The government has launched an Agnipath scheme for the armed forces of the country with a view to make these a leaner force without compromising on their combat abilities. A similar scheme is perhaps called for with regard to the All India Services (AIS).
The AIS have rendered excellent services to the country despite the severe constraints under which the officers function. However, we have reached a stage when some radical rethinking is required. Services have an inbuilt tendency to proliferate. It is true that government activities today cover a much wider spectrum, that welfare schemes are now undertaken on a massive scale, and that law and order problems have become far more complex. To cope with the increasing responsibilities, there has been a steady expansion of the civil services. Yet, there is a huge sense of dissatisfaction over their performance. Some bureaucrats have gone to the extent of suggesting that the IAS should be scrapped. No one has suggested the abolition of police because, howsoever inefficient it might be, its total absence would result in lawlessness and chaos. However, the fact remains that people are generally dissatisfied with the performance of the police and there are credible complaints about its brutality, third-degree methods and extra-judicial killings.
It has been noticed that once an officer is selected for the AIS, he/she develops a smug attitude that his/her career for the next 30/35 years is now secure and that, under normal circumstances, he/she would be able to reach the top level. There is no pressure to perform, no incentive to innovate, and no desire to excel. No wonder, many of these officers become laid-back and are, most of the time, feathering their nests. There is no agni in them.
Senior officers of the IAS and IPS have gone to the Supreme Court for reforms in the civil services and the police. The judiciary has, from time to time, given directions for reforms but these have not been implemented in letter and spirit with the result that there has been hardly any change in the ground situation. Reforms are going to be a long haul.
Meanwhile, the services continue to acquire flab. To give an example, Uttar Pradesh today has 14 officers in the rank of Director General of Police (DGP) and 42 in the rank of Additional DGP. There was a time when one Inspector General was the head of the entire UP Police. The bureaucracy is even fatter. UP has 29 officers in the rank of Chief Secretary/Additional Chief Secretary, 28 officers in the rank of Principal Secretary, and 61 Secretaries. It is the same story across the country. Not that things are better at the Centre. The Government of India has nearly 91 officers in the rank of Secretary (excluding those in the PMO, Niti Aayog and National Security Council Secretariat) and 21 in the rank of DGP.
The AIS have become very, very top-heavy. In fact, there are a number of officers who are holding top positions but have very little work to do. This makes them frustrated. As a result, many of them are politicking most of the time with a view to getting a top post in the bureaucratic mainstream. There is jockeying and lobbying for the highest positions. It is almost a cut-throat competition. What makes this distressing is that a number of these officers are of just average calibre or even mediocre. As one senior officer said in jest, “horses and donkeys, all manage to reach the top under the present system”.
Under these circumstances, the GoI should think of an Agnipath scheme for the AIS. The performance of all AIS officers should be subjected to a strict review at three stages — once when they have completed 15 years of service, then after 25 years of service, and, finally, after 30 years of service. The objective of the reviews should be to weed out 25 per cent of officers at the first stage, 10 per cent officers at the second stage and 5 per cent officers at the third stage. Weeding out should be for poor performance, charges of corruption, any other misconduct of a serious nature, or for being physically unfit.
Screening at each stage will have to be very rigorous and the mechanism to do so must be impartial. It will have to be doubly ensured that the officers are not victimised for political reasons. The officers may be given copper/silver/golden handshakes at the three stages.
The periodic trimming of services would ensure that officers become performance-oriented, acquire new skills and a flair for innovation in administration. The complacency and smugness, which we presently notice, would disappear in a majority of cases. There would also be less jostling at the top; the top would, in fact, become lighter. It would also ensure that the structure of services becomes pyramid-shaped and not the trapezium it is now. The All India Services Rules will, of course, have to be amended.
The weeding out at different stages can be done by a panel, which may comprise retired judges, officers of impeccable integrity drawn from different services, and distinguished members of the civil society. The panel should have representation from all the states of the country — it may have 40 to 50 persons. Every time the review is undertaken, three to five from the panel should be chosen by lottery, taking care that they are from states other than the one whose officers’ performance is going to be reviewed. If an officer feels aggrieved by the decision of the panel, he should be able to approach a tribunal.
There would be fierce resistance to this scheme from within the AIS. The services, however, need a shake up. The officers deserve an injection of agni.
The writer is a former DGP of BSF, UP and Assam Police