Proposed change would lead to a genuine improvement in the quality of civil servants

As reported by this paper, the government is planning to overhaul the process by which civil servants are allocated services. Instead of the current system where the ranking of candidates in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination is the sole criterion for deciding on service or cadre, the government has now proposed to put all prospective bureaucrats through a foundation course for three months, before it is decided which service and cadre they will get.

There are few arguments against the need for change in the all-India civil services, but that change has to be a considered decision and ought to lead to a genuine improvement in the quality of civil servants. If that is indeed the aim, it is worthwhile to ask whether a three-month foundation course is enough to judge a person and arrive at a conclusion that he is better suited to being in the Indian Police Service rather than the Indian Administrative Service or even the Indian Forest Service.

The more important question is what this evaluation would be based upon. If the subjective element is higher in this evaluation process, as is being suggested in some quarters, the system would be destined to fail. It also needs to be noted that at regular intervals, the heads of training institutes would change and with that, the criteria for determining performance in the foundation course could change. This opens the possibility of a particular service getting overcrowded by officers of one particular bent of mind and that is surely not desired in a country as diverse as India.

Coming back to the issue of required changes in civil services in India, it is fact that in the history of Independent India, bureaucrats have often been supine in dealing with the political executive. Besides, there has been a tendency among civil servants to maintain the status quo. As a result, they do not change the system, and hence are unlikely to lead the change in the system. Indeed, this is what triggered the discussion on a ‘committed bureaucracy’.

The policy maker should focus on making the public servant accountable by making their performance record public. Perhaps there can be a website, managed by the state and Centre, and any person can get details on the performance of a district magistrate or a superintendent of police in a particular area. Over a period of time, a database will get created where it would be clear on an objective basis which bureaucrat has been able to deliver. In India, the bureaucracy has enough power. What is required is making them accountable not only once a year through the annual confidential report but through technology and giving them the remuneration they deserve.