Recently, the government decided that the ranking secured by the civil services candidates will not be the only criterion for allotting cadres to them. According to the new plan, 10% weightage will now be given to the performance of selected candidates in the combined foundation course, and both foundation course, and ranking will determine the cadre (IAS, IPS, IRS, IFS, and so on) allocation. A year ago, when the Narendra Modi government came up with the proposal of allotting cadres on the basis of candidates’ performance in the unified foundation course, the proposal was discussed and debated in different forums and the government was criticised for interfering in the affairs of the UPSC.
The Indian Civil Services Examination, conducted by the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC), is done in three stages: preliminary examination, main examination and interview (personality Test). Around 1,200 candidates who are successful in the third stage are allotted different cadres based on their ranking. After the service allotment is done, successful candidates undergo trainings in different academies based on the services allotted to them. Now the government has proposed that there will be a unified foundation course for all, irrespective of their cadres. Is it a good move? Will this move reform the civil services or deform the UPSC? Does this move give importance to objectivity or subjectivity? How do civil servants react to the government’s decision? Saravanakumar , ex-IRS and currently alawyer, and Israel Jebasingh , ex-IAS and currently Director, Officers IAS Academy, share their views on the topic under discussion.
As an ex-IAS officer and the Director of an IAS academy, how do you react to the governments order to allocate IAS, IPS, IRS cadres to successful candidates after the foundation course? Do you think it is a sound decision?
Israel Jebasingh (IJ): I attended the foundation course in Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) twice, once when I was selected for Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS) and the next time when I got into Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Based on my experience, I can state that this is definitely not a sound decision to allocate services based on marks given during foundation course. Such a move will result in compromising on merit and may lead to nepotism.
As an ex-IRS officer and a practising lawyer, how do you look at the issue?
Saravanakumar (SK): Under Articles 315-323 of the Constitution of India, the UPSC is a constitutional body which means it enjoys autonomy and it should be free from government interference. The articles imply that the UPSC should function as an unbiased organisation. Now the government’s decision to allocate IAS, IPS, IFS, IRS cadres to successful candidates after foundational training amounts to usurping of constitutional duty from constitutional authority and it is “ab initio void”.
The present move is described as an attempt to tweak the selection process. Do you see any disadvantage in the allocation of cadres immediately after the final interview?
IJ: No. There are many advantages of allocating services immediately after the final interview. The UPSC has been controversy free all these years since independence. There has never been compromise on merit because it has minimal human interaction and it derives its authority from the Constitution. Human interaction with the candidates happens only at the third stage, interview, and that too just for a maximum of 30 minutes. To eliminate bias, marks for interview are awarded by a board of five independent members. I do not see any disadvantage of allocating services immediately after the interview.
Looking at it positively, don’t you think it helps the selection committee to assess the strengths and limitations of candidates better after observing them for a few months during the foundation course?
SK: Though it is true that it is very difficult to assess any individual within a span of 30 minutes, companies and government agencies, across the globe, hire officers only through group discussions / interviews and they don’t take more than 30 to 45 minutes and this method of selections has been in vogue for decades. As practised by the Service Selection Board, it is advisable to have 10 days of observation interviews for civil service selection also. But, it should be done by the UPSC only and not by any non-constitutional body or any government department whose members can be influenced politically or be allowed to tamper with the results.
How will it affect meritorious candidates?
IJ: It will affect transparency in the selection process. The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), as an extended body of the government, is vulnerable to political and bureaucratic pressures. There is a possibility that serving or retired bureaucrats can influence their junior officers who work in LBSNAA as Deputy Directors and get undue favour from them. Another disadvantage of the proposal is that it will lead to corruption in the recruitment process.
Candidates who are from non-Hindi-speaking States might be at a disadvantage as marks are awarded based on Hindi tests in LBSNAA. Candidates from rural areas who are less proficient in spoken English than their urban counterparts might also be affected as presentation in English is an important criterion which decides the marks in LBSNAA.
SK: This can lead to North-South divide and biases against those belonging to certain religions and castes. Further, the 10 marks weightage can change the fortune of many candidates.
Does this order violate the Constitution?
IJ: Article 320(1) of the Constitution states, “It shall be the duty of the union and the State Public Service Commissions to conduct examinations for appointments to the services of the union and the services of the State respectively”. The purpose is that merit should not be compromised. The recent order of DoPT does violate the Constitution.
What should the government do now?
SK : It is not advisable to have such practice in a biased environment. The government should revoke it in the interest of the nation.
IJ: Way back in 1978, the concept of awarding marks based on training in LBSNAA was recommended by Kothari Committee on Civil Service Reforms. However, the then Janata Government rejected the proposal fearing that it might lead to bias in the recruitment process. I hope that the present government will also drop the new proposal. It is good to remember the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The interviewer is an academic, columnist and freelance writer. E: firstname.lastname@example.org