Indian recruitment reform plans spark politicisation fears

By on 06/09/2018
Narendra Modi, seen here last month at July’s BRICS conference, wants to change the way recruits are allocated across the civil service (Image courtesy: Kremlin.ru).

The Indian government’s plans to introduce a new step in the civil service’s selection and deployment procedures have sparked controversy, with opponents concerned that Narendra Modi’s administration intends to politicise appointments to its fast-track promotion schemes.

The Indian government recruits officials using entrance exams, which are conducted by the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC). And currently, those receiving the highest marks are able to decide which of the 24 cadres of government they wish to enter – with most high-flyers opting for the management-oriented Indian Administrative Service or the diplomatic Indian Foreign Services. These recruits are then sent to the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration for specialist training.

However, in May the Modi government proposed that candidates should be allocated to a cadre only after a three-month foundation course, covering basic administration skills. The Prime Minister’s Office instructed the Department of Personnel and Training, the cadre controlling authority of the three All India Services, to explore the possibility of introducing this new step in allocating recruits across government.

Screening fears

Some officials and politicians fear that the government’s goal is to screen would-be civil service managers for their political views and allegiance, and warn that the new process would introduce subjective assessments on top of the objective, exam-based results produced by the UPSC. One former civil service manager has told Global Government Forum that the government wants to “spread its tentacles into all branches of governance, including the executive, after having subdued the Parliament and the judiciary and muzzled the media.”

Another former senior official, V.S. Pandey, wrote in an opinion piece for the News18 website: “If the assessment done in academy is to decide the career path of trainees to such an extent, then fairness, objectivity and impartiality will be the biggest casualty and sycophancy, nepotism, political pressures, interference by powers that be will have a free run to decide which service and which cadre a particular candidate will be assigned to. This will eliminate fairness and integrity and encourage the probationers to indulge in cut throat competition amongst themselves to curry favour with the powers that be.”

Others have contended that the Constitution needs to be amended before going ahead with the proposal.

In the government’s defence

However, some commentators believe that too much is being read into the move. Soma Chakraborty, a senior journalist who has covered bureaucracy for many years, noted that Modi’s move is “only a proposal” and that plans have not been finalised. She added that all civil services are subject to “evolutionary changes”.

“I don’t understand how the proposed move will favour candidates of a particular ideology,” she said. “The suggestions strictly talk of recruiting candidates to various civil services based on their temperament and skills required for that particular job. For example, if a student of political science or history or life sciences, who has no idea of debit and credit, is allotted the Indian Revenue Services (IRS) or the Indian Communication Finance Service (ICFS) on the basis of their marks in the exam, how far it will be justified and logical?”

She added that the current system of allocating cadre has become “obsolete” and fails to do justice to the merit of the selected candidates. Nevertheless, she argued that the criteria for making the allotment should be properly defined so that transparency is maintained.

About Abhimanyu Kumar

Abhimanyu Singh 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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