What Kind of Reforms Do the Civil Services Really Need?

No Image
The Thread offers context to news through EPW Archives.
31 August 2018

Reform is long overdue in the Indian Administrative Services, but how should the government go about it? 

The civil services are a crucial pillar of the Indian state, having been responsible for administering the country before it was even independent. The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) was established in 1926, but was re-envisioned for independent India by Sardar Vallabhai Patel. It was meant to produce an elite cadre of officers who would be politically neutral. Recently, there has been talk of reforming the administrative services and especially, the process of recruitment. Aided by this reading list, we explore if the reforms suggested will be effective in improving the bureaucracy.

1) Reform versus corruption?

Earlier this year the government decided to allow the recruitment of 10 experts to the joint-secretary level from outside the services. This move has raised serious questions about the political inclinations that the appointed experts might have, and how the ruling party might use it to their benefit. Naresh Chandra Saxena, a retired public servant himself, writes that there are risks of corrupting the service with this reform, but one must hope that the process of selection is impartial. Instead, the government should ensure stable tenures so that there is incentive for officers to acquire expertise in their chosen sectors.

Many have condemned the bypassing of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) as an attempt to facilitate the backdoor entry of people committed to the present government’s ideology, or recruit employees working for those industrialists who are close to the ruling party.

2) Disproportionate representation

It is not that reform in the services is not welcome. There are several structural problems that have crept up in the administrative services, such as disproportionate representation. R K Barik’s 2004 article, studied recruitment patterns to reveal a distinct upper class, urban bias.

The trend in 1970s shows that ‘sarkari’ schools produced the majority of our civil servants. This trend has now changed which is undemocratic. Students appearing in the English medium now dominate the scene, though students can appear in all the languages recognised by the state. The students appearing in Hindi are able to compete somehow but other linguistic groups are in a disadvantaged position. Though the Indian civil service is turning into a representative organisation from caste and community point of view, at the same time it is getting confined to a small section of the society.

Another study by Syed Najiullah in 2006 found that the percentage share of Muslim officers recruited by the services did not correspond with the percentage share of Muslims with regard to the total population.

It is clear that while the Muslim population in the country is almost 12 per cent, their representation in the country's highest services was only 3.15 per cent between 1981 and 2000. Similarly, in the Indian police service, out of the total recruitment of 3,284 officers in the same period, only 120 were Muslims with a percentage of 3.65.

3) The administrative machinery has grown defunct over the years

In 2005, P S Appu, who joined the IAS in 1951 lamented the debasement of the services. Drawing from his personal experience working in the service, he argued that the bureaucratic machinery was no longer serving its purpose because of a severe lapse in discipline and ethics. He recommended that the system ought to be retained, but needed thorough reform.

After spending five years under the central government I returned to Bihar in July 1975. Bihar’s administration had declined further. As finance secretary I found that the finances of the state were in a precarious condition. Financial discipline had evaporated. Long before the advent of the wireless and the telephone, the British had included in the Treasury Code a rule (Rule 27) empowering collectors to draw money from the treasury to meet emergencies like floods, earthquakes, devastating fires, etc. To my dismay I found that collectors were freely drawing money for all manner of trivial purposes under Rule 27 of the Treasury Code. In one case a collector had drawn money under the rule to buy a staff car for the SDO of another district. All checks and balances had disappeared. There was no accountability and any one could do what he pleased.

4) Severely limited personal liberties of civil service officers

Govind Bhattacharjee has suggested that the very constitutional provision on which the civil services are based needs to be urgently reformed to make room for “a new code of ethics based on self-regulation, accountability and transparency.” Under the Central Civil Services (CCS) (Conduct) Rules, 1964, fundamental rights available to citizens of country are sometimes denied to officers serving in the cadre. For instance, Rule 9 prohibits any public servant to publish “in his own name or anonymously or pseudonymously or in the name of any other person” any “statement of fact or opinion which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action of the Central Government or a State Government.”  

Nearly 70 years after independence, civil servants in this country no longer want to be treated as unruly kids ignorant of their roles and responsibilities. The house of cards in which they have been made to live for so long needs to be dismantled once and for all. The dated CCS (Conduct) Rules, 1964, must be consigned to the dustbin of history and replaced by a new code of ethics based on self-regulation, accountability and transparency.

No Image
The Thread offers context to news through EPW Archives.
31 August 2018