Civil services across the world, including India, are facing demands for an administrative machinery which is responsive, transparent, empathetic and citizen-centric. But the Indian civil services reform effort, since Independence, has been conservative, with limited impact.
The civil servants continue to believe that their authority is derived from corpus of rules and regulations rather than from the mandate of people.
Transformative changes have taken place in United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and these changes have been brought about due to the belief that the civil services ought to be fully accountable to the citizens they serve and reflect their hopes and aspirations.
Some improvement has come about due to incremental reform measures such as Organisation and Method (O & M), vigilance, citizens’ grievance organisations, manpower planning and Right To Information. But the one area which needs to be revisited is civil services recruitment and training. Recruitment to the civil services is through all India competitive examination.
The Civil Services Examination was first conducted as an open competitive examination in the year 1855, in London. At that time, it was called the Indian Covenant Civil Service (ICCS) Examination and was conducted by the British Civil Services Commission. In 1926, the Public Service Commission (India) was set up which began to conduct the Indian Civil Service (ICS) Examination in India on behalf of the British Civil Services Commission. Under the Government of India Act 1935, Federal Public Service Commission was set up.
After 1943, recruitment to the Indian Civil Service, the Indian Police Service, the Indian Audit and Accounts Service and the allied services were suspended upto 1946.
With the promulgation of the new Constitution for independent India on January 26, 1950, the Federal Public Service Commission was accorded Constitutional status as an autonomous entity under Article 315 and given the title Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
Between 1947 and 1950, the Civil Services examination included three compulsory papers-General English, Essay and General Knowledge. In 1951, two additional and optional subjects of the master’s degree standard were prescribed for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Foreign Service (IFS) .
The first major review of the civil services examination undertaken by Kothari Committee in 1974-77 and followed by the second review by Satish Chandra 1988-89. Based on the Kothari Committee recommendation, it was decided in 1979 to have a common examination to avoid hierarchy among services and to have a two-stage examination process, comprising the preliminary and the main examination (written and interview). The preliminary examination included two papers-General Studies and one optional subject. The main examination included eight papers-Indian language, English language, two papers of General Studies, two papers of first optional subject and two papers of second optional subject. While the revised structure for the examination as recommended by Kothari Committee was accepted and implemented by the Government, certain key recommendations pertaining to the strengthening of induction training and post-training test at the third stage of selection were not accepted. Clearly, if the scheme as conceived by the Kothari Committee had been implemented in its entirety, its impact would have been far better. On the recommendation of Second Review Committee, a paper on essay was included in the main examination and the marks for the interview test were increased from 250 to 300. The Third Review Committee report, under the chairpersonship of YK Alagh was presented in 2001. The committee suggested that the existing examination structure of main examination should be done away with and be replaced by three compulsory papers, consisting of sustainable development and social justice, science and technology and society, democratic governance, public system management and human rights. The committee suggested that the papers should be such as to test the interests and the readiness of the candidates to work for society with some understanding of what they will face in the career. It recommended that the existing 30-35 minutes’ interview should be replaced with an extensive and elaborate testing procedure, comprising a personal information form, psychological tests (objective, projective and situation tests) and groups tests, followed by an interview. However, the suggestion of three compulsory papers and elaborate personality test were not accepted. The PC Hota Committee in its report in 2004 also recommended that aptitude and leadership tests be introduced for selection.
The recommendations of the review committees have not been accepted in totality and in only in parts.
The problem of civil services recruitment and training begins with the fact that the basic requirement for civil services is graduation and the upper age limit is 32. There is a need to consider whether grooming of a civil servant should start at a young age when the mind is receptive to the value of public service or at a late age when entrants join with a baggage of entrenched mindsets. The 10th report of Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) titled “Refurbishing of Public Administration” (2008) recommended setting up of National Institutes of Public Administration to run bachelor courses on public administration, management and governance and similarly it suggested that the universities could be assisted to run similar courses to provide a pool of students who could take the civil services exam. But the recommendation has not yet been accepted.
There are more than 20 services for which selection is made through civil services exam each year, and the exam is conducted by Union Public Service Commission. It is a grueling exam with three stages and it takes around one year to complete.
The total marks obtained by the candidates in written and interview determine the overall rank of the candidate. But should the marks obtained in a single exam determine service of a candidate, without testing his or her skill sets?
It is obvious that the skill sets required by account and finance service like the Indian Post and Telecom Accounts and Finance Service (IP&TAFS), Indian Defence Accounts Service (IDAS), Indian Civil Accounts Service (ICAS), Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS) would be different from those required for police or foreign service. Then, what should be selection process for the different services?
There is a need to seriously consider post-school recruitment system ie, All India Entrance Examination (written) for students who have completed school (Class XII), followed by interview and personality test as recommended by Alagh and Hota Committee. There could be a three year course for selected candidates, carefully tailored to meet essential requirements of modern and responsive civil services. The course could focus on subjects relevant for civil servants-Public Administration, Management and Governance. After that, the services could be allocated to entrants based on their performance during training and aptitude. Candidates could be subjected to psychometric/aptitude tests, especially for selection to uniformed services like IPS, CISF and RPF.
The PMO had sought inputs on the suggestion that services could be allotted after completion of three months’ foundation course, which new entrants join after selection into civil services. This issue could be addressed if the evaluation was made after the three years course for selected candidates as recommended by Kothari Committee. Three months would be too short to make an assessment.
There could be a separate exam for specialised services like finance and accounts services-IP&TAFS, IDAS, ICAS, IRAS etc.
The civil service has to be representative in character and it needs to have a good number from rural areas and disadvantaged backgrounds. At present, the eligibility for the civil services exam is graduation. As per US-India Policy Institute report of 2014 titled “Intergenerational and regional differentials in higher education in India”, the access to education beyond higher secondary schooling is a mere 10 per cent among the university-age population of India. Hence, there is a justification to consider post-school recruitment , to be followed by a tailor made three years training for selected candidates and allotment of services based on post-training test.
(A civil servant, the writer is presently posted as Controller, Communications, Uttarakhand. He belongs to Jaiharikhal village in Pauri Garhwal. Views expressed are personal)