and the need for a massive overhaul becomes all the more clear. These flaws include the needless and excessive element of security inbuilt in the framework, lack of specialisation proving detrimental to the overall performance of the officers and thirdly, absence of any systemic mechanism to ensure an uninterrupted supply chain of motivation and a strong sense of purpose. Governments after governments allowed these flaws to continue as this suited their political interests.

To start with, the thick and enduring firewall that protects civil services personnel needs a relook. Generally speaking, once one enters the prestigious club of civil services, there is literally not just no looking back, but no looking around and more importantly no looking within. This security cover makes them insensitive to and unconcerned about people’s expectations; the heady cocktail of superiority complex and arrogance afflicts their thinking; and more worryingly this security cover provides them a sense of permanency in power vis-a-vis their politician bosses. The behaviour of several civil services officers shows their total disregard for transparency and accountability. Little wonder, one rarely comes across examples of some of them being removed from the ‘club’.

The other area that demands reform is specialisation. Administrative officials are supposed to handle several issues that require specialised know-how. How can a secretary, steel and mines, today, be expected to handle an assignment as secretary, culture, tomorrow? While generalists also have their importance, in today’s world it would be practical to segregate IAS officers in at least four-five important groupings like education-culture, finance, infra development with natural resources, and social ministries like social justice, labour, women and children, etc. This would bring greater domain knowledge to the table and empower officers for a more enlightened and insightful decision-making.

Thirdly, an inbuilt mechanism to ensure periodical de-thick-skinning through re-inculcation of sense of purpose and motivation is also needed. Excessive security breeds insensitivity and lack of concern. In a very short span of time, strugglers of yesterday filled with idealism become a part of the ‘establishment’ today. To avoid this, periodically held experience-based and practical-knowledge centric innovative examinations may help.

Having said all this, it must be mentioned that the PM’s initiative of Mission Karmayogi is set to overhaul the entire civil services sector. It is bound to be a historic shake-up. A glance at the themes of the six pillars of this mission speak for the entire gamut of issues covered under this transformational move. 

These pillars aim at making civil services more transparent and tech-based, creative and constructive, imaginative and innovative, proactive and polite, professional and progressive, and finally energetic and enabling. An archaic and obsolete edifice of civil services is set for metamorphosis. Less protectionism, more specialisation and regular sensitisation also need to be taken care of in this process.

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe
President, ICCR, and BJP Rajya Sabha MP

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