No, they will be an asset to the service
The Indian Administrative Service and other All-India and Central Services have been created under Art. 312 of the Constitution and enjoy a special protection in the matter of removal or dismissal under Art 311. Members of these elite services are recruited through the Union Public Service Commission by open competition. These services are highly coveted and sought after not only because of high emoluments and perquisites but because their members occupy the highest civil positions in the Central and State governments, guide policy formulation and are privy to decision making at the highest level, and therefore, command great power and prestige in society. Naturally, the recruitment policy and rules have been a subject matter of intense debate and have undergone many changes since inception. Major changes have been in the areas of quote reservation, age of entry, weightage to interview, and the examination.
The parliamentary committee headed by Mr Pranab Mukherjee has suggested to the UPSC and the Central Government to reconsider allowing highly specialised professionals like doctors and engineers to compete for the civil services. Presumably, the question is whether the high cost the nation bears in preparing these professionals, should be “wasted” on the civil services, for which simple graduates should suffice. If true, this view is neither fair to the civil services nor to the professionals.
As is well known, it was in China that the system of selecting candidates for government jobs by putting them through a written examination was started as early as in the Eighth century. Their curriculum was the study of the ideas of Confucius. It was believed that if they were well versed in them, they would make good mandarins. For Confucius taught that an enduring state was built on the merits of its rulers’ advisers and administrators, as their moral example inspired those beneath them. The British took this idea of holding a competitive examination for entry to the Indian Civil Service, which was initially open only to the British citizens. The candidates were required to show high proficiency in liberal education, which was the hallmark of a gentleman those days. The high academic excellence of the ICS officers was thus ensured as those who were selected came from “Oxbridge” or other leading universities. But more than academic excellence, the selectors looked for other qualities of head and heart in the candidates, and their moral fibre.
An all-India competitive examination for IAS and other allied services similarly offered a challenge to the brightest boys and girls of our universities. On the face of it, the minimum qualification was only graduation. But it was clear from the very beginning that high academic excellence was the pre-requisite for entry. Candidates aspiring for the IAS and the Indian Foreign Service were required to write two higher standard (Masters level) papers in two different subjects, apart from writing other papers in common with other services, which included a comprehensive paper in general knowledge and writing an essay in English.
There was no ban as such for engineering or medical graduates, but their subjects of study were not included in the choices open to the candidates initially. On reconsideration, however, in later years, first the engineering subjects and then medicine, including veterinary medicine, were also included, making the competition truly universal. It is considered unfair and legally untenable to deny them the opportunity. The harsh truth is that in our society where everything is in scarce supply the regulators, even the lower level inspectors, call the shots. Our society values teachers, doctors, engineers, industrialists, but it prizes power more.
The portals of the civil services were thus thrown open to the professionals, and they generally secured top grades. In our batch (1964), for example, the topper, N.C. Saxena, was a double M.Sc in Physics and Mathematics from Allahabad University, and the next, Omesh Sehgal, was the IIT topper. Both had a distinguished career, Saxena as Director of Mussoorie’s Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration and Secretary to Government of India (GoI) and to the Planning Commission, and Omesh as Chief Secretary, Delhi. For my higher papers, I had taken English Literature (in which I had taken a Masters’ degree from Allahabad University) and British Constitutional History (which I had not studied formally). I was placed 95th in the list (the last position for a “general” candidate). But I also ended my innings as Chief Secretary, and by all accounts had a “distinguished” career.
I cite these examples only to make a point. The subjects you take for the examination don’t count in your career. I have been Director of Agriculture (generally held by “technocrats”), Controller of Road Transport, Chairman of State Electricity Board, among other things, and all I had “specialised” in was the poetry of Shelley and Wordsworth. Shelley’s Ode To The West Wind, though electrifying in many ways, was but a poor guide to managing a power utility, and Walter Bagehot’s illuminating interpretation of the British Constitution no reliable tool to fathom the political crosscurrents of Haryana, where Aya Rams and Gaya Rams abounded.
I must add though that another of our batch mate, N.K. Singh, who had studied Economics, rose to be Finance Secretary in GoI. But Ajit Kumar has also been Finance Secretary, who like me had studied English Literature. Which is as well, for what the members of the higher civil services are required to do is manage, control and administer the systems and the men behind them. It mostly boils down to man management — motivating them to achieve the organisation goals.
So, in my reckoning, those who have studied professional courses to qualify as doctors or engineers adapt themselves as readily to the requirements of the civil services as those with “liberal” education. They have the “scientific temper” in a greater measure, which is an advantage. Any debate on this issue is therefore pointless. The further argument that society makes a huge investment in them, which is rendered fruitless in the event of their joining the civil services, is fallacious. For I hold that one can never be too qualified for the civil services. May be, I have found it to be a humbling experience till the last.
The task is made infinitely more complex and challenging due to the fact that these officers have to perform with politicians breathing down their neck. But the politicians represent the sovereign will of the people, and have a better perception of the problems at the grassroots. Ideally, therefore, there should be harmony between them rather than acrimony, and therein lies the challenge. In literature when the performance of the members of the ICS and of the IAS is evaluated, the latter come in for disparaging comments. It is not fully realised that the IAS officers serve in an altogether different political milieu. It takes the best in them to measure up to the task.
We used to have long debates on brain drain. No longer. Now we resent if Germany reduces the intake of our professionals, or there is a job cut in the US due to recession or 9/11. With “remittances” being our major national resource, it is perhaps in greater national interest to produce professionals for foreign markets. How does it matter in that case if out of the thousands of professionals that we produce every year, some are absorbed by the civil services? They are welcome for they inject new blood in its frame.
Note: The writer is a former Chief Secretary of Haryana