The thrust of the alternative model should be aimed at doing away with the present system of ‘hierarchy of incompetence’. A market-driven approach with opportunities for lateral entry, if and when necessary, can only bolster the presently ineffectual bureaucracy with talent and competence ~ DEBAKI NANDAN MANDAL
In August 1922, Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Britain, had referred to the British element in the Indian Civil Service as the ‘steel frame’ of governance and warned that if ‘you take the steel frame out, the structure will collapse”. Twenty five years later, the structure collapsed although the steel frame was still intact.. The successor-frame appears to have rusted because of misuse and cries out for replacement. The structure also seems to be tottering.
A retired IAS officer has argued on this page (August 25 and 26) that the ‘all- India services, in constitutional theory and practice, are federal services’. The contention needs to be re-examined in the context of the evolution of the IAS.
At a conference in October 1946, Sardar Patel had sought the consent of provincial premiers to the formation of the IAS. They were not enthusiastic; Pandit Govindballav Pant expressed his reservations. Bengal and Punjab actually withheld consent. The rest agreed in the interest of Congress solidarity. Punjab decided to have its own Provincial Civil Service. The IAS was thus rendered less than truly all-India in character because the provinces could and some did opt out.
Three years later, Sardar Patel raised the matter again in the Constituent Assembly. He said: “You will not have a united India if you do not have a good all-India service which has a sense of security. If you do not adopt this course, then do not follow this Constitution. We have in our collective wisdom come to a decision that we shall have this model wherein the ring of service will be such that it will keep the country under control”.
Even though Jawaharlal Nehru was lukewarm to the idea, the IAS was firmly ensconced in the Constitution thanks to the ‘Iron man’ of the central power structure. Otherwise there was no room in a federal polity for a service that would take care of both the Centre and the states. A former Cabinet Secretary had observed: “But for the all-India services there was, in fact, no need for part XIV of the Constitution dealing with services under the Union and the states. There could just have been statutes for the central and state services under the relevant entries of the Seventh Schedule. We need not have earned the dubious distinction of being the only major federal democracy in the world to have mentioned the services in the Constitution’.
During the Fifties of the last century, the States Reorganisation Commission had proposed that about 50 per cent of the new entrants in any cadre of an existing all-India service should be from outside the state. It also recommended that new all-India services should be constituted in such sectors as engineering, forests, and healthcare. Thus was created the Indian Forest Service.
In 1977, in a memorandum on Centre-State relations, the West Bengal government suggested that the IAS and IPS be abolished. Eight years later, three other states ~ Tamil Nadu, Tripura and Punjab ~ expressed the same view in their submissions to the Sarkaria Commission.
Instead of calling it a federal service, it would be better to say that we have carried on with the IAS more out of inertia than reason. Basically, the service is controlled by the Centre to provide officers for key posts at the sub-divisional, district and the secretariat level of the states. The appointments are designated as ‘cadre posts’ which are reserved for IAS officers. And the states are compelled to accept the arrangement which cannot be said to be compatible with our federal democracy, howsoever ‘quasi’ the federal element may be.
It has been argued in the two-part article that ‘the British had left us with a precious legacy of an open competitive examination whereby the best and the brightest were appointed to the IAS and the IFS’. But the blunt truth has been told by Dr MN Buch, a 1957 batch IAS officer, who resigned much before retirement. I quote: “Idealism is dead and youngsters join the service because it is a job which promises power and what that power can give. There is no particular desire to serve the people. When motivation changes, the attitudes also change. Impartiality and fairness may bring a clash with politicians which is career-unfriendly. An ability to bend brings advancement”.
IAS officers act as coordinators of various departments. An SDO, as a coordinator with two years of experience, oversees the functioning of very senior and experienced officers. Similarly, a District Magistrate, with six or seven years experience in the IAS, coordinates the functioning of the Chief Medical Officer, Executive Engineers of PWD, Public Health, District Education Officer etc. who are not only quite senior in age but have also been working as specialists for quite some time. If specialists are as a matter of rule guided by generalists, the result can be harmful and counter-productive. Further, when a generalist sits in judgment over specialists, this can hinder the development of professionalism. For an IAS officer to head the Health department or serve as Director of Agriculture is a ridiculous proposition. Similarly, why should a public sector undertaking have an IAS officer as its Managing Director? This is the job of a Business Manager.
As of now, with no specialisation and with only cursory knowledge, an IAS officer can head ministries and departments as diverse as health, power, industry, finance, forest etc. IAS officers know that all posts of secretaries to state governments are reserved for them and, therefore, there is little or no motivation to work hard.
Article 312 affords enhanced protection to all-India service officers. In return, they are expected to be untainted and function diligently and impartially. In reality, however, they are much too busy looking after their own interests to care for the people whom they are required to serve. As a result, numerous cases of corruption, ineptitude, and political servility have surfaced over time. The image of the IAS has been tarnished. Self before the nation has become the motto. If the Secretary for Communications had resisted the spectrum allocation and refused to comply with the minister&’s orders, he might have been humiliated; but there would have been no 2G scam.
The impending dismissal of the Madhya Pradesh IAS couple is suggestive of the endemic corruption that plagues the service. As Dr Buch had observed: “The IAS has miserably failed. The service as a whole has also forgotten that it is a servant of the law, not of individual politicians.” As Jayaprakash Narayan had remarked: “The IAS Association is the strongest trade union in the country.”
It would be useful to recall the words of the late Nirmal Mukarjee, former Cabinet Secretary ~ ‘It would be best to find a suitable way to close the IAS shop. A bold method would be to stop all further recruitment forthwith. Simultaneously, posts reserved for the IAS in the states should be gradually de-reserved. An alternative route would be to permit individual states to opt out of the IAS scheme, whereupon any state that avails of the option should have the right to de-reserve all the IAS posts”.
The thrust of the alternative model should be aimed at doing away with the present system of ‘hierarchy of incompetence’. A market-driven approach with opportunities for lateral entry, if and when necessary, can only bolster the presently ineffectual bureaucracy with talent and competence.
The writer is a former Joint Secretary, West Bengal