Event ReportsPublished on May 02, 2011
An interaction at ORF Chennai felt that since the all-India services forms an integral part of the country's bureaucratic machinery, it cannot be eliminated. But what needs to be done is its re-invention and the task should be assigned to an independent body like the UPSC.
Need for reinventing Civil Services
Numerous scams in recent times have exposed the corruption and inefficiency in the institutional framework of India. The integrity of almost every prestigious institution has been questioned as the scams have tainted the image these establishments once held. Not only did the civil services fail to check the rot but it also seems to have become a part, and at times a willing partner. The 'steel-frame' that was supposed to hold the nation together has been strained. In this background, the Chennai Chapter of Observer Research Foundation organised an interactive session on the topic "Do We Need the Civil Services in the Present Form?" on February 5, 2011.

Initiating the discussion, Mr. M.G. Devasahayam, IAS (retd.) traced the basic philosophy and background of giving constitutional status and protection to the civil services in the post-Independence era.  He spoke about the deliberations in the Constituent Assembly, regarding the continuation of the all-India services which already existed in the form of ICS and IP. He commended the foresightedness of C Rajagopalachari, who later went on to become the Governor-General in Independent India, when he made the premonitory statement in 1922 that "election and corruption, injustice and the power and tyranny of wealth and inefficiency of administration will make hell of life as soon as freedom is given to us". Mr. Devasahayam observed that the higher civil services were given constitutional protection to counter-balance these problems that independent India would face. He also acknowledged the role that Sardar Vallabhai Patel, free India's first Home Minister, played in emphasising the importance of the all-India services as an essentiality for sound administration and national integration. Moreover, it was the Sardar who strongly proposed that the services should be above party and political considerations. He quoted Sardar's speech in the Constituent Assembly, where he indicated his willingness to step aside if his proposal for granting constitutional status and protection for the civil services was not accepted.

Mr. Devasahayam observed that the mandate for such a civil service was deeply flawed by the Nehruvian developmental model of a mixed economy. This was also influenced by western capitalism.  He said that India should have followed an agro-based development model as the Indian capabilities, including those of the civil services, were more suited for it. For a country to follow an industry-based model of economic growth, it should have the necessary capital, adequate technology and also adequate purchasing power in the hands of the people, to be able to support development. This led to huge economic imbalances, consequently leading to the financial crisis of 1990. He argued that India was forced to pursue neo-liberal agenda in the 1990's because of this developmental model which was incompatible to the Indian context.

Mr. Devasahayam questioned the rationale of giving constitutional protection to the all-India services at a time when it was serving the "market and not the masses". He said that such protection should be discontinued and a different blueprint evolved. Criticising the selection process followed in the selection of the Civil Vigilance Commission (CVC), he exclaimed that it was dismal to see that in a system where a lower division clerk in the Government cannot hope to be promoted if he has any case pending against him, all the nine short-listed officers for the CVC were apparently tainted. It also suited the political system to have 'tainted officials' as it could be used to pressure them afterward, he said.

This further boiled down to the same question, whether we need such a service and whether we need it in the present form or not. According to Mr. Devasahayam, the all-India services is essential, but he disagreed with the present structure and also the privileges enjoyed by the civil servants. He emphasised that the present form was only serving the interests of the political masters and corporate houses. He strongly argued for re-inventing the services rather than reforming it.

The following recommendations were made during the discussion:

  •  Bureaucratic-gagging should be ended. The anachronistic arrangement where-by "a civil servant should be seen, and not heard" is throttling and wasting the nation's best minds as mere status quo time-servers. This inability to speak up against corruption is demoralising honest officers as well.

  •  The notion of bureaucrats remaining subservient to the political masters was self-defeating because the constitutional mandate for the all-India services was to give honest, fair and just governance to the people, particularly those sections that the ruling politicians do not represent. In the skewed electoral system of 'first-past-the-post' and with the reality of low voter turn-out, the rulers-of-the-day represented only about a quarter of the population. In other words, if civil servants observe political subservience, the needs of the majority of the population may be overlooked.

  •  The privilege of constitutional protection should be vehemently discouraged as too much of protection may reduce a person to cowardice. Transfer is the only tool that most politicians use to blackmail the civil servants and the officers are afraid to face even that for upholding principles of good governance.

  •  The lack of eligibility criteria for selecting a civil servant for a particular post is perpetrating lack of professionalism and under-performance. This feudal practice is fostering favouritism. The main criterion for posting a person for a job has become the 'pliability and surrenderability'. Thus, change has become very essential.

  •  The screening process for the civil services ignores the aptitude of the candidate. However, it remains to be seen whether the recent change in the pattern of examinations for the civil services will filter efficient candidates from the others.

  •  Equating excellence with efficiency should be discouraged. The inclusion of candidates from technical educational background in the civil services too should be discouraged because of the fact that they may be ill-equipped to deal with issues related to the common people and at the same time waste their technical skills that would be otherwise required elsewhere.  Administrative office and policing requires skills which are different from managerial skills at the corporate level.

  •  The all-India services forms an integral part of the country's bureaucratic machinery and cannot be eliminated. Reinventing the same is the need of the hour. The Government should not be involved in the reinvention. Rather, the task should be assigned to an independent constitutional body like the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).

(This report is prepared by Anita Elizabeth Mathew, II M.A. (International Studies), Stella Maris College, Chennai)

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