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Why always status quo when change is the only constant?

Why always status quo when change is the only constant?
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Administrative services: Proposal to give weightage to performance in the foundation course could be a change that might be able to boost performance

~By Abhishek Dixit

On May 17 the Prime Minister’s Office circulated a proposal to concerned ministries for suggestions and action, intending to add a fourth layer of scrutiny to the civil services examination process, which may lead to major change in the allocation of services as well as cadres to successful candidates of civil services examination. However, without debating the merits and demerits of the proposal, many of us have raised an alarm.

The UPSC, a constitutional body, is responsible for the selection of candidates based on merit and objectivity for India’s elite services including IAS, IPS, and IFS. As of now, the exam is conducted in three stages, namely, prelims, mains and interview. Based on a candidate’s marks in mains and interview stages, cadre and service allocation are done. Following which, the selected candidates are sent for the 3-4 month Foundation course.

As per PMO’s proposal, ministries and departments are supposed to “examine the feasibility of giving due weightage to the performance in the foundation course, and making service allocation as well as cadre allocation to all-India services officers based on the combined score obtained in the exam and the foundation course.”

This has generated a lot of criticism from serving officers, as well as from retired civil servants and aspiring candidates. 

What is wrong with ‘status quo’? Why has such a proposal been initiated?

There cannot be two opinions on the issue that the civil services in India need structural reforms now. The changing dynamics of the governance warrant the same. Civil services examination pattern has certainly been evolving over the last five decades starting from the Kothari Committee, Satish Chandra Committee, Y.K. Alagh Committee, Anandakrishnan Committee, Bhattacharya Committee, S.K. Khanna Committee, Nigavekar Committee, Purushottam Agarwal Committee, and Baswan Committee.

In 1989 a committee headed by historian Satish Chandra recommended that the examination for recruitment be divided into three stages – preliminary examination, main examination as well as a Foundation course – before the service and cadre were allotted to successful candidates. The Committee also cited report of Kothari Committee (1974-76) headed by scientist and educationist DS Kothari, which had similar opinion.

The Committee on Civil Service Reforms (Hota Committee Report, 2004) recommended that aptitude and leadership tests may be introduced for selection, and that probationers may be allowed one month’s time after commencement of training to exercise their option for services.

Those who are opposing the proposal, claim that the present system is working so fine and there seems no need to interfere with it. According to them there are no serious complaints about examinations or selection or allotment of service and cadre and a few and rare mistakes had been corrected by the courts. I do not adhere to their views. Several reports by Transparency International have highlighted the deep-rooted corruption in the civil services. The Vohra Committee report pointed to the intellectual deficiencies of civil servants. Moreover, there have been many examples to show that all is not well with the present system.

Therefore, even if we want to jump to any conclusions, let us assume that there is a positive intention in bringing the present proposal and visualize it as a form of Civil Services Reform. When the only constant in the world is ‘change’, then why always opt for ‘status quo’?

Points of concern 

1)     Firstly, the proposed change appears to be unconstitutional. There is a doubt if the proposed change can be implemented without amending the Constitutional provisions.

2)    The selection for ‘appointment’ to the service, now done solely by the UPSC, will be affected by the FC marks given by the executive government.

3)    Anonymity and objectivity will be greatly affected. ‘Preference’ of the executive government and ‘subjectivity’ will play a role in the allotment of service and cadre, which is not at all desirable.

4)   It is not yet clear how PMO’s proposed change will be integrated into the existing system.

5)    The Civil Services Examination is a rigorous three-stage exam, conducted in the most transparent manner that tests the intellectual and psycho-social capabilities of the candidates. In contrast, the foundation course is a short-term training programme whose only purpose has been to promote esprit de corps and inter-services camaraderie. All of the probationers will end up competing for the favour of the assessor giving rise to mutual animosity. That is definitely not what we were taught at the academy. We learnt camaraderie and community skills, these probationers will miss out on that. It will be disastrous for the services in particular and for the country in general.

6)   The size of batches in recent years has grown, and on an average, around 1,000 officers are being recommended by the UPSC every year. This has necessitated the splitting of the foundation course as Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, the premier training academy of the country, can’t afford the logistics for so many officer trainees. The course is now being conducted in other places too, like HIPA, Gurgaon, and Mari Channa Reddy Academy, Hyderabad. In fact, I have completed my foundation course from RCVP Naronha Academy of Administration, Bhopal.

Therefore, it will automatically pose the problem of standardisation. How do we compare candidate assessment in one academy to that in another for the same exercise of service/cadre allocation? What if the training faculty falls for inter-personal biases, or becomes a victim of political interference, which most likely they will?

7)    Also, over the years, the UPSC has developed a scaling system that takes due care of candidates who are either from the reserved categories or have opted to take the exam in a medium other than English. This is to eliminate inter-subject, inter-category and inter-language evaluation biases. But training academies won’t be able to do that. The very scheme of the foundation course is such that English-educated candidates from well-to-do families will automatically get an edge and the candidates from reserved categories will be put at an obvious disadvantage. This will be detrimental to the spirit of the All India Services that otherwise seek to extend equal opportunities to all the citizens of the country, irrespective of their background.

8)   Indian Forest Service is a part of All India Service, but selection process and training is entirely different from IAS or IPS. How will they be judged? 

A lot more needs to be done. Here are some suggestions in this regard. 

Not all are against the move. A few believe that many newly selected civil servants take the foundation course as just a formality because they know that they have been allocated cadre and services. When their marks and rank in UPSC and performance in foundation course will be at stake, they will take those three months seriously.

A lot of officers also feel that there is a lot more to be done in Civil Services Reforms.

1)     If involvement of Executive is a point of opposition in the recent proposal, then the Cadre allocation of All India Services shall also be done by the UPSC. At present, Cadre allocation is done by various parent ministries. I have personally seen many cases where the Cadre Controlling Authorities have been working in diagonally opposite directions, though the Principles and Procedures of Cadre allocation are same for the All India Services. Strangely, even after admission of the same, no respite for candidates could be seen. So, it doesn’t seem correct to say that everything is fine with the present system. Those who have been sufferers can feel the pain. I have seen officers running from pillar to post.

2)    Where is the All India character in the All India Services? Central Services (Group A) can work anywhere in India, but not AIS officers. They are allotted a Cadre, where they have to serve for their entire career, apart from Central deputation. Why can’t there be a 5-5 years tenure in various states/ a group of states? If know-how of the State and language is a reason against this logic, then IAS/IPS are not needed at all since the state service officers would do much better going by that logic. Efforts shall be made to give All India Services, a real ‘All India’ character, otherwise it is a misnomer.

3)    Abilities of our training institutions shall be enhanced and a procedure shall be evolved where anonymity can be maintained while evaluation of candidates. Furthermore, a standardized mechanism needs to be evolved, which shall strictly be followed by all the training academies to ensure fairness in evaluation.

4)   My other suggestion is that the move shouldn’t happen by diktat. Stakeholders’ opinions and concerns must be taken into account before proceeding ahead. The government should examine the data they have at their disposal and then reach a conclusion. There are bound to be dissenters, but they must get them on board.

5)    If the Government wants to proceed with reforms, it must consult widely, be transparent with its thinking and process and be inclusive of various voices in society. 

Let’s not judge in haste 

The foundation course is intended for the new recruits to the All India Services and Central Services (Group A). It equips fresh entrants with requisite skills, knowledge and attitude to shoulder responsibility as public servants. Its main objective are: to foster greater cooperation and coordination among various public services by building an esprit de corps; to promote all round development of the personality of an officer trainee- intellectual, moral, physical and aesthetic. These are subjective criteria and incorporating them in the overall scheme of the examination and then services/ cadre allocation can bring its own problems like biases, favoritism and rising competition among the probationers. However, if we are certain about the abilities of our training academies, we shall not judge the proposal in haste. 

The Government through the present proposal wants to introduce reformation in the process of selection and cadre allocation, which involves a sheer risk of unpopularity for the Government with an aggressive opposition, both political and intellectual. Thus, even those who see this as a welcome step, are of the opinion that the government should proceed with caution.

As of now, the government is only exploring the option and has hence invited views and suggestions of the cadre-controlling ministries, to see if the option is feasible. Nothing much should be read into it.

We should be progressive in our approach and if it can improve the system, let’s explore it.

(The writer is an IPS officer, currently Commandant of the Tamil Nadu Special Police force at Tihar Jail)

For an alternative opinion on the subject, read: All India Services: Dangerous Tampering?

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