The charm of civil services

Print edition : September 23, 2005

A.K. Mishra, chairman and managing director of Chanakya IAS Academy. -

RUNNING a nation's civilian affairs is no mean task, given the challenges of administration in a situation marked by extreme poverty and social conflict. So, it is hard to imagine why lakhs of youth in the 21-30 age group aspire for a job in the civil services.

Every year, no less than three lakh graduates apply for the Civil Service Examinations (CSE) conducted by the Union Public Service Commission. On an average, about two lakh candidates appear for the preliminary examinations, which is the screening round in the multi-step process covering an entire year. Only a few hundreds ultimately qualify to appear for the next step, the main examinations and the interview.

But this does not deter the aspirants since the benefits of success far outweigh the struggle to enter the civil services. Although the candidates recruited to the various services - the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Foreign Service, the Indian Police Service, and departments such as the Railways, Revenue, Postal and Forest - get a modest salary, what drives them to succeed in the examinations is the executive power that the job offers, not to mention the security of a plum Central Government job.

N. Krishnamoorthy, chief co-ordinator for Brilliant Tutorials, Chennai, says: "Civil servants enjoy enormous clout over people, and (are part of) decision-making in the corridors of power. The number of applicants for the Civil Services Examination has been increasing year after year. This is in spite of the lure of software engineering and Information Technology."

The first challenge for the aspirants has always been preparing for the tough examinations. This has been made easy by the innumerable IAS coaching centres that offer professional guidance. Gone are the days when a student preparing for the CSE would shut himself up in his study for months, with only books and, perhaps, journals promising competition success for company.

Specialised institutes now conduct classes and provide personality development modules. And more and more candidates are signing up for the courses, seeking help that cannot be provided by local tutors.

One such institute in New Delhi, Chanakya IAS Academy, claims to have secured at least 25 per cent of the market share in this sector. As many as 125 of its candidates were recruited in 2004. Although the Academy was founded only 12 years ago, it seems to have found a reasonably successful formula to crack the competitive UPSC examinations.

Another institute is Vajiram & Ravi, which has been around since 1976. Among its students, 220 have made it in the UPSC exam.

Both institutes have a large enrolment. Vajiram & Ravi has about 800 students and Chanakya 500. Chanakya has opened branches in Ranchi and Ahmedabad and plans to open two more in Jaipur and Mumbai.

A.K. Mishra, the founder of Chanakya, says he drew inspiration from the ancient administrator. "Chanakya was the first man to point out that we need a civil administration, apart from a military administration. He was a great personality, an institution builder. That is why this academy is named after him."

For those who cannot afford the high fees charged by the institutes or have no training facility in their towns, there is the option of correspondence courses. Brilliant Tutorials offers a postal course to cater to this section, and even boasts a fair degree of success in guiding the outstation candidates.

Vajiram & Ravi and Chanakya also post study material to such candidates.

According to Mishra, "the goal is not to teach merely the subject matter, but to bring out the best in a student. All of us have the seeds of the qualities required. We just help bring the leadership traits to the surface. We conduct seminars on nationalism and morals and yoga and personality development classes."

The cost of coaching depends on the subjects chosen. At Chanakya, an aspirant could begin by paying Rs.10,000 for one subject, or opt for the whole package for Rs.70,000. At Vajiram & Ravi, one can expect to pay Rs.22,000 per subject. Often, these institutes also offer to organise hostel accommodation or a board-and-lodging arrangement.

A factor reassuring for the aspirants, according to Mishra, is that the actual UPSC competition is limited to a few thousands, and not lakhs, of aspirants, as most of them are not serious about the examination. Also, there is no discrimination between candidates who answer in Hindi or English or other regional languages.

In the previous decades, most of the aspirants used to be graduates or post-graduates in the arts or the humanities. This trend is changing: several graduates from engineering, medicine, business management and chartered accountancy streams, aspire for the IAS nowadays.

According to N. Krishnamoorthy, this is in keeping with the demands of a liberalised economy. "The nature of job in the civil services is changing in keeping with the changing times. Corporate culture is being injected into the bureaucracy. The work culture is changing with the public becoming more and more result-conscious and demanding. All this calls for a drastic change in the mindset of young persons. Very soon, a civil servant will look more for the challenge and satisfaction of serving the nation than just power and prestige."

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