IAS officer shortage

The IAS today

Print edition : May 29, 2015

Civil services candidates at a coaching centre in Jaipur. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

The factors afflicting the Indian Administrative Service are many, but little is done to correct them.


The Indian Administrative Service (IAS), which is the backbone of the administrative machinery in the country and is critical to ensuring the delivery of the services and welfare schemes of the government to end users, is grappling with multiple problems that do not have quick-fix solutions. Growing shortage of officers, serious challenges in cadre management, a virtual absence of cadre audit, and rampant politicisation have combined to make the service ineffective.

Gender inequality is one problem. Women constitute only a fifth of the officers in the IAS (796) compared with men (4,006). While the lucrative, fulfilling and challenging opportunities available in the private sector account for the lack of enthusiasm among youngsters in general to get into the service, there is also general disenchantment in the service about how the cadre is managed, especially at the State level. Many States have posts reserved to “punish” uncooperative officers. For instance, in Tamil Nadu, the office of the Commissioner of Disciplinary Proceedings is one such. Dumping officers in this post means that he or she does not even get access to an official vehicle. Every time a government change happens in the State, it is time also for witch-hunt and mindless victimisation.

There are a few honourable exceptions to this rule. In Maharashtra, for instance, officers get posted for three years in a post. They can be shifted only after that tenure, barring in special cases. This ‘rule’ has not been adopted across India: States often come up with their own set of rules, which the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), the nodal Central government agency in charge of IAS officers, barely questions.

Politicisation and increasing corruption are among the other serious issues that affect the service today. Fixed terms, better salaries and swift and exemplary punishment for wrongdoing through a Lok Pal/Lok Ayukta mechanism would be essential conditions for a better IAS.

Though the vacancies in the coming years are bound to be huge, States do not seem unduly anxious. In the recent past, Gujarat projected the need for one officer in a period of four years. The logic was simple: let us promote State cadre officers to the IAS. They are easier to work with! Strangely again, the DoPT barely does any audit of the projections made by various States or questions the numbers that States demand.

The daily pressure from the politician means that officers are more concerned with being in the right than being serious about the delivery of services. The death of a young upright officer, such as that of the Karnataka cadre officer D.K. Ravi, ends up as a disincentive to young recruits. The vacancies will remain, and bright youngsters will not look at making a new India as their career choice, until the basic, issues are not addressed.

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