Event ReportsPublished on Apr 09, 2010
Do we need the IAS? This was the subject of an interaction organized by Observer Research Foundation Chennai Chapter on Saturday, 4 September, 2010, in the light of 'IT czar' N R Narayana Murthy's call for abolishing the system of generalised administrators under the Indian Administrative Service (IAS)
Urgent need to introduce drastic reforms in the IAS
“Do we need the IAS?” This was the subject of an interaction organized by Observer Research Foundation Chennai Chapter on Saturday, 4 September, 2010, in the light of ‘IT czar’ N R  Narayana Murthy’s call for abolishing the system of generalised administrators under the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and replacing it with specialists under a new ‘Indian Management Service’.

Initiating the discussion, Mr. G.V. Ramakrishna, IAS (Retd.) and former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the Disinvestment Commission, recalled how all through history, no matter what form of government – whether it is theocracy, monarchy, democracy or communist – there had always been some form of permanent bureaucracy in place. He said there was need for adapting the system to the changing environment, and Mr. Narayana Murthy has provided a “peg” on which ideas of reform could be hung.

If the IAS were to be replaced by another system, it should not only be capable of carrying out all its functions but also must do it in a better manner, Mr. Ramakrishna emphasised. He felt that the three attributes that should characterise the IAS are accessibility, amiability and attitude. Citing the practice in the armed forces, Mr. Ramakrishna recommended a screening process for the civil bureaucracy at the end of 10-12 years of experience, before induction into higher categories. This screening process should not be limited to IAS officers, but should also be thrown open to different sections of the Government services, including the Railways, Posts, and even the armed forces and management sectors. There can be certain eligibility criteria attached to the sifting process such as the candidate having served at the grassroots-level, or at the district-level for at least two years.

Those selected after this process, which should comprise both written examination and interview, will man the posts of Joint Secretaries and above. This process will thus ensure that the cream of the society is selected. ‘Indian Development Service’ was the nomenclature that Mr. Ramakrishna suggested for the institution. According to him, recruitment for the ‘Indian Development Service’ could be carried out every two years by a special employment agency of the Centre, which is different from the Union Public Service Commission. This screening process will ensure a constant and fresh flow of new yet experienced persons to man various positions and shoulder difficult responsibilities in the Government sector. Candidates who don’t make it through the process should have the option to continue in service at the existing grades or seek voluntary retirement under a special scheme.

Another suggestion made by Mr. Ramakrishna was to set up a high-level advisory board to make recommendations concerning the transfer and tenure of IAS officers. The reasons for transfer must be recorded. This was a defense mechanism against the politicians using transfer as a tool to inconvenience officers who were independent and inconvenient.

Chairing the session, Mr. B S Raghavan, former Chief Secretary of West Bengal and Tripura, said that two categories of adjectives had been used to describe the IAS. The gentler category stopped with adjectives such as insensitive, unresponsive and unfriendly, while the harsher category included words such as cruel, obstructive and wooden. India was being dubbed a ‘failed State’ or is a ‘failing State’. Hence it was important to strengthen the institutions, one of them being the IAS.

Mr. Raghavan also floated the idea of ‘elected’ administrators at the district-level in the place of nominated ones, as at present.

Many suggestions cropped up during the discussions. It was unanimously agreed that the IAS cannot be abolished, given its inherent strengths, experience and success in managing a diversified and well-spread out nation such as India. The role of the Central services such as IAS and IPS in keeping the nation united and integrated as one too was highlighted. However, the need for reforms was urgent. It was said that merely tweaking at it was not good enough and it was time for radical reforms.

Mr. Raghavan’s idea which created considerable difference of opinion was of not posting officers to a district. He felt that the collector should not be appointed, but elected. As the collectors were appointed now, the accountability factor was less besides there was no obligation to perform. In contrast, if the collector was elected, there would be an emotional involvement with the task he had to carry out. At least one participant commended on the US model of elected county administration, public prosecutors and even judges, while others felt that it could negate the gains of national integration. It was also pointed out that elected district panchayats existed in most States. Either they had failed in their constitutional obligations, or were not given enough powers and funds by the respective State Governments, as provided for under the Constitution.

A suggestion was also made to do away with the ‘State cadre’ in the Central civil services like the IAS and IPS.

Another suggestion was to create specific pools of specialised talent.  Speaking from experience, some participants said that the educated younger generation was now opting for the IAS, and that the current scheme required reforms if they are not to feel frustrated. But the question remained, as pointed out by some: “Who is to bell the cat, and how?”

(This report was prepared by Belinda Peter, II MA, International Relations, Stella Maris College)

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.