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Saturday, September 4, 2004

The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s suggestion to recruit the Civil Servants after 10+2 (Intermediate) has generated an interesting debate on the various possibilities of recruiting civil servants. The candidates selected after the usual entrance exams will be put in a national academy and after completing three years will get a graduate degree. The meritorious students among them will then go for a service-oriented course in the academy for two years. On successful completion of which, the candidate will get an MBA degree and would be inducted in the services.

The Prime Minister is not only a man of integrity and honesty but is also known for his erudition. His suggestion stemmed from his concern about the failure of our public administrative system to deliver basic services to the poor and the needy.

There is no doubt that public administration is a distinctive discipline with special roles. This discipline evaluates, monitors and influences our social milieu, which requires a minimum degree of maturity to understand the intricacies of public administration that are extraordinarily vast. Second, public administration has the duty to serve the public interests, which again in a democracy are not very clear.  This implies that the administrators have to go through the hoops and implement those sets of plans and policies that suit the majority. This would only be possible if we adopt a holistic approach towards reforms.

Bringing down the age limit would prove to be a mere cosmetic change and give birth to many predicaments. For instance, by recruiting the students after 10+2, government is completely neglecting the millions of students who study in thousands of schools in rural areas and poor localities. The deplorable condition of these schools will pose great disadvantage to poor and rural students in such an entrance test. Civil Services would then become a fiefdom of a few privileged. Can a person, mostly hailing from an urban, middle or upper class set up, who hasn’t seen a village in his life, and is confined to the walls of an academy, execute such tasks and serve the nation well?

This suggestion of government also confirms our national obsession with professional / management disciplines. Slowly but surely we are developing a mindset that the solution to our problems lies in imparting management training to the people. If an academy of such sort comes up it would again result in thousands of coaching centers everywhere in India, like we have for IITs and IIMs, and encourage rote learning for which we are infamous.

There is a need to enhance and upgrade the existing system on the bases of continuous evaluation. Civil services should focus on specialization. If a person is given a portfolio in banking without having an iota of knowledge about the functions of banks, can he be productive in such capacity? This often happens in our administrative services. The government needs specialized people in administrative services from all walks of life. At present, public administration is falling short of experts from different backgrounds. There ought to be institutional mechanisms so that the experts in various fields can be accommodated in services with their contributions. We need to end the monopoly of career civil servants in key offices in government. The best and brightest need to be attracted to revamp our public services. The government can also take a leaf out of some of the best-known schools of the world for civil servants like ENA in France, which facilitate lateral entry through innovative recruitment procedures.

Finally, whenever government thinks of reforming state apparatus it tends to neglect the judicial system. There is a need for Indian Judicial Service that can further the quality of our judicial system with objectivity, impartiality and justice. In the end, the reforms will not yield anything if the civil servants are not willing to buck the trend and deliver to the people what is rightfully theirs. The keys to such transformation lie in greater choice and competition, not more restrictive recruitment and monopoly.

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