Civil Services Reforms in India

As the services receive criticism from political executives, it is important to understand the steps to help it perform better and be more accountable.

Recently while speaking on the floor of the House, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was critical of the functioning of the Civil Services in India, especially IAS. In the words of the PM, “Officers will do everything. By becoming IAS officers, they will operate fertilizer factories, even fly airplanes. What is this big power we have created? What are we going to achieve by handing over the reins of the nation to these officers?” The statement has rightly raised a valid question about the need for Civil Services reforms.

To understand the essence of the PM’s criticism, we must understand the origin and evolution of Civil Services in India. The present system was created by the British to serve imperial interests. It was called the Imperial Civil Service. They were expected to perform regulatory functions like maintaining law and order and generating revenue. It must be noted that ICS was considered the most efficient civil service in the world in the 20th Century.

Civil Services Reforms in India

After Independence, there were heated debates in the Constituent Assembly regarding its continuation. Most of the members strongly opposed it. It was Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the then Home Minister, who was very impressed by the work of ICS officers and insisted on the continuation of the Civil Services. It was then renamed Indian Administrative Service (IAS).

Apart from performing regulatory functions, the IAS was given additional responsibilities in the form of welfare and developmental functions. The IAS officers were given the responsibility of running public sector enterprises, implementing welfare schemes, bringing about socio-economic transformation. Unfortunately, they have failed to live up to the expectations of people in general and the political executive in particular. Right from Jawahar Lal Nehru to Narendra Modi, all the Prime Ministers have expressed their disappointment with the bureaucracy’s performance.

It is high time that the country implements Civil Services reforms rather than blaming bureaucracy for all the ills facing the nation. It should start from recruitment. Civil Servants (IAS) do not possess the necessary knowledge or skills to perform specific functions. We must encourage a lateral entry into the Services.

The most important reform is regarding accountability. In parliamentary democracy, they are not directly accountable to citizens. They are accountable to the political executive and it has only resulted in the politicisation of the Civil Services. We must focus on external accountability mechanisms like citizen charters, social audits and encourage
outcome orientation among civil servants.

Performance evaluation has always been a major issue. Performance records are mostly prepared by superiors leaving a lot of scope for personal biases and prejudice. As suggested by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, it can be made more objective. Mr Modi has suggested a 360-degree performance evaluation.

Another major area of concern is the relationship between the bureaucracy and political executive. The tendency of a political executive to prefer loyalty over efficiency in selecting civil servants to higher posts, has impacted their morale. As pointed out by Sardar Vallabhai Patel, civil servants should provide unbiased, rational and meritorious suggestions to the political executive in policy formulation. It requires an impartial Civil Services Board that can look after all the aspects related to promotions, transfers, posting and suspensions.

To conclude, it must be remembered that the steel frame of the country should be strengthened by implementing necessary reforms instead of blaming them for problems.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 1:17:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/brandhub/civil-services-reforms-in-india/article34262003.ece

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