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Grappling with Foxes and Hedgehogs of India’s Senior Civil Services

One of the neglected areas of reforms of India’s organised senior civil services relates to the rationalisation of its branching structure and the related debate of generalist vs specialist services. The present structure is a confusing hotchpotch of specialist and generalist branches, at different layers of government, and has largely resulted in inter-branch rivalries,dissatisfaction, and a dysfunctional organisational structure, affecting the efficiency of the senior management and governance. In light of this, a rationalised redesign, effected through a mix of mergers, abolitions, and reinvention and with specialised–generalist branches responsible for broad domains of functions, appears to be the most suitable strategy for reform.

The “steel frame of India” is the phrase often used to describe the organised civil service of India, and has been in use since before independence. Although the civil service was a legacy of the British and Jawaharlal Nehru was sceptical of it in the beginning, he came to appreciate that a highly-qualified, professional and meritocratic civil service institution would, perhaps, be an important factor in India’s successful transition from a backward nation to a prosperous country. As it turns out, though this transition may not yet have been achieved even after seven decades of independence, the civil services, as a professionally-managed cadre of bureaucrats, has evolved into one of the pivotal institutions of democratic India. It has even been identified as one of the important factors in the deepening of democracy and consolidation of the idea of India (Guha 2007). In the parliamentary democracy of India, where the political executive come and go through regular general elections, the executive civil service is permanent, providing much needed continuity, knowledge pool, expertise and professionalism, to better manage a vast and diverse country. Though responsible and answerable to the political executive, the administrative and institutional structure of the civil service is not dependent on the whims and fancies of the political class, thus providing a fine system of checks and balances, together with the independent judiciary and free press.

This article, though placed within the larger framework of bureaucratic reforms, is focused on analysing the often-ignored issues arising out of the peculiar branching structure of the organised senior civil services of India—known popularly as the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS)—and other branches, the underlying debate of generalist vs specialist, and suggests ideas moving forward.

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Updated On : 27th Sep, 2018

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