Indian officials challenge civil service leadership review

By on 17/10/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi leads the Appointments Committee of Cabinet

India’s elite Indian Administrative Service (IAS) has come under attack from other branches of the government services, many of which are unhappy with its leadership of a new committee established to review the country’s ‘cadre’ structures.

The two-man committee was set up in late August on the instruction of the Appointments Committee of Cabinet, which is led by prime minister Narendra Modi, and asked to consider how best to recruit for senior civil service posts.

Currently, many government top jobs go to members of the IAS, who join this fast-track leadership cadre after achieving very high scores in the annual civil service entry exams. The appointment to the committee of a senior IAS officer, TA Jacob, has prompted a backlash from other civil service cadres – which argue that many leadership roles require specialist skills best developed by officials in cadres such as the Indian Revenue Service and Indian Postal Service.

Last month, a delegation of officers from other cadres met Jitendra Singh, minister-of-state (independent charge) of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which is supervising the exercise. The delegages complained about the committee, submitting  a strongly-worded memorandum – of which Global Government Forum has obtained a copy. The memo calls the committee a “sham”, and claims that whilst its original mandate was to examine the cadre structures of all the central government services, the IAS has subsequently exempted itself from inspection.

Claiming that the IAS has “arrogated’ to itself “the right to decide for other services,” the memo warns the government that unless other services are given “fair and equitable treatment”, then “the gap between IAS and other services will widen and it may lead to a chaotic situation and it will not be good for the governance and the country.” It adds that other services have been given very little time to express their concerns to the committee, and argues that the initiative should be led by non-IAS officials.

A senior bureaucrat from the railways told this publication, on the condition of anonymity, that IAS officers lack the expertise to handle positions in ministries with more technical remits. “Such as railways, for example, or in the finance ministry, which would be served better if staffed exclusively by officers from the Indian Revenue Service,” he said.

MD Nalapat, editorial director of the weekly newspaper The Sunday Guardian, who often writes on the bureaucracy in his columns, said that it was high time the disparity between the IAS and other services is ended. “People elected [the prime minister] Mr Modi to deliver good governance. As long as this matter is not sorted out, that goal won’t be achieved,” he said.

Nalapat believes the IAS should be made more accountable, with only the top performers able to make it into the civil service’s most senior jobs. “Only 25% of them should be able to reach the top positions, and others should be made to retire,” he said. He suggested that the government should expand ‘lateral entry’ into the ministries, hiring expert leaders instead of recruiting IAS staff for management jobs.

However, Subramanya Rao, member-secretary of the committee, said that it was going to fulfil the given mandate to the best of its ability: “We will protect the interest of all the services,” he said.

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See also:

Urjit Patel takes the helm at Indian central bank

Report urges sweeping reforms to reinvigorate India’s ‘stagnant’ civil service

The remarkable rise of India’s think tanks

India on track to electrify every village by 2018

Top Indian educationalist urges focus on universities, power supplies and high-tech manufacturing

About Abhimanyu Kumar

Abhimanyu Kumar is a journalist based in New Delhi, India. He writes on issues related to politics and governance for Indian and foreign media. He was previously with The Hindu and The Sunday Guardian.

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