The Indian administrative service, which is hamstrung by political interference and outdated personnel procedures, need urgent reform or risk institutional decline, according to a top US-based thinktank.
“Unfortunately, the IAS is hamstrung by political interference, outdated personnel procedures, and a mixed record on policy implementation, and it is in need of urgent reform,” the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said in its report on ‘The Indian Administration Service Meets Big Data’ released on Friday.
“The Indian government should reshape recruitment and promotion processes, improve performance-based assessment of individual officers, and adopt safeguards that promote accountability while protecting bureaucrats from political meddling,” said the report authored by Milan Vaishnav and Saksham Khosla.
In the report running into 50 pages, Carnegie said political interference generates substantial inefficiency: the best officers do not always occupy important positions, while political loyalty offers bureaucrats an alternative path to career success.
“Counter-intuitively, greater political competition does not necessarily lead to better bureaucratic performance,” it said.
Noting that individual bureaucrats can have strong, direct, and measurable impacts on tangible health, education, and poverty outcomes, the report said surprisingly, officers with strong local ties — thought to be vulnerable to corruption — are often linked to improved public service delivery.
Calling for a reform agenda for the civil services, the US think-tank said the central and state governments should pass and implement pending legislation that protects bureaucrats against politically motivated transfers and postings. Despite judicial prodding, most states have stalled on such moves, it said.
The government should consider the proposal that officers deemed unfit for further service at certain career benchmarks be compulsorily retired through a transparent and uniform system of performance review, it said.
“While the present government has moved in this direction, this procedure should be institutionalised,” it recommended. State and central governments should discuss whether state cadres should be given greater latitude to experiment with increasing the proportion of local IAS officers and track their relative performance.
“Further research is needed to better understand the impact of local officers on development outcomes, to develop data on bureaucratic efficiency among officers in senior posts, and to systematically examine the workings of state-level bureaucracies,” the report said.
According to the report the IAS faces a number of serious challenges—from diminishing human capital to political interference—that, if left unaddressed, will lead to further institutional decline.