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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Do we need a permanent civil service?

Under the Constitution, we have accepted the concept of permanent civil services comprising the all India services and the central servic...

Written by Madhav Godbole |
June 29, 1999

Under the Constitution, we have accepted the concept of permanent civil services comprising the all India services and the central services. Certain constitutional protection was also provided to the services. The basic precepts of such a permanent civil service included its political neutrality; duty to give frank, sound and objective advice; anonymity; and providing leadership by one’s own example. Honesty and integrity were always taken for granted as minimum pre-requisites of the services. On each one of these scores, the permanent civil services have let down the country.

There is widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of civil services among common people, the elected representatives, and even the judiciary. They are perceived to be self-servers, rent-seekers, obstructive and corrupt. The nexus of bureaucracy with criminals and politicians has become one of the prime concerns of the polity. Civil service is no longer considered as the upholder of the rule of law. Not surprisingly, a number ofcivil servants at even senior levels are seen to be on the wrong side of the law.

The faltering pace of economic reforms can be partly ascribed to stiff resistance from a large section of bureaucracy due to vested interests and status-quo mentality. Ideally, bureaucracy should have played a catalytic role in a transparent policy formation and speedy implementation of reforms aimed at larger public good. This would have helped in preparing a climate conducive for economic reforms, giving them a human face and increasing their public acceptability. In reality, however, the role of bureaucracy in a number of initiatives taken in the name of economic liberalisation has become suspect in the public eye.

It is time the future of the permanent civil services and particularly the all India services was considered afresh. Some basic questions need to be raised: should we continue with the system of permanent civil services or should each incoming government be permitted to induct its own nominees for manningsenior positions?

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If the higher civil services are to be continued, questions such as the age of recruitment and minimum qualifications should be addressed. The other set of questions should relate to inception and refresher training, its duration and contents. Should value-based training be given much more importance than at present? During the term of Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister, an interesting experiment of joint training of ministers and secretaries was held so as to make them aware of the concerns of each other in deciding cases. Apparently, the sessions became so stormy and acrimonious that the experiment was quickly given up. In fact, this itself showed the need for increasing such informal interactions in training sessions.

Another aspect of the inquiry should relate to the categories of jobs at various levels which should be reserved for higher civil services. This will be an important input in deciding the annual intake in these services. Other important questions should cover areas such aslateral entry of persons in bureaucracy, at various levels and for a fixed term, from the fields of academics, business, industry, trade, legal profession, financial institutions, journalism, non-government organisations and so on. The other side of the coin is whether civil servants should be given sabbatical leave to serve in these fields for a fixed term to widen their experience and horizon.

Yet another question would be to examine the feasibility of getting away from the present life-time security of service and to compulsorily retire persons on reaching prescribed levels in the hierarchy as in the armed forces, if they do not make the grade for holding higher posts. The question of manning senior positions in the local self government institutions also needs to be addressed in the light of experience gathered so far. It needs to be examined whether the present system of deputing permanent civil servants to man the senior positions in these institutions has served the purpose and whether there are anyother more suitable alternatives.

The writer is a former union home secretary

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