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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Practice of reserving cadre posts for certain services is exclusionary, must be reconsidered

Mutha Ashok Jain writes: It is just one example of archaic ideas that create entry barriers, thwart competition and impact our administrative efficiency.

Written by Mutha Ashok Jain |
Updated: September 10, 2021 8:34:11 am
Every service has a core role for which it has been trained.

A recent report about the Haryana government’s order appointing an IPS officer as principal secretary (transport) — a cadre post of the IAS — being resisted by the Home Department of the state government got me thinking about the concept of cadre posts in Indian administration. We have a system where certain posts, both at the Centre and in states, are reserved for certain services by declaring them as cadre posts. For example, a collector in any district has to be from the IAS. Similarly, a superintendent of police will always be from the IPS. This goes right up to the top of the state administrative structure where the chief secretary is from the IAS and the director-general of police from the IPS. As long as applied to field formations, this system has some merit and has served the country well. However, the concept of declaring certain posts as exclusive cadre posts reserved for a particular service has set off a competition where every service wants to get as many posts as possible declared as exclusive cadre posts, which can be occupied by its members only. This has resulted in exclusionary behaviour by all services to keep members of other services away. The recent case in the Supreme Court between CAPF officers and IPS officers is but one such example.

The consequences of this exclusionary practice have been far-reaching.

First, it acts as a glass ceiling for all the members of a service, whatever the skill set possessed by an individual member and hence, acts as a de-motivator. Second, since officers from a particular service have to be posted to a particular post, less than optimal choices often have to be made with the full knowledge that a net cast wider may be better from a national perspective.

Third, it creates strange anomalies where batchmates from the same examination are promoted slower or faster just because they belong to different services, not because they are less or more competent. The heartburn this causes is a loss to the nation ultimately. Fourth and most importantly, it prevents the government from optimally utilising the talent it possesses, especially when the government feels that there is a talent gap that it seeks to fill by hiring from the private sector. Finally, it makes all the services top-heavy because, in the absence of lateral movement, all members remain within the core functional area and hence need to be promoted periodically, mostly simultaneously.

Every service has a core role for which it has been trained. For example, a customs officer is trained differently than a police or income tax officer. However, some people outgrow their core functional areas and pick up new skills along the way. However, the system of cadre posts ensures that they cannot fully express the skills that they may have developed. And the nation does not benefit from the skills possessed by these officers, which are acquired at the tax payer’s cost. By declaring all senior positions as cadre posts, we seem to have killed the fluidity and nimbleness needed to face the challenges of a fast-changing world. It also gives the different services a handle to keep others away from their turf through legal challenges.

We need to examine whether the concept of cadre posts has benefitted the nation or has been counter-productive. On the face of it, it does not seem to be a good human resource management practice as it reduces the universe of available choices. It may not be advisable to completely do away with the concept as we need specialised and trained departmental officers to man the bottom and middle of the administrative pyramid. Beyond that level, we may like to either make posts cadre-neutral or at the least make multiple services with relevant experience eligible for the post — a way of widening the talent pool available for the cadre post. Objective criteria rooted in domain knowledge can go a long way in making the selection process more meaningful in either of the two models.

The concept of cadre posts is just one example of archaic ideas that create entry barriers, thwart competition and impact our administrative efficiency. Many of them have outlived their utility but continue because they help the services protect their turf. It is high time we identify similar limiting concepts in our administrative dogma and seriously review them in the light of enlightened HRM practices. We need to bring the concept of “ease of doing business” into our administrative thought and practices. Only then we can optimally harness the talent pool that we abundantly possess, both inside and outside the government.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 9, 2021 under the title ‘Ease of doing administration’. The writer is a serving officer. Views are personal

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