This sterling performance becomes still more significant in the context of the turmoil in West Bengal over Partition.
A large number of well-to-do families from East Bengal had become refugees, lived on the streets, let alone afford proper education for their children.
Yet, the Bengali youth’s aspiration to become a civil servant did not dwindle. The quality of education received has an impacts on a candidate’s confidence and ability to crack the Civil Services Exam.
The determination to qualify is greatly nurtured by the value, aspiration and appreciation that the parents, family and the community attach to the service. The social atmosphere of West Bengal since the mid-1960s has been plagued by political agitations, strikes and unrest.
This turbulent atmosphere vitiated the academic environment of the educational institutions. Few teachers, whether in schools, colleges or universities, cared to complete the syllabus. The state-run schools were packed with inferior teachers, whose main duty was to attend to party work during the period when they were expected to teach.
As a result, the standard of education imparted at various levels in the State, declined. Often the academic calendar remained incomplete and exams were delayed, seriously denting the career and future of the students.
Quality, which was the hallmark of education in West Bengal, declined drastically and irreversibly. The decision of the Left Front government in 1982 to abolish the teaching of English in primary schools was another nail that severely dented the confidence and the ability of the students, especially in higher education and therefore, their ability to compete with students from other states.
This cardinal mistake damaged the future of the students of the state for 25 years. Of course it was reversed in 2007, but by then it was too late.
Altogether, it had a negative effect on the morale, calibre and performance of the students of West Bengal at national level competitive exams, including CSE. The aura of civil services also declined among the youth and Bengali society generally due to the attitude of the political masters. The party dominated over the administrative decisions of the government. Therefore, the initiatives or the ability to think ‘out of the box’ by the administrators to achieve excellence or set standards in governance of the state, was given a go-bye.
The gherao and at times heckling of the officers who did not go by the ruling party or diktats of their workers’ union, was an everyday affair.
This hugely demoralised the officers, and in turn, painted a very negative picture of the service among the family members, friends as well as in public, discouraging them to choose civil services as a career option.
The net impact was that the civil service lost its charm so far as the middle class Bengali society is concerned. Meritorious students opted to go abroad, choose a career in academics, medicine, engineering, management and in the private sector.
To be a District Magistrate, Secretary, Director General, Member/ Chairman of Commissions became meaningless for Bengali youth. Civil services no longer attracted the glamour and received the pride of place in Bengal society.
One hardly came across marriage proposals for civil servants in Bengali matrimonial columns. As a result, the representation of West Bengal in the civil services started declining. In 1991, only three out of 126 IAS officers qualified from West Bengal.
A decade later, in 2001, none qualified from this state and the same was true in 2011. The number of candidates qualifying from the neighbouring states of Bihar and Odisha is many times higher. In fact, representation of West Bengal in the IAS is so poor that there are many batches without a single candidate from the state.
In 2011, the total number of IAS officers from West Bengal in the country dropped to 83 out of 3229, compared to 248 out of 2949, thirty years before in 1981. This also indicates that the overall success rate from the State in all the Central Civil Services put together has come down considerably.
This is astonishing not least because Bengal boasts premier institutions, notably Presidency College, Scottish Church College, Bethune College, IIT, IIM, ISI, Jadavpur and Calcutta Universities, Shibpur Engineering College, etc. Some Bengalis are also loath to serve the corrupt political system of the country.
This partly explains the reluctance to take up a career in the Civil Services. This negative attitude among the Bengalis needs to be changed. The Constitution, Acts and Rules of the country give the civil servants the responsibility, opportunity and the immunity from disagreeing with anything that is illegal or wrong and provides adequate scope to maintain one’s neutrality, impartiality and objectivity in discharging official duties.
Therefore, not taking up civil services as a career on such a pretext is actually an escapist’s choice. Why is it important and essential for West Bengal to have its own, ‘insider’ candidates in AIS and CCS?
First, the brightest and the best from the state must get the opportunity in shaping the destiny of the country and their home state.
Second, while serving in one’s home state, the officer is in a position to integrate the culture, ethos and way of thinking of the people of the state with the national perspective in a more purposeful manner for the ultimate benefit of the home state.
Third, India is a country of diverse cultures and the perception and approaches to a problem and its solutions are also diverse. It is impossible to have a 100 per cent uniform administrative approach and a common yardstick for the country as a whole.
While ensuring overall uniformity in administration across the country, local understanding and nuances of the state also need to be taken into account, and this can be best achieved if there are representatives from the state in its administration.
Fourth, the home or ‘insider’ candidates would be able to set examples for other aspiring candidates from the state to follow them. Most importantly, it is a matter of pride and privilege to be an IAS or Civil Service officer and to serve the citizens of the country and the State.
This pathetic condition of West Bengal’s representation in AIS and CCS cannot be allowed to go on. It has to be realised by the people of West Bengal, particularly the youth that taking to the streets, agitating, calling dharnas and strikes, will not allow them any space or role in the development of their community and the state. Rather they need to participate in a constructive manner, which is ensured through the Civil Services.
The power, privilege and the opportunity that every rung/position in the Civil Services’ hierarchy provides is immense for doing good for the people and the community; this cannot be explained in words but needs to be felt by occupying the positions.
If the motive behind good education is to become a good and responsible citizen, be recognised in the society as a person of competence and seen as an example of success, to hold respectable posts and earn a good salary, enhance the prestige and status of the parents and family and last but not the least to do good for the people, then there is no service better than the civil services. Every state based on its size, population etc., has a sanctioned strength for each of the AIS categories.
One-third of this sanctioned strength is earmarked for the ‘insider’ or home state candidates. Further, the salary of AIS officers even while serving in the state, are reimbursed by the Union Government. As per the Civil List 2016, West Bengal is hugely lacking in filling up its ‘insider’ quota.
The number of ‘insider’ IAS officers on its role in West Bengal is only 29 as on 1 January 2016. Compare this with ‘insider’ officers in other states: Bihar (73), Odisha (36), Haryana (37), Kerala (45), Punjab (35). Even the smaller states have more ‘insider’ officers in their cadre than West Bengal.
There ares more IAS officers from Uttar Pradesh (38) working in West Bengal than from this state itself.
The writer is a retired IAS officer.