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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Mending The Frame

It is time the pattern of training, system of evaluation, of civil servants is debated

Written by Yoginder K. Alagh | Updated: June 5, 2018 12:32:11 am
civil service, reforms in civil services, IAS, Alagh committee report, Indian Administrative Services, Indian Administrative Services reforms, Indian Express column A well-intentioned proposal to encourage broad specialisation in fields like internal security, civil rights, economic policy and emerging environmental issues is being apparently deliberately misinterpreted

The Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, has, according to press reports, issued instructions on the allocation of state and subjects to the entrants to the Indian Administrative Service. According to some, these have emerged from the Committee on Training and Recruitment of the Higher Civil Services’ (Alagh Committee), which submitted its report from a decade ago to the Union Public Service Commission, the recommendations of which have been largely implemented. This is a googly, for the issue is not the origin of the policy. Most observers believe that the steel frame, like the judiciary, has been irreparably dented by political interventions. For example, the civil service report had said an unusual transfer should require the minister to place on record the public interest for it. A joint secretary in Delhi complained to me that this meant her unblemished record had to be spoilt by the minister to transfer her.

By now it is common knowledge that unless the civil servant connives in finding ways of circumventing standard administrative stipulations or requirements and legal provisions, political parties of different hues keep them away from positions of authority. It is difficult to conceive an answer to this problem of who will guard the guards? A way out could be the establishment of a Public Surveillance Commission consisting of, say, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, a former cabinet secretary, a former comptroller and auditor general and a distinguished journalist. This commission with no official status could provide a report which someday could be used by a government that believes in the rule of law.

The Committee on Training and Recruitment of the Higher Civil Services had the general approach that the Indian Administrative Services and other central services have to move over from the colonial conception. A higher civil service, which maintained law and order and, therefore, an understanding of a very general kind which required testing of general knowledge and Macaulay’s English, should give way to a more focussed approach to the problems of the 21st century. It had suggested a major reorientation towards the understanding of the need to protect the rights of individuals, the impact of technology, globalisation and changes in environment on local issues.

I discussed this approach well over a year with leaders from different branches of Indian society and the Committee had suggested that after their basic training, entrants to the higher civil service could indicate apart from the state cadre, they would prefer to join the broad areas of specialisation in which they would like to work. This would include economics and finance, internal security areas and the social services. This would cover, by and large, the domain of the civil services like finance, economic policy, internal security, civil and minorities’ rights, apart from ensuring constitutional provisions on rights and obligations, the emerging areas of the environment like air and water quality, pollution etc. The committee also felt that these subjects would have to be understood in the context of the emerging trends of globalisation.

The committee had recommended a life-time pattern of training and a system of evaluation which would include, apart from internal reports, carefully structured external inputs. As the report got into its implementation phase, many critical comments were heard about vested interests looking to distort its implementation structure — like the story on transfers.

The same trend is apparently taking place in the allocation of trainees to different subjects and states. A well-intentioned proposal to encourage broad specialisation in fields like internal security, civil rights, economic policy and emerging environmental issues is being apparently deliberately misinterpreted to allocate civil service entrants specific departments and states depending on the discretion of the political institutions implementing the system. This was certainly not the intention of the intended reform. It is of some importance that the authorities give a detailed reasoning in the light of the committee’s report on the policies they are implementing. To the best of my knowledge, the Report of the Committee on Training and Recruitment of the Higher Civil Services has not been printed, unlike the earlier Kothari Committee Report. But some brave souls had made it public online. A debate in the light of the facts is most certainly called for in these critical areas.

The writer, a former Union minister, is an economist

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