OPINION

Forging the steel frame

The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration was simply called the Academy of Administration when it was set up in 1959 in Mussoorie. It signalled a resolve to systematically train members of the higher civil services in order to equip them to be the change agents of a resurgent India. The two All-India Services, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police Service, instituted earlier under a specific provision of the Constitution, as also other Services attracted some of the finest minds from the university system. The IAS motto, ‘Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam (proficiency in action is yoga)’, and the Academy song, ‘Hao Dharomete Dheer, Hao Karomete Bir (Be firm in your faith, courageous in action)’, symbolised the nation’s expectation from them. The majestic Himalayan peaks viewed from the campus constantly reminded the recruits to strive for strength, rectitude and excellence.

The Academy introduced in 1960 a common Foundation Course (FC) in order to “instil a shared understanding of government and build camaraderie among the civil services”. It is the professional training institution for the IAS, and continues to conduct an FC for various All-India and Central Services.

Keeping with the times

In the last six decades, there have been transformational changes in the country. There have also been failures and inadequacies. Consequently, to meet with the myriad challenges, the civil servants have also had to constantly upgrade themselves. How is the Academy coping with the changing times?

Fortunately, the Academy has been steered in critical junctures by sagacious administrators such as A.N. Jha, P.S. Appu, B.N. Yugandhar and N.C. Saxena. While the content and methodology of training have changed to meet the demands of time, the pattern introduced in 1969 — of district training being sandwiched between institutional exposures at the Academy — has remained broadly unaltered. On successful completion, IAS trainees are now awarded an M.A. degree in Public Management by the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Besides, the Academy also conducts mid-career training programmes for officers, in keeping with their varying job requirements from policy implementation towards policy formulation. The Academy now houses five national research centres on rural studies, disaster management, gender, public systems management, and leadership development and competency assessment. Pursuant to the Kargil Review Committee recommendations, a joint civil-military programme on national security was introduced in 2001.

Some limitations

Even the best of training has its limitations. Nevertheless, the Academy has been engaging itself steadfastly with this onerous task. However, how much of its effort gets reflected in the performance of officers remains a moot question. The correlation between the training imparted in Mussoorie and the quality of public services in the heat and dust of Indian polity should be unquestionable. Second, there has been no serious attempt to record the experiences of the trainees/officers at the field/secretariat levels and publish them in scholarly journals, enabling others to benefit from such exposures. The Academy journal, The Administrator, does not seem to have any discernible impact on the academic discourse on the various facets of our governance. Are the days of scholar-administrators gone? Third, what have been the outputs of the five national centres? How does such research inform the training curriculum? Has the Academy realised its potential to emerge as the main think tank for civil service reforms?

Civil servants are aware that the public sometimes resent the bureaucracy, often for valid reasons. Politicians criticise the bureaucracy as blocking the course of development. These days, Ministers are not always willing to accept responsibility for their own decisions. The reputation of officers is being unduly tarnished all the time. Shouldn’t the Academy help build a national consensus on these contentious issues?

The challenge lies in how civil servants maintain their integrity and efficiency while serving in a system that deals with power play and corruption. Fortunately, there are umpteen instances of civil servants playing their role neutrally and resolutely. Idealism as a virtue may be on the wane, but has not vanished altogether.

In defending and expanding the constitutional values and in adhering to the spirit of various progressive legislation, the IAS and other Services have played a significant role in nation-building. Despite our ‘uncertain glory’, if one looks at the trajectory of independent India and compares it with that of our immediate neighbours, our higher bureaucracy appears to be a defining difference. The Academy in Mussoorie deserves some credit for that.

Amitabha Bhattacharya is a retired IAS officer who had worked in the private sector and with the UNDP

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