Today's Editorial

25 June 2018

Deforming services in the name of reform

Source: By Aarti Khosla: The Statesman

The latest attempt being made to interfere with the recruitment process of All India Services and other Group A services is ill-advised. It will cause more harm than good. Taking the Foundation Course training marks into account to decide on the service and cadre allotment of probationers of All India services will keep them on tenterhooks about the service and cadre they are likely to get through the period of their foundation course. This in effect will mix the recruitment and training processes which at present are handled by two different bodies.

The UPSC is responsible for conducting the Civil Services Examination which by and large has maintained its credibility. The total intake of 800-900 candidates out of several lakhs trying to crack this examination clearly shows that those who succeed have already gone through fire. Their placement in the three All India Services, namely IAS, IPS and the Indian Forest Service, or several Group A Services or the Indian Foreign Service is determined on the rank in the merit list of the UPSC and the preference indicated by them in their application.

The training starts after the service allotment because the pattern of training for different services has to vary depending upon the nature of the job one is going to handle. The Foundation Course of a few months was aimed at general orientation; earlier it was common for all the services and held at the National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie. This gave a chance to probationers of all the services to know each other and get the same foundation to their careers before dispersing to respective training institutes, for example to Railway Staff College in case of three Group A Railway services, Income Tax Academy at Nagpur for Indian Revenue Service (Income tax stream) and to the training Institute at Faridabad for Customs stream of IRS, or Audit and Accounts training school in Shimla for the Indian Audit and Accounts Service.

With the numbers having gone up, now the foundation course for other services is held at their own training institutes or at each other’s training school. Only IAS probationers go to the academy at Mussoorie. With the Foundation Course spread over a dozen institutions with different faculty members and course directors how can the government’s new proposal be implemented? This would, as an ex-Cabinet Secretary wrote the other day, make the entire process confusing. It will only make probationers undergoing training at several institutes do everything possible to get more marks and get into a ’better’ service.

Networking with faculty members or currying favour by means fair and foul may become be the order of the day. The long-term fallout of this practice would be that meritorious candidates would turn away from the civil services as a career choice because of the uncertainty and frustration to be faced after cracking a tough competitive examination. Whoever thought of this bizarre suggestion appears to be ignorant of the scheme of things in place for selection of civil servants in the country.

What exactly is the purpose behind this impractical, unfair and destructive idea? It is to make probationers take their foundation course more seriously, it is said. With an intensive work schedule, projects to be completed and examinations in various subjects at the end of the course there is no reason not to take the foundation course or any part of the training seriously. In case of IAS probationers their seniority in the batch is also determined on the basis of training marks for which IAS rules were amended. Where is the need to introduce another threatening instrument to make them serious about training? Those who could clear the examination competing with lakhs of candidates are already serious enough about making a mark in their career and training is a part of it. Yes, there is always need and scope for reform but not based on hasty decisions.

The recruitment process of civil services and reforms have been looked into by so many committees since independence, starting with the A.D Gorwala report on Public Administration in 1951the Mudaliar Committee report on Public Services (qualifications and recruitment) 1956, the Kothari Committee Report in 1976 on Recruitment Policy and Selection methods and the Satish Chandra committee report of 1989 on review of the scheme of Civil Services Examination. The Yoginder K. Alag committee in 2001 and the Hota Committee in 2004 also examined the same subject. The Baswan Committee was constituted in August 2015 to look into reduction in age limit and the number of chances to be given for the examination. Its report was submitted in August 2016 and it seems it is still under examination.

No one could have ever thought of linking the cadre and service allotment with training to be undergone after selection through UPSC. To do so would also dilute the prestige and status of the UPSC as also the aura rightly attached to the Civil Services Examination.  The idea needs to be nipped in the bud to protect these two institutions.

This however does not mean that there is no scope for improvement. The membership of UPSC needs to be more broad-based, bringing in eminent persons from several fields instead of making it a parking place for retired, influential bureaucrats, some of whom have controversial credentials. The upper age limit for certain categories certainly needs a relook. If a candidate of a special category gets selected after several attempts in his late 30s it is neither good for him nor for the administration. As on date while we may have a 21-year-old recruit (the minimum age to take the Civil Services exam) undergoing training we may also have 37 or 38-year-old man in class with him.

We have prescribed too many relaxations of upper age limits – from five years for SC and STthree years for OBC and 10 years for differently abled. What is the point in letting people waste so many years of their lives just preparing for one examination? Would it not be better if we help them in getting other skills to be employable? There should be only one slab of additional three years.

Similarly, it is ridiculous to give so many chances for taking the examination. While the General category can have three chances, there are nine chances for OBC and unlimited chances for SC, ST. Is it not wastage of human endeavour and wastage of precious years when one is busy preparing for one examination year after year without the guarantee of clearing it at the end of the day? One does not know what the Baswan Commiittee has recommended on these aspects but there is definitely a need to review, rising above vote bank politics, both age and number of attempts for entry to the Civil Services examination.

Instead of looking at the grey areas where improvement is possible, we seem to be tinkering here and there on the basis of impulsive advice from some quarters. Two changes made earlier are pointers towards this approach. One is for IAS officers to start their innings after training in the Government of India as Assistant Secretaries working in the Sections for a few months rather than going straight to the field and working as ADMs and SDMs as per practice hitherto. These officers are supposed to work in the field with some spells in the state secretariat and on deputation to Government of India later at Deputy Secretary or Director Levels. What purpose is served by making them sit in sections of several ministries to know how papers are moved?

The second and most damaging change brought about is the so-called 360-degree assessment for empanelment and promotion to the Joint Secretary level and above. This requires getting feedback about the officer from someone senior in the service (whether the officer has worked with him or not) as also from someone junior who worked with the officer. On their opinion depends the officer’s empanelment and promotion? There is no secrecy about persons approached for giving an opinion.  Adverse feedback which could be out of jealousy, meanness or any other human frailty from the senior or because of a grudge over a reprimand by a junior can mar an officer’s career.

Many bright officers have been denied the move up because of this 360-degree assessment. The relevance of Performance Appraisal which has been honed umpteen times is overtaken by this 360- demon copied from Germany and USA who introduced it during World War II for military personnel but gave it up as they found lack of objectivity in such assessments. And here we have resurrected it from its grave.

Allotment of service and cadre on the basis of performance in the foundation course to the UPSC to select civil servants is a similar ill-thought out proposal. It is just not implementable and if adopted will cause utter confusion. It is hoped this realisation dawns on the powers that be and this tinkering with the settled practice of the most important Civil Services Examination is not done.



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