Changing face

Print edition : May 07, 2010

District Collector J. Syamalarao interacts with trainee IAS officers in Visakhapatnam on January 26.-C.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

THERE is a lot of debate within the discipline of public administration whether the bureaucracy should be heavy or thin. According to the neoliberal school of thought, the state should withdraw itself from the responsibility of development and leave it to private forces. Welfare state advocates feel that the state should be actively involved in developing the country. However, both schools cannot deny the importance of the bureaucracy in executing legislative decisions. Civil servants, being the most important policymakers of the country, are given many privileges and accorded a high status in the Constitution.

They are selected through an exhaustive system of examinations so that the best brains are chosen to run the country efficiently. The examination is an annual affair conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). There has also been a lot of debate on the process of selecting the administrators of the country, with many commissions having recommended various methods.

Until now, the method has involved three stages. First, graduates from any discipline take a Preliminary examination. From this, candidates are selected for the Main examination. Those who qualify in the Main examination then appear for a personality test or an interview. The Main examination has a set of eight papers. This includes two papers each in two different optional subjects, two papers in General Studies, one paper of English, and one paper in a regional language.

Depending on the number of positions every year (determined by the government), the UPSC chooses candidates and allots them the services according to their rank. The most preferred is the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), followed by the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Foreign Service (IFS). A decade ago, the IFS was considered the most elite of the services. But analysts feel that the number of candidates from rural areas and Other Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes have now increased and they prefer the IAS over the IFS.

The UPSC is all set to replace the Preliminary examination with a common Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) next year. The present Preliminary examination is based on two objective-type papers, of which the candidates can choose one optional subject, while the other paper, General Studies, is common for all. The CSAT, on the other hand, will have two objective-type papers, common to all the candidates. The UPSC plans to include questions that test decision-making abilities, and knowledge of current affairs and public administration.

This could have a big impact on the roughly four lakh candidates who take the exam every year. While the new candidates will be in a better position to do well, the students who have already put in a lot of effort with many years of preparation could find their efforts wasted. However, institutes that have years of experience in training people for the exam seem to have a different view. V.P. Gupta of Raus IAS Study Circle said: Only the Preliminary exam will change. The maximum effort by a candidate is done for the Main examination. That still remains the same. UPSC Chairman D.P. Agrawal, while speaking to the media, had confirmed that there was no plan to change the structure of the Main examination.

But why are these changes being instituted? For years, there have been many complaints against the UPSC that the scaling system of evaluation was not foolproof. The scaling system helps place aspirants from backgrounds as different as Mathematics and English on an equal footing. Candidates who have a Mathematics background would naturally score more than those with an English Literature background. Apart from this, there was a feeling among candidates that the UPSC needed to be more transparent as it did not come out with cut-off marks.

The government constituted many committees to study the present pattern and recommend changes. The changes now proposed are based on recommendations made by the committee led by Y.K. Alagh, former Chairman, University Grants Commission. Coaching institutes across Delhi are all geared up to take up the challenge. Why should we be averse to changes? In fact such changes will produce better bureaucrats. We can diversify our teaching methods as and when required. Even now we are adopting various creative methods to train students. This will also help us rebuild ourselves in a different fashion, said A.R. Khan of the Khan Study Group.

IPS probationers at the national police academy in Hyderabad. A file photograph.-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

With several opportunities available for middle-class India since 1991, one would have expected fewer candidates to appear for the UPSC exam. But data show that the number of candidates has increased despite the availability of high-paying jobs in multinational companies. This is because more and more people are getting a good education and aspire for the Civil Services and also because the services, contrary to popular perception, has become more dynamic in nature, said Gupta.

So what does dynamic mean? The role of the bureaucrat from the 1990s has changed from that of a regulator to a facilitator. Over the past two decades, the government, while cutting institutional subsidies at one level, has flooded governance with various social schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the National Rural Health Mission, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and so on. With such schemes falling under the district administration, the role of bureaucrats on the ground has increased multifold. Experts say that the role of facilitators does not mean less work for the bureaucrats. The process of decentralisation in governance and the specialisation of tasks leading to the separation of departments have made their duties more demanding, said Gupta.

The Right to Information Act has increased the need for more officers dealing with information. The grave internal security situation demands more police officers. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said late last year that India needed many more IPS officers. Similarly, in every government, there is an inclusion of new Ministries, from Disinvestment to Corporate Affairs. Such new departments need more and more bureaucrats as the government expands on a massive scale in its role as a facilitator.

It is for this reason that the number of UPSC vacancies has been steadily increasing. While it was around 850 positions last year, the number has gone up to 953 this year. And UPSC sources say that the number is most likely to go up every year.

The coaching business has boomed in major cities across the country. We tell our students that the average attention span of any human being is not above 12 minutes and then train our students to read effectively to assimilate better. This infuses confidence in them, said Gupta.

Learning about learning is actual learning. We must enjoy the journey of preparing for the exam, he said. If one sticks by this, perhaps, the civil services examination might not appear to be that difficult. And even if candidates do not qualify eventually, the extensive preparation will have widened their knowledge, which will help them face other challenges.

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