Reforming the Iron Frame
         Date: 29-May-2018
PMO has circulated a proposal which may lead to major change in the allocation of services to successful candidates of civil services examination. However, without debating the merits of the proposal, political opposition has raised a false alarm.
 
 
PM Modi participating in a Yoga session of the Officer Trainees in the lawns of the , Mussoorie

In 1989, a committee headed by historian Satish Chandra recommended that the examination for recruitment be divided into three stages – preliminary and main examination as well as a Foundation course – before the service and cadre were allotted
The Government’s proposal to change the rules for allocating services and cadres to candidates who have cleared the civil services exams conducted by the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC) has kicked up a controversy. The Department Of Personnel and Training (DoPT) is mulling a proposal to alter the existing process and it has sent communiqués in this regard to various cadre-controlling ministries, seeking their views. Currently, candidates who manage to crack the UPSC Civil Services examination are given Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and other Central services on the basis of their ranks and merit. The Union government is now assessing if the 15-week foundation course for the probationers at Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) could be turned into a scoring exercise and if the service and cadre could be allotted based on their ‘performance’ there.

Aptitude and Allocation

There cannot be two opinions on the issue that the steel frame of the civil services in India needs structural reforms now. The multiplying challenges in the governance warrant the same. Several reports by Transparency International have highlighted the deep-rooted corruption in the civil services. The Vohra Committee report highlighted the lack of secular governance and pointed to the intellectual deficiencies of civil servants after they join the services.

The Narendra Modi-led NDA Government took on the task of reforming the services. This involved the sheer risk of unpopularity for the Government with an aggressively opinionated and prejudiced opposition, both political and intellectual.

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the IAS probationers

Firstly, the Government brought in a new policy for cadre allocation for IAS, IPS and other officers, aimed at ensuring “national integration” in the country’s top bureaucracy. The candidates are required to give their choice in the descending order of preference from amongst the various Zones, and not only respective States. The policy would ensure national integration of the bureaucracy as officers will get a chance to work in a State which is not their place of domicile.

Foundation Course, LBSNAA

The Foundation Course, a combination of activities carried out at the academy, comprises of academic components such as public administration, law and political science, besides a number of extra-curricular activities such as trekking, village visits and interaction with fellow probationers. At present, the Foundation Course counts for 400 marks, but, along with the other phases of the probation period, it only goes towards establishing seniority within the batch.

The Foundation Course is the first introduction for the probationers to government and governance, and the role of government in the society. The course is designed in a manner so as to achieve such outlined objectives through combination of academic, outdoor, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, including a 10-Day trekking trip as well as a 10-Day village visit.

 
In the next step now, the PMO wants to examine if service allocation/cadre allocation to probationers selected on the basis of the examination can be made after foundation course, as per the communication sent by the Personnel Ministry to different cadre-controlling authorities.

Soon after the announcement, opposition started crying foul. Congress president Rahul Gandhi accused PM Narendra Modi of willing to appoint officers of the RSS’ choice into the central services by manipulating the merit list.

However, the idea itself is not new. In 1989, a committee headed by historian Satish Chandra recommended that the examination for recruitment be divided into three stages – preliminary examination, main examination as well as a Foundation course – before the service and cadre were allotted to successful candidates. The Committee also cited report of Kothari Committee (1974-76) headed by scientist and educationist DS Kothari, which had similar opinion.

“The idea of including the Foundation Course as part of the overall assessment of the candidate will help in getting the right people for the right service. The probationers themselves will be able to make a better choice after the Foundation Course by matching their ambition with their aptitude.”

Padamvir Singh (IAS: 1977, Madhya Pradesh), formerly Director, LBSNAA

 

The Committee on Civil Service Reforms (Hota Committee Report, 2004) recommended that aptitude and leadership tests may be introduced for selection, and that probationers may be allowed one month’s time after commencement of training to exercise their option for Services.

Therefore, one fails to understand how including the weightage of the foundation course would help in ‘appointing officers of the RSS' choice into the central services by manipulating the merit list’.

The foundation course is intended for the new recruits to the All India Services and Central Services (Group A). It equips fresh entrants with requisite skills, knowledge and attitude to shoulder responsibility as public servants. Its main objectives are: to foster greater cooperation and coordination among various public services by building an esprit de corps; to promote all round development of the personality of an officer trainee-intellectual, moral, physical and aesthetic.

Of course, incorporating subjective criteria in the overall scheme of the examination and then services/ cadre allocation can bring its own set of problems, such as, biases, favouritism and rising competition among the probationers. However, if we are certain about the capabilities of our training academies, like LBSNAA, why should we judge the proposal in haste?

What do the UPSC Aspirants say?

“At first look this (proposed) change seems impressive as it is more keen to examine the ‘orientation' and 'aptitude' of probationers. ‘One Exam, All Services' formula allows toppers to get any desired service irrespective of specific orientation and aptitude. So it's a good move to select right person for right service. But it has other aspects too as it opens the door of subjectivity in service /cadre allocation which may promote partisans and biases in academy. And also it is still not clear in which manner reservation policy will be followed in proposed service /cadre allocation. It will also affect the ‘Hindi medium’ candidates to get desired service in ‘The English academy’.
Sunny Kumar (New Delhi)


“While the PMO might have meant for this to be well intentioned, this move makes space not only for a dangerously subjective selection of cadres, but will also demolish the very pillar of objectivity from the selection process that this profession’s selection process rests on. Allocation of services as also cadres based as per the said proposal will inevitably render the UPSC’s role of little use. In addition to the above, this could also potentially, and perhaps arguably, lead to inter-personal biases which will do more harm than good for the probationers who step into the academy aiming to streamline their training and perspectives based on their already allotted services.”
Falguni Tewari (Lucknow)
 

Truth and Interpretation

Rahul Gandhi has alleged that “The PM’s plans to appoint officers of RSS’s choice into the Central Services, by manipulating the merit list using subjective criteria, instead of exam rankings.’

The very hash tag which Mr Gandhi used to accentuate his protest is laughable. How a proposal which would be only implemented after a wider consultation with all the concerned departments which are involved in the services/cadre allocation could be dubbed as overturning a constitutional body like the UPSC! Can any attempt of reform be dubbed as an attack on the same?

Civil services examination pattern has been certainly evolving over the last five decades starting from the Kothari Committee, Satish Chandra Committee, YK Alagh Committee, Ananda Krishnan Committee, Bhattacharya Committee, SK Khanna Committee, Nigavekar Committee, Purushottam Agarwal Committee and Baswan Committee. It goes without saying that more than three-fourth of these Committees were appointed by various Congress Governments. So with every new change and trying to address new challenges, was Congress party trying to undermine a constitutional institution like UPSC? Mr Gandhi must answer that.

As far as subjective criteria which constitute the foundation course are concerned, how could any public services be bereft of them? Can any civil servant disagree that their everyday job requires taking subjective actions and decisions? Doesn’t it require ‘fostering greater cooperation and coordination among various public services by building an esprit de corps, something which the foundation course contemplates upon? So how incorporating this component for the services/cadre allocation could dilute the reliability of the selection process?

It must again be accentuated that PMO has circulated a proposal for wider consultation. Any final call would be taken in accordance with the laid down procedures. Civil services aspirants, who study the political processes and institutions, can grasp this reality and they would not be moved by any false alarm that is being raised.