Chal­lenges be­fore bu­reau­cracy

Alive - - News - by Ramesh Ku­mar Raja

“Civil ser­vices in In­dia are in an ur­gent need of re­forms, if not an over­haul,” says Pranay Ag­gar­wal.

Bu­reau­cracy in In­dia has al­ways been at the fore­front of de­liv­er­ing pub­lic ser­vices, get­ting things in or­der and im­ple­ment­ing gov­ern­ment schemes and pro­grammes ir­re­spec­tive of the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives gov­ern­ing the sys­tem. Such is the na­ture of the sys­tem that an ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cial has to face chal­lenges at ev­ery step while deal­ing with peo­ple and the pol­icy mak­ers to en­sure the gov­er­nance is in place.

Although it has its own charm of serv­ing the na­tion and bring­ing about a qual­i­ta­tive trans­for­ma­tion in the lives of mil­lions of peo­ple, get­ting into the civil ser­vices is not that easy. The civil ser­vices ex­am­i­na­tion con­ducted by the Union Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion (UPSC) and the re­spec­tive state pub­lic ser­vice com­mis­sion in their own ter­ri­to­ries is con­sid­ered to be one of the most dif­fi­cult ex­ams in In­dia.

These ex­ams not only check your knowl­edge and in­tel­li­gence, but also pa­tience and ap­ti­tude to deal with a par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion which a civil ser­vant is likely to face while dis­charg­ing his or her duty.

To dis­cuss how civil ser­vices have evolved over the years and its prepara­tory pat­tern which saw a rad­i­cal shift in the re­cent past with the in­tro­duc­tion of CSAT (the pre­lim­i­nary test), we talked to Pranay Ag­gar­wal, Con­venor of the In­dian Civil Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion, a lead­ing think tank of re­tired se­nior bu­reau­crats working to make gov­ern­ment more ef­fec­tive.

He is also the pres­i­dent of In­dian So­cial Science Coun­cil and the vice pres­i­dent of In­ter­na­tional So­ci­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety. He is also the youngest re­cip­i­ent of

the In­ter­na­tional Jurists Award for con­tri­bu­tions to is­sues of the youth.

Ag­gar­wal also hap­pens to be the Direc­tor at IAS Gu­rukul, a lead­ing in­sti­tute es­tab­lished by se­nior­most mem­bers of In­dia’s civil ser­vices, ju­di­ciary and academia with a view to achieve ex­cel­lence in the field of civil ser­vices exam prepa­ra­tion.


The civil ser­vices have al­ways been a great ca­reer op­tion for youth in In­dia, but the craze for tak­ing their ex­ams appears to be los­ing steam these days. Do you agree with it? What fac­tors are re­spon­si­ble for the same?

Un­like ear­lier times, today’s youth have mul­ti­ple ca­reer op­tions be­fore them. With the open­ing up of the In­dian econ­omy dur­ing the 1990s, job op­por­tu­ni­ties in the pri­vate sec­tor have in­creased. There­fore, civil ser­vices are no more the only at­trac­tive ca­reer choice for the youth today.

De­spite this, the craze for civil ser­vices has greatly in­creased and not de­clined. This is ev­i­dent from the man­i­fold in­crease in the num­ber of ap­pli­cants for civil ser­vices – from 3.5 lakh in 2005 to 5.5 lakh in 2010 and around 10 lakh in 2015.

The rea­sons for the con­tin­ued pop­u­lar­ity of civil ser­vices as a ca­reer in­clude se­cu­rity of ten­ure, re­spectable salary, at­trac­tive perks, very high so­cial sta­tus and prox­im­ity to power. Most im­por­tantly, en­ter­ing civil ser­vices pro­vides the chance to serve the na­tion and bring about a qual­i­ta­tive trans­for­ma­tion in the lives of mil­lions of peo­ple.

Also, the civil ser­vices have grad­u­ally shed their elit­ist bias. Today, it is not only can­di­dates from the met­ros and elite in­sti­tu­tions like St. Stephens and JNU in Delhi that are as­pir­ing for civil ser­vices but also those from smaller towns, ru­ral ar­eas and or­di­nary aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions.

Af­ter im­ple­men­ta­tion of CSAT, the as­pi­rants are quite se­ri­ous and cau­tious of not killing a chance. Is the new pat­tern serv­ing the pur­pose of screen­ing can­di­dates at the very ini­tial level?

The in­tro­duc­tion of

CSAT pa­per in 2011 was fol­lowed by pub­lic protests by some as­pi­rants – such as those from hu­man­i­ties back­grounds – be­cause they felt they were at a rel­a­tive dis­ad­van­tage. In re­sponse, the gov­ern­ment made the CSAT pa­per qual­i­fy­ing – can­di­dates now need to score only 33% in CSAT to clear the pre­lim­i­nary stage.

The new pre­lim­i­nary ex­am­i­na­tion pat­tern may not be the best way to iden­tify can­di­dates with ad­min­is­tra­tive skills. How­ever, it does a fairly good job of sift­ing a few thou­sand se­ri­ous can­di­dates from the lakhs of non­se­ri­ous ap­pli­cants. The sub­se­quent stages of main ex­am­i­na­tion and per­son­al­ity test then try to iden­tify can­di­dates with not only aca­demic knowl­edge but also ad­min­is­tra­tive traits re­quired for a ca­reer in civil ser­vices.

Although the civil ser­vices are open to can­di­dates from all aca­demic back­grounds, the as­pi­rants from tech­ni­cal and pro­fes­sional fields are ex­celling more in num­bers and some­where killing the prospects of can­di­dates from hu­man­i­ties where scores are low. What is your take?

Most of the syl­labus of the CSE com­prises hu­man­i­ties sub­jects like his­tory, po­lit­i­cal science etc. In fact, read­ing of NCERT hu­man­i­ties’ text­books from 6th to 12th stan­dard pro­vides a very solid foun­da­tion for CSE prepa­ra­tions. Seen this way, it is hu­man­i­ties stu­dents who have an edge in this ex­am­i­na­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to UPSC’s lat­est re­port, 87 per cent of op­tional sub­jects opted by the rec­om­mended can­di­dates were re­lated to hu­man­i­ties, and only 13 per cent re­lated to science and en­gi­neer­ing. How­ever, 70 per cent of the rec­om­mended can­di­dates were from En­gi­neer­ing and Science back­grounds. This shows that most of the can­di­dates have made a cross do­main shift from their orig­i­nal stream (i.e. en­gi­neer­ing and science) to hu­man­i­ties.

How do you look at the de­cline in re­sults of Hindi medium can­di­dates who usu­ally come from ru­ral back­ground?

In the last exam, out of 14,605 to­tal can­di­dates who ap­peared in Main ex­am­i­na­tions; 11,790 ap­peared in English medium. This shows that can­di­dates are in­creas­ingly opt­ing for English medium even though the ex­am­in­ing au­thor­ity per­mits Hindi medium also. And can­di­dates are ra­tio­nal.

Though UPSC of­fi­cials claim there is no bias against non-English medium can­di­dates, re­sults show oth­er­wise. An over­whelm­ing 95 per cent of se­lected can­di­dates are from English medium. It is an un­for­tu­nate but undeniable fact that our ad­min­is­tra­tive sys­tem has a colo­nial era legacy bias against can­di­dates who ap­pear in this ex­am­i­na­tion in their mother tongue.

Be­ing a ca­reer guid­ance ex­pert with spe­cial­i­sa­tion in civil ser­vices exam prepa­ra­tion, can you sug­gest some changes that the UPSC and the state com­mis­sions should bring in or­der to mo­ti­vate as­pi­rants?

An anal­y­sis of the ex­ist­ing scheme shows that in­tel­lec­tual stan­dards have been main­tained, the so­cial base of re­cruit­ment has widened, the stan­dard of can­di­dates from weaker sec­tions has im­proved and per­for­mance of fe­male can­di­dates is sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter. At the same time; the pre­dom­i­nance of cer­tain aca­demic dis­ci­plines and in­sti­tu­tions, the phe­nom­e­non of "pre­ferred" op­tional sub­jects deemed "ef­fec­tive" and bias against In­dian lan­guages have re­sulted in a per­ceived fail­ure in iden­ti­fy­ing the most suit­able can­di­dates and a mis­match be­tween the per­sons se­lected and the re­quire­ments of the job. Also, this ex­am­i­na­tion car­ries a very high so­cial cost at­trib­ut­able to its lengthy cy­cle.

Rec­om­mended changes are that (a) The present lengthy time cy­cle for the ex­am­i­na­tion should be short­ened (b) this exam may be con­ducted twice a year (c) can­di­dates who qual­ify for the In­ter­view Test should be ex­empted from tak­ing the Pre­lim­i­nary ex­am­i­na­tion in the fol­low­ing year (d) Gov­ern­ment and UPSC should cre­ate a data­base of un­suc­cess­ful can­di­dates of the Main exam and make it avail­able to PSUs and pri­vate sec­tor to se­lect can­di­dates from it for other jobs. (e) Con­sciously higher se­lec­tion of can­di­dates from ru­ral back­grounds, non-English medium and fe­male can­di­dates.

The cred­i­bil­ity and ef­fi­ciency of bu­reau­cracy are of­ten ques­tioned. What’s your take since you are also the con­venor of the In­dian Civil Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion?

The work­ings of the In­dian civil ser­vices over the past 70 years have re­vealed sev­eral ar­eas of con­cern: a dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship with the po­lit­i­cal bosses be­com­ing even more chal­leng­ing with the deep­en­ing of democ­racy, charges of cor­rup­tion and al­le­ga­tions of favour­ing class in­ter­ests; and be­ing termed as out­dated and in­ef­fi­cient.

Today, In­dian civil ser­vices op­er­ate in a vastly dif­fer­ent so­cial and ad­min­is­tra­tive en­vi­ron­ment than even the re­cent past. That is be­cause of var­i­ous fac­tors – in­clud­ing ush­er­ing in an era of trans­parency with the right to in­for­ma­tion regime, an in­creas­ingly as­sertive civil so­ci­ety and a vig­i­lant media.

A bloated bu­reau­cracy does not au­gur well for our gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts at im­prov­ing ease of do­ing busi­ness in In­dia. Prime Min­is­ter Modi has ac­knowl­edged the com­pe­ti­tion the gov­ern­ment is fac­ing from the pri­vate sec­tor and ex­horted civil ser­vants to change ‘from reg­u­la­tor to en­abler’. Some ques­tion the very rel­e­vance of a big bu­reau­cracy in the era of glob­al­i­sa­tion. Con­se­quently, civil ser­vices in In­dia are in an ur­gent need of re­forms, if not an over­haul.

Above ob­ser­va­tions do not di­min­ish the im­por­tance of civil ser­vices for con­tem­po­rary In­dia. In fact, civil ser­vices con­tinue to be amongst the most sought af­ter ca­reer op­tions even today. Civil ser­vants con­tinue to be at the fore­front of ever-ex­pand­ing and newer gov­ern­men­tal ini­tia­tives, be it uni­ver­sal­is­ing ed­u­ca­tion, in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment, im­ple­ment­ing so­cial sec­tor schemes and Acts like MNREGA, or even pushing the agenda of glob­al­i­sa­tion it­self.

How is your As­so­ci­a­tion con­tribut­ing to the pub­lic gov­er­nance sys­tems and how has been the re­sponse?

In­dian Civil Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion is es­tab­lished as a lead­ing think tank of se­nior bu­reau­crats working to make gov­ern­ment more ef­fec­tive.

We pro­vide rig­or­ous re­search and anal­y­sis, top­i­cal com­men­tary and pub­lic events to ex­plore the key chal­lenges fac­ing the gov­ern­ment. We of­fer a space for dis­cus­sion and fresh think­ing to help se­nior politi­cians and civil ser­vants think dif­fer­ently and bring about change. We en­sure the ad­vance­ment of ed­u­ca­tion in the art and science of gov­ern­ment in In­dia for the ben­e­fit of the pub­lic and on a non-party po­lit­i­cal ba­sis. We pro­mote ef­fi­cient civil ser­vices in In­dia by pro­vid­ing pro­grammes of ed­u­ca­tion, train­ing, re­search and study.

The re­sponse from po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship as well as bu­reau­cracy has been very en­cour­ag­ing. For in­stance, In­dia’s first fe­male IPS of­fi­cer Dr Ki­ran Bedi, for­mer Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary TSR Subra­ma­nian and for­mer Cab­i­net Min­is­ter Mani Shankar Ai­yar joined us in our pub­lic de­lib­er­a­tions in June this year.

We fo­cus on the big gov­er­nance chal­lenges of the day and on find­ing new ways to help gov­ern­ment im­prove, re­think and some­times see things dif­fer­ently. Our pro­grammes help min­is­ters, se­nior civil ser­vants and their teams to gov­ern and lead more ef­fec­tively. We un­der­take as­sign­ments for gov­ern­ment, PSUs and in­ter­na­tional agen­cies on a wide range of pol­icy ar­eas. We pro­vide prac­ti­cal ad­vice from peo­ple with in-depth ex­pe­ri­ence of working in­side gov­ern­ment to sup­port se­nior de­ci­sion mak­ers to im­prove per­for­mance.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.