The corroding ‘steel frame’
Attaining the status of a bureaucrat in India is no cakewalk. Every year lakhs of aspirants across the country sweat their guts out to write the gruelling Civil Services Examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission to get into, among others, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), the Indian Police Service (IPS), the Indian Revenue Service (IRS) and the Indian Forest Service (IFoS). However, the irony is that the Indian bureaucracy, especially the IAS which is popularly known as “the steel frame” of the country, is getting rusted.
At a time when the Union Government is striving hard to make India a force to reckon with, the credibility of the Indian bureaucracy, it seems, is taking a beating in the global platform. This becomes evident from the remark made by US Secretary of State John Kerry during his recent visit to India. While interacting with the students of IIT-Delhi, Kerry lamented about the Indian bureaucracy being “an expert in setting up roadblocks”.
In our Special Report in this edition, we bring to our readers a detailed overview of a US think-tank report, released a few days after Kerry’s remarks, in which it called for an urgent reform of the Indian Administrative Service and pointed out the factors responsible for the mess in the Indian bureaucracy.
Interestingly, the report points out that there is a lack of specialization in the Indian bureaucracy and raised a vital question whether the IAS can continue to exist as a generalist service in a world that is increasingly getting complex and where domain knowledge has become more valuable. This issue has been a bone of contention for several decades between IAS and non-IAS officers. Strangely, the prevailing Central Staffing Scheme undermines the calibre and expertise of non-IAS officers in their respective fields and instead an IAS officer is appointed to the top echelons of a department even if he or she has no knowledge and experience of that particular discipline. Though the situation is slowly changing under the current regime with many non-IAS officers also being appointed to higher echelons of the bureaucracy, there still remains a long way to go.
The report also highlights a number of serious challenges —from diminishing human capital to political interference — plaguing the Indian bureaucracy. The observations made by the US think-tank as well as Kerry are no doubt too strong, but the Government has to understand that these issues if left unaddressed will lead to further institutional decline.
The NDA-II Government after coming to power had promised a reformed bureaucracy and people are impatient for the results. The impatience is not surprising given the fact that they have suffered immeasurably at the hands of the Indian babudom, be it at the Centre or the State level. And herein lies the challenge. It would be a tough task for the Government to dismantle the corroded “steel frame” which is also essential to keep the wheels of governance moving to meet the enhanced expectations of an aspirational India.