October 14, 2007

The Steel Frame of India

The State Secretariat, Patna
I had always been fascinated by the spirits conjured up by the three conjoined letters: I, A & S. The power and prestige associated with it cannot be matched by any other service in the country. One of the reasons might be that my dad is an I.A.S. officer and also another factor is my native state. In the words of Sanjay Singh (42nd rank, UPSC 2006) who hails from BiharBihar has not seen the winds of change that swept through the country from the ‘90s, so we have a relatively older mindset. For us power and prestige still means the civil services, rather than fat salaries of the MNCs. (I don’t totally agree with him, most of the youth in the urban areas (like in the rest of the country) would definitely go for the MNC’s rather than the civil services but yeah to an extent the statement has veracity.)

The bureaucracy is known as the ‘steel frame’ of the country for its role in influencing and implementing government policies and decisions and running the civil administration. From manning the blocks of the districts to the corridors of power in the Central Government, it is the bureaucracy that runs the show. In a developing nation like ours, it is the government who the people look up to for providing development in addition to routine governance. That is why an efficient bureaucracy is the biggest asset a government can possess.

A recent survey by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) shows that despite the higher salaries of the private sector, civil services continue to be the preferred career choice for youth in the country. Many people might find this fact quite intriguing. So what is it that draws our youngsters to these coveted services? A newly inducted IAS officer offers a lucid explanation, “In our country, there are three people who are the most powerful-the PM, the CM and the DM. I wanted to be the DM.” The power and prestige that the service confers upon the individual are the main reasons that attract the youth. A beacon fitted Ambassador with police cover would make anyone jealous! Just three to four years into the service, and you are manning an entire district. Others feel that instead of scoffing at the inadequacies of the system, it is better to join it and power the changes one seeks. An efficient civil servant, with the powers conferred upon him, can change the face of his district be it in the field of education, law and order, health care or infrastructure. The bureaucracy has the power to cleanse the system and free it of its malaise. For the rural folks, the District Magistrate (also the Collector) has a larger than life image. The Collector is no less than a prince in his district, in charge of the administration and indirectly the police. People look up to them in awe as if they are someone different. An honest and efficient administrator gets respect from every section of the society. Some critics say that nothing much has changed since the British left, only the white men have been replaced with brown sahibs. Job security is an added attraction for the aspirants. The experience one gets while in service is simply unmatchable. IAS officers are in charge of departments of varied nature, ranging from Health, Education to Finance and Human Resource.

However not everything is as rosy as it sounds. The bureaucracy is afflicted by a plethora of problems. The most important factor which cripples the bureaucracy is the political intervention. Political intervention creeps in everywhere in the bureaucracy. This is how it works. For the bureaucrats, it is the chief minister at the state level, who decides the transfer and posting of the administrators. Generally the chief minister consults his ministers before transferring an official. Any disgruntled politician, ranging from a people’s representatives (Ministers, MLAs & MLCs) to even influential party workers may register his complaint with the person at helm of the affairs. In the times of coalition government, no sensible Chief can afford to ignore the “complaints”. This rule is misused by the politicians for leveraging their power. If a certain official doesn’t toe the line of a powerful politician, the minister may get him “shunted” (knowing how very sincere our politicians are) unless the chief minister says otherwise. For the uninitiated, shunting is transferring an official to a very insignificant post. Even the Annual Confidential Report (A.C.R.) is written by the Chief Minister and the minister of the department in which the bureaucrat is posted. Our very “sincere” ministers generally get along well with bureaucrats that are “pliable.” On a lighter note, in the bureaucratic circles, it is often said that the frequency of the transfers depicts the efficiency of the bureaucrat. It is the common man who finally has to suffer. Frequent transfers dampen the morale of efficient administrators and in the long run they become disgruntled with the system. It also impedes the rate of developmental activities especially at the district level. I think the system of a minimum tenure (as implemented now in the appointed of top bureaucrats in the Government of India like the Cabinet Secretary) would go a long way in improving administrative efficiency. Another drawback of the bureaucracy is that efficiency is not taken into account anywhere. The government should devise a system to reward to the efficient officers and shunt the inefficient ones. To retain the best in the system, the government should seriously think about revising the pay scales. To this end, the government had appointed The Sixth Pay Commission and the commission had recently submitted its report to the government.

Till the mid-nineties, the civil services (IAS, IPS etc) were the obvious option which attracted the best talent of the nation. At that point of time, private sector companies had not made it big. This was before the era of globalization and the IT boom. Most of those who made it into the civil services were the urban elite who had graduated from the top colleges of the country. Times have changed since then. Today when India is one of fastest growing economies in the world new job options are opening up everyday for the country’s youth.

The UPSC receives 3.5 lakh applications for the preliminary test of the three stage examination every year. Only 55 % actually take the test. The final 450-odd students [half of them from the reserved category again : ( ] actually get into the services. To fill in, if you did not know already, the government has had 50 % reservation in the central sector for long. This includes the much debated 27% for the Other Backward Castes (OBCs). Those who get selected come from all streams of study. Of late engineers have taken the top spot. They got almost one-third of all 450 ranks this year as compared to just 16% in 1985. But the share from the IITs has declined which may be due to the massive expansion of opportunities in the private sector. The average age of successful candidates has undergone a marginal change from 25.4 years in 1985 to 26.4 in 2005. Another paradigm shift is that more no. of women are getting through the civil services from a 10.4 % share in 1985, it has gone up to 20.6% in 2005. Also the age limit has been increased from the previous 24 to 26 to 28 to 30. The increase in educational opportunities has led to the democratization of these once-elite services. Less than 2 in 10 entrants were from a metro or a state capital in 2004 Compare that with the 70’s where two thirds came from the urban areas. The city born and city bred, apparently chasing IIMs, MNCs, foreign universities and a plethora of new economy options, are painting themselves out of the picture. In the 2004-2006 batch, the state wise breakup of those selected shows that Tamil Nadu leads followed by UP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Bihar

On a closing note, I would like to reiterate that the opportunities one gets in the civil services in innumerous and cannot be matched by any other service in the nation but before stepping in one should also weigh the challenges.


Anonymous said...

Good perspective!
However, the relevance of the steel frame is getting lost. Hated by the political masters,taken to task by the judiciary under the threat of contempt and hounded by the media, the aam admi is also loosing faith. US has thrived and prospered without the steel frame. And, in a globalized India, with more transparent regime in the post RTI era, it may have only vintage value.

Shwetank said...

@ Anonymous

The comment has added to the intrinsic value of the post. Thanx a Lot !

Abhimanyu said...

It's the same story with all the other govt services...but it hurts most where the IAS and related services are concerned

dushy said...

Ur an IAS officer's son?
Bugger,U never told me?:P

Anonymous said...

brilliant piece. well written, thought provoking, well argued. keep it up :D

Shwetank said...

@ Manyu:


@ Dushy

You never asked me :)

Anurag Srivastava said...

@shwetank: Nice post!

So I guess you are in Bits Pilani, and having seen you blog, I have this curiosity, Do you have the civls bug ? :)

Bharat Darshan was great. On lighter side it ensures that no one thinks of any tourism for next 10 years of service having been subjected to so much touring :P

Shwetank said...

@ Anurag:

Well had it not been for political intervention and the poor pay packages, i would have thought about civil services. (Even the 6th pay commission won't make much of a difference, it seems)It is a very tough choice, but i think right now i'm more inclined towards working in the private sector.

Shwetank said...

@ Anonymous:

Thanx :). I hope "you" are not charging me for it !