An intervention by Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar in the case of a young Indian Forest Service officer last month has triggered speculation that a contentious service rule that bars on-training forest officers from taking the Civil Services Examination may be changed.
Siddharth Kumar Ambedkar, a forest officer of the 2012 batch, was allowed to join the Indian Police Service a full year after he cleared the 2013 Civil Services Examination. Ambedkar had taken the exam while on training at the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy in Dehradun. He had informed his seniors and sought their permission, but had received no answer. But after he was selected, his department refused to give him the no-objection certificate that the UPSC asked for.
It was only after Javadekar intervened that Ambedkar got the NOC that enabled him to join the IPS.
While Ambedkar benefited from the Minister’s personal intervention, the larger issue has remained unaddressed. A 1994 amendment to the IFS (Probation) Rules says that “no probationer in the Service shall, during the period of training at the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy, Dehradun, appear in either the Civil Services Examination, or any other examination for appointment to the central or state service by open competitive examination.”
No such rule exists for other services.
New entrants to the Forest Service want this rule changed. They say it is no longer relevant, and is in fact harming the service. Candidates for IFS now take the same preliminary examination that those for other central services like the IAS and IPS do. A large number of candidates are selected for the forest service as well as the other services. But because of this rule, not many opt for the Forest Service. They would rather join a less sought after service, and take another shot at the CSE the following year.
In 2014 batch, 21 out of the 85 recommended candidates did not join the Forest Service, which was much more than in previous years. It was the first batch to be selected with the common preliminary examination, and the discriminatory service rule is being seen as the main reason.
The other argument is that the CSE now barely stretches over a week, and therefore, trainee officers need not take extended leave, which apparently was the main reason for the rule being introduced in 1994. The Main exam is given over five consecutive days, the Prelims are held on a Sunday, and another day is required for the interview. New entrants to the Forest Service are arguing that missing a week of a 20-month training module is not going to compromise their training.
Then there is the matter of parity with other services. No other Service prevents officers from taking another shot at the examination to become IAS or IPS. The rules of the CSE and the All India Service Conduct Rules also make no distinction between the Forest Service and other services on this ground.
The case of Ambedkar has established a precedent as well. Javadekar is said to be sympathetic to the idea of dropping the rule, but the bureaucracy isn’t that responsive. Even in Ambedkar’s case, the higher Forest bureaucracy had a problem. The Prelims for the 2015 Civil Services Examination are scheduled for this Sunday and, as of now, the service rule for the IFS stands.