A blow to civil service ideals

The government’s proposal for the allocation of services and cadres is legally and administratively unsound

May 28, 2018 12:15 am | Updated 01:19 am IST

CHENNAI, 07/06/2009 : Civil Service aspirants absorbed in their preparations at a coaching academy, in Chennai on June 07, 2009.
Photo: M.Vedhan

CHENNAI, 07/06/2009 : Civil Service aspirants absorbed in their preparations at a coaching academy, in Chennai on June 07, 2009. Photo: M.Vedhan

India’s Civil Services Examination (CSE) is said to be one of the toughest of its kind in the world, so much so that Professor Lant Pritchett, from Harvard University, said in 2010: “The Indian Administrative Service is full of officers who have passed an entrance examination and selection process that makes getting into Harvard look like a walk in the park.”

The CSE for recruitments to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and about 20 other services of the government is conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). It is conducted every year in two stages: a preliminary examination and then the main examination. The UPSC has been doing a commendable job by insulating recruitments from political patronage and selecting the best candidates through transparent procedures.

At present, successful candidates are allocated services based on their ranks in the CSE and their preferences. Candidates qualifying for the IAS and IPS are allocated cadres (States) based on their examination ranks and preferences. The successful candidates of the IAS, IFS, IPS and Central Services Group A undergo a 15-week foundation course in the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (training academy) in Mussoorie. The course focusses on promoting interservice camaraderie, cooperation, and capacity building of the officer-trainees.

A radical proposal

The government has recently mooted a radical proposal for allocating services and cadres based on the combined marks obtained in the CSE and the foundation course. In other words, candidates who have cleared the CSE will have to wait till the foundation course is over to know which service and cadre they are likely to get. The government has said that this is a suggestion under consideration and that no final decision has been taken yet. There are good reasons to believe that the new proposal is legally unsound, administratively unfeasible and has not been thought through properly.

First, Articles 315 to 323 of the Constitution deal with Public Service Commissions of the Union and the States. Article 320(1) says: “It shall be the duty of the Union and the State Public Service Commission to conduct examinations for appointments to the services of the Union and the services of the State respectively.” Thus, the duty of conducting the CSE is vested only in the UPSC. If the marks secured in the foundation course in the training academy are included for allocation for services, it would make the training academy an extended wing of the UPSC, which it is not. Therefore the new proposal violates Article 320(1).

Second, the Chairperson and members of the UPSC are constitutional functionaries. Article 316 provides for security of their tenure and unchangeable conditions of service and Article 319 bars them from holding further office on ceasing to be members. These constitutional safeguards enable them to function independently without fear or favour. On the other hand, the Director of the training academy that conducts the foundation course is a career civil servant on deputation, and she can be summarily transferred. The faculty members of the training academy are either career civil servants on deputation or academicians. Neither do they enjoy the constitutional protection that the UPSC members enjoy nor is there any bar on their holding further posts. This means that the Director and faculty members will not be able to withstand pressure from politicians, senior bureaucrats and others to give more marks to favoured candidates. They will actively try to please the powers-that-be in order to advance their own career prospects. There is also the grave risk of corruption in the form of ‘marks for money’ in the training academy. Politicisation and communalisation of the services are likely to take place from the beginning.

Third, the training academy has facilities to handle not more than 400 candidates for the foundation course. If this limit is exceeded, the foundation course will have to be conducted in other training academies situated in other cities. With only about 12 faculty members in the training academy in Mussoorie, the trainer-trainee ratio for the foundation course is very high, and it will be impossible to do the kind of rigorous and objective evaluation that is required under the government’s new proposal. Needless to say, the evaluation of the trainees will be even less rigorous and objective when the foundation course is conducted in training academies situated elsewhere. It is well known that competition in the CSE is very intense. The difference of a few marks can decide whether a candidate will get the IAS or, say, the Indian Ordnance Factories Service. Therefore, the inclusion of the highly subjective foundation course marks can play havoc with the final rankings and with the allocation of services and cadres, and ruin countless careers.

Fourth, while about 600-1,000 candidates are selected every year for all the services put together, nearly 60-70% of the candidates qualifying for the IPS and Central Services Group A do not join the foundation course in Mussoorie as they prepare for the civil services (main) examination again to improve their prospects. Clearly, it is not possible to evaluate such candidates in the foundation course as contemplated in the new proposal. They cannot be compelled to attend the foundation course because that would amount to depriving them of their chance of taking the examination again. So, the new proposal is administratively unworkable.

Ignoring the real problems

Nobody denies that the steel frame of the Indian civil services has turned somewhat rusty and needs reform. But what is odd about the new proposal is that it seeks to tinker with precisely that aspect of the civil services — recruitment — that is least in need of reform. The real problems of the civil services are not with recruitment; they are with what happens after an officer joins the system. Even the best and the brightest can lose their bearings in a system that places a premium on loyalty, political connections and community/caste clout rather than on merit; in which indecision and inaction are seldom punished, while performers stand a greater chance of getting into trouble as they take more decisions; which pays lip service to honesty but is thoroughly rotten inside and expects officers to either shape up or ship out; in which performance appraisal is based more on the personal likes and dislikes of one’s superiors than on actual work done; in which, as Sardar Patel said, “exercising the independence to speak out one’s mind” means to ask for trouble; and in which frequent, arbitrary and punitive transfers have become the order of the day. The Government of India would do well to fix these systemic shortcomings rather than unsettle the settled method of recruitment.

K. Ashok Vardhan Shetty is a retired IAS officer and a former Vice Chancellor of the Indian Maritime University

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