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Managing the State

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The article “Has the IAS Failed the ­Nation? An Insider’s View” by Naresh Chandra Saxena (EPW, 23 June 2018) is welcome not only for initiating discussion on a topic that most citizens are loath to discuss, but also for highlighting issues that few are aware of.

At the outset, it is necessary to posit that the metamorphosing of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) into the latter-day ­Indian Administrative Service (IAS) has not been all that smooth. Sardar Patel, as home minister, elaborated on the ICS as a service that had elements of subservience and fealty to the Empire and the Crown, and reasoned that a country emerging from the shackles of colonialism had to have an all-India service where the aspirations of the state needed to be tackled in an atmosphere of secularism and equality. Thus the IAS was born. 

The ICS was competitive in its time, and Indians who had completed a stint at Oxbridge got in, after appearing for exams that could be described as “tough to clear.” It was without a doubt an elitist system; one where a certain class that had access to education as a result of a privileged upbringing, found it relatively easier to tackle the exams and get in.

The IAS was more or less fashioned on the ICS and continued without much cha­­nge until 1975, when 14 languages reco­gnised by the Constitution were permitted as a medium for the examinati­o­ns. Since 2013, the number of languages has been increased to 22, including Hindi.

To be sure, middle- and lower-middle class aspirations were being met with this new-found inclusion. Students from towns and villages could aspire to and compete for a place in the IAS. Stories abound of how a rickshaw puller’s daughter or son have made it to the merit list, and in some cases, the offspring of Dalits and manual labourers have also been successful. However, evidence also points out deficiencies, wherein IAS ­officers have been found lacking, while dealing with problems related to management of large-scale projects that demand a multipronged approach and domain expertise. The main reason is that the exam pattern of the IAS is ill-suited to judge candidates for jobs that call for a managerial approach.

For example, a degree in history or political science ill-equips a civil servant to tackle problems in finance or atomic energy. Some years ago, India Today carried an article wherein mandarins in the finance department at the state and central levels were struggling to understand concepts relating to cash flow analysis and fund management. Most jobs in the government involve contracting and tendering, which in themselves are complex processes that call for domain expertise as well as exceptional vision and brilliance in drafting the scope of work and tender estimates. Most issues relating to infrastructure management flow from deficiencies in defining and drafting the scope of work and preparing the estimates.Also, more ­often than not, IAS officers are found to be pliant when it comes to tackl­ing ­issues concerning graft and corruption.

What modern management needs is management of the economy and the state, as against mere administration. The IAS must reform itself on the lines of managers of corporations and large public and private entities and the focus should be on taking a managerial approach to issues. The late Madhavrao Scindia, during his stint as railway minister, overhauled the department so thoroughly, its impact is felt even today. The former ­union minister of state for defence, Arun Singh, did path-breaking work in a space of two years, and produced reports relating to reform in the armed forces that are valued by his successors even today.

With the way things are, we need to ­either overhaul the IAS to make it relevant, contemporary and sophisticated, or do away with the very concept of the bureaucracy as it exists and bring in ­domain experts in government departments.

Rosen John

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Updated On : 6th Jul, 2018

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