To stem the decay

Print edition : December 08, 2001

The Y.K. Alagh Committee points to the deficient state of the civil services and suggests measures to make the bureaucracy more efficient and result-oriented.

AN expert committee set up by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to look into the state of the civil services has found serious deficiencies in the system of recruitment. The seven-member committee, headed by Dr. Yoginder K. Alagh, former Union Minister and Vice-Chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, submitted its report to the UPSC on October 22. Sections of the report that are available with Frontline reveal that the committee is unimpressed with the present cadre of civil servants and has recommended remedial measures for the recruitment and induction phases. Its conclusions are based on its interaction and consultations with eminent persons in public life, senior civil servants, academicians, economists, social scientists, young officers and trainers.

Dr. Yoginder K. Alagh.-M. LAKSHMANAN

Lt.Gen.(retd.) Surinder Nath, Chairman of the UPSC, said: "We are studying the report. We will incorporate some recommendations of our own when we send the final set of recommendations to the Central government." He said the report was unlikely to have any implications for the civil services examinations of 2002.

The committee refers to some basic flaws in the "mindset" of civil servants. In a strongly worded chapter, it says that in the popular perception members of the civil services have a "ruler mindset", show no signs of courteous and humane behaviour, are totally devoid of transparency in decision-making, and seem to be preoccupied with their own survival and vested interests. This mindset, according to the report, becomes apparent when they are called upon to take care of the needs of the weaker sections of society, especially while implementing policies that can lead to a clash with the interests of influential persons in society. "As a result, the objectives of justice, fair play, development and welfare vis-a-vis the weaker sections tend to suffer by default," the report states.

A negative orientation, declining professionalism, intellectual sluggishness and a lack of ability to acquire new knowledge, undynamic outlook and, at times, a complete lack of intellectual honesty are some of the other weaknesses identified in the report. The report makes a special mention of the decline in the levels of integrity among civil servants. It points out that extensive regulatory controls by way of export and import licensing, industrial licensing, allocation of permits and quotas and the lowering of domestic duties and taxes on different products offer opportunities to the "venal among those administrating the regulatory set-up to exercise discretion in favour of particular clients on ulterior considerations".

Over the past few decades, the report says, there has been significant erosion of esprit de corps within the higher civil services. It underlines that while some members of the civil service have maintained a firm commitment to high standards of ethics and to the service of the nation, many others have breached the codes of professional conduct and entered into unethical, symbiotic pacts of convenience and mutual accommodation with influential politicians and business interests.

The report states that many civil servants suffer from intellectual sluggishness, which is manifested in the flattening of their learning curves. Most civil servants, according to the report, have the attitude that they are repositories of the wisdom and knowledge needed to deal with matters that lie within their spheres of authority. This attitude, the report points out, has made them unreceptive to new ideas and impervious to innovations that are essential in a dynamic administrative environment.

The report expresses concern over the "phenomenon of caste and regional prejudice exhibited by some members of the higher civil services". The tendency to favour colleagues belonging to one's own caste, regional or linguistic group implies that those not belonging to any such group will suffer inequitable treatment, it says.

According to the report, postings and transfers have become a tool in the hands of the political executive with which to force civil servants to comply with their diktats. Civil servants who show the flexibility to go along with the directions of their political masters are rewarded and those who refuse to compromise their professional independence, honesty and integrity are sidelined and penalised, it says. The "punishment" comes in the form of frequent changes in assignments.

The report has recommended insulation of the civil service from the vagaries and arbitrariness of the political executive. This can be done by vesting the authority to post and transfer civil servants in independent boards consisting of service professionals, it says.

The other recommendations of the report deal with eligibility parameters, the desired characteristics of candidates in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes and the modalities of identifying the most suitable candidates. It makes a strong case for lowering the age limit for recruitment, arguing that the economic cost of taking the examination at a higher age affects candidates from poorer families. The committee has designed a scheme to identify younger candidates. It suggests that the preliminary examination be made more objective and the main examination include papers on diverse subjects, including environment and law.

The report says that the recruitment and training of civil servants should be a long-term exercise. Future civil servants, it says, should be exposed to field-oriented developmental activities so that they remain in touch with people at the grassroots. Civil servants should develop an ability to work closely with civil society, it says. The report emphasises the need to recruit candidates who can champion reforms, facilitate the functioning of non-governmental organisations and cooperative groups and help the economy and society to operate within the national and global markets.

The report suggests that at the time of recruitment it has to be checked whether the aspirants are aware of the direction in which the country is moving and the strengths and weaknesses of civil society. They should also have an ability to interface with modern technology and institutions of local self-government and perform their duties with a sense of fair play, compassion and a commitment to achieve the objectives set by the Founding Fathers. The report says that it would be incorrect to expect a rural aspirant for the higher civil services to be computer savvy. "These aspects can be acquired, but if persons are averse to technology, then the forthcoming era of civil service may not really be their domain," it says. Although it may not be easy to test attributes such as honesty and integrity, given their importance an effort has to be made to do so, the report says.

The report emphasises the need to re-orient the civil service in the context of the diminishing role of the state in providing direct economic services, the state's growing importance in the economic and social sectors and the growing scarcity of non-renewable resources and the need to protect vulnerable groups of society.

Although it remains to be seen how many of its recommendations will be accepted by the UPSC, the Alagh Committee has served the immediate purpose of drawing attention to the need to overhaul the civil service and make it more efficient and result-oriented.

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