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Civil Services: Who Have They Really Served

This piece is an attempt to highlight the pre-existing inefficiencies and discuss the fault lines that exist within the bureaucratic framework and the behavioural shelf of its constituents, with certain reformatory indications attached in the epilogue, emphasizing the Indian experience.

The Constituent Assembly prudently provided for apolitical and integrated civil services in Part XIV of the Constitution, along with the necessary protection for service operations. These requirements apply not just to the union government, but also the states. The creation of All India Services (AIS) with recruitment based on all India competitive examinations and dual control by the centre and the states was one of the provisions of the Constitution (Article 312) that was hotly debated and faced considerable opposition, particularly from provincial governments. The AIS was supposed to be able to function independently, openly, objectively, and courageously as a result of this constitutional safeguard. Unfortunately, political influence, administrative complacency and professional incompetency have significantly weakened the service's professional coherence.

Civil Service, A Merchandised Celebration.

Every country has an institution of professional civil services, but nowhere are the members of the system, celebrated like in India. The State and the public themselves haven’t overcome the colonial legacy of considering the civil service as the grandest of professions, where professionals actually work at the whims of the legislators. This has serious repercussions.

Despite the dire grumbling and frequent, recurring complaints about the difficulty of dealing with the state machinery, in the post-independence experience of 75 years, the popular culture of India, endure pedestalizing the very people responsible for their ordeals. Dissatisfaction outpouring could largely be targeted at the temporary executive by voting them out of office every five years here and then. But the 'sanctity' of Civil Servants remains untouched, undeterred.

Ordinary folks, don’t encourage themselves or their children to join politics more often which is viewed as the trajected filthy domain of the highly privileged and the financially loaded. But the profession of permanent executives, the civil services are most sought after for the very reason of being capable to act as a direct bridge to nobility. People are willing to compete in the pool of intense competition with almost a million other aspirants, every consecutive year, in hope of securing those privileges, more than securing the society. For reference in 2021 CSE, a total of 10,93,984 candidates applied for the test, out of which a mere 685 ended up getting recommendations for induction into various services.

There are valid reasons to hold a favourable impression of the civil service from an aspirant's perspective. For starters, applicants are selected based on competence after an open test and interview. In the civil service, unlike in politics, one cannot inherit a position. Then there's the assurance of a job that comes with being admitted. Unless the civil servants commit a grave transgression, they are guaranteed security for life and regular, time-bound promotions, ensuring that everyone finishes at the top, regardless of performance. Which boomerangs the whole discourse to the question with which we commenced: who does the profession really serve, the larger mass, or the people who are professing it? The Indian civil service's apparent virtues conceal its flaws.

Energy Inappropriately Channelled

The discord lying within the Civil services begins with the intrinsic practice of recruiting officers often of distant origins, to directly supervise the local force and administrative machinery. The discipline goes well with the spirit of dispersing the federal agents to strengthen the confederate fabric of the country. On the principled front, it steadily leads to confrontations among the different levels of civil servants. A newly recruited (Group A) officer meant to regulate the order of his/her designated area who is unfamiliar with the region is repeatedly ascertained to be ill-equipped to dispense the conduct, with their ignorance. The limited insights one gains during the time of preparation and training are never sufficient enough to attend to the people and resolve their day-to-day grievances.

Ultimately, 'senior' civil servants resort to the experience of the local state cadre to assist them, relying on the deputies and subsequent additional associates largely to carry out the management and maintenance at the primary stage of the stint. The duration spent at the groundwork inspectional tier is nevertheless considered momentary in the decades-long career of officers, hence much due review and reflection to perform better aren't levied.

This raises a pertinent question on the very pursuit of appointing directly recruited officers at district and sub-district grade commands. The tenure of these professionals instead of aiming at delivering the desired promising results and prosperity to the people is rather worn on coping around and saving their portrait. Again the metrics and abilities that got the chosen ones the prerogative to serve the billions, are utilised to cover the inefficiencies and not on devoting the profession to serve its purpose.

The Coloniality In Civil Services

The Indian Civil servants would never refrain from referring to themselves as the ‘steel frame’ of the state machinery. Little do they realise that when Former British Prime Minister Lloyd George had spoken of the ‘steel frame’, he mentioned it as the apparatus of perpetuating the British Empire. This steel frame was supposed to have no concern for India and Indians, unlike what, the contemporary service is expected to hold. On February 26, 1924, addressing the House of Lords, Marquess Curzon of Kedleston clearly stated, “The British Raj in India will fade away and disappear unless you have a devoted Civil Service to support it.”

Given the tendencies of the leadership, who eventually came to hold power, irrespective of the struggle behind, the state no matter how nascent, treads on the trajectory of turning imperialistic, against its subjects. Here the role of bureaucracy becomes essential, given the Indian context, the Civil Services of independent India has continued to retain its character of serving the state over the people.

Apart from the direct indulgence in routine administration, the strata where the contribution of Civil services is supposed to be analysed is at the public policy level. They must be judged by what they have delivered over the decades in terms of introducing better administrative practices, and initiatives or imparting superior domain knowledge to the nation. The million-dollar question is what the civil service, has contributed in the 165 years of its existence, which could only have been arguably being delivered by them and not by others. The realization is astonishing, perhaps. In essence, the Indian administration still functions very much the same way it functioned 165 years ago. Its resources and terminologies may have changed, but its consciousness and spirit remain in consonance with its original construct.

Generalization And Specialization

To understand the impeding factors in the way of better harnessing the grit of civil servants, former RBI Governor D. Subbarao’s remarks are crucial.

“Young recruits come in with sharp minds and full of enthusiasm... but soon they become cogs in the wheels of complacency and acquiescence, turn lazy and cynical, and worse, lose their moral compass.” As a result, “there is no motivation for officers to upgrade their knowledge and skills.”

Image Courtesy: Mint

The statement clearly illustrates that ceasing avenues of improvement in the existing officers leads to d