THE war for parity between IAS and non-IAS officers of the Union Government is far from being over. In the last couple of weeks, it came very close for the non-IAS services to win parity with IAS. I am sure the bitter war of words on the social media and elsewhere will continue unabated despite, or as a consequence of, the Government’s decision to defer it for further examination.
Twenty-odd organised Civil Services of the Union had moved a petition before the 7th Central Pay Commission for ending the much-maligned IAS supremacy by removing the handicap suffered by non-IAS officers in matters of emoluments and hierarchical positions. They argued that over the years, the IAS had been stonewalling any move to bring down the edge given to them after Independence. The main pain area was the two-year differential in empanelment for higher positions in the Central Government. It was argued that earlier empanelment entitled IAS officers to higher pay and other benefits than their batchmates belonging to other services.
The report of the 7th Pay Commission, which recommended by a majority vote the opening up of central staffing scheme for competition to give all participating services an equal chance at top posts, came as a premonition of disaster to the IAS fraternity. According to the chairman of the Commission, there was no justification for the continuation of the two-year gap, an ‘archaic concept in the present realm’, as the Indian bureaucracy had since come of age. He says, “the main cause of resentment is that over a period of time IAS has abrogated to itself all powers of governance and relegated all other services to a secondary position… It is time that the government takes a call that subject domain should be the criteria to man posts and not a generalist.” Judgment signed and delivered.
The arguments on both the sides, in my view, are equally unconvincing. While the supporters of IAS harp on the singularly appropriate all-round experience to hold top policy making jobs, it is ridiculed by the rivals as Don Quixote charging at the windmills. Arguably, an IAS officer gathers enormous amount of experience while handling a range of issues like law and order, public distribution, consumer affairs, agriculture, irrigation, community development, industry, rural development, which according to some, is required to play a leadership role in policy making. The opponents to IAS supremacy say that the processes and techniques of governance have acquired a complexity far beyond the capability of mere generalists. They say that the emerging civil service structure needs to evolve to meet contemporary challenges. Since both the groups have emerged from the same selection process and possess identical intellectual calibre, I do not think the debate has any possibility of approaching a plausible resolution.
The essence of civil service is not the knowledge of the domain or the 360 degree familiarity with governance, but the spirit of serving the people, which, unfortunately, the civil servants possess only by exception. In the babble of mutual mudslinging, the point is missed by both. There are several individual officers who show the path of real public service by raising the bar above the normal call of duty. One such officer says, ”To my mind, the challenge is to transform more within than without.”
The main discourse in the arena of governance the world over is regarding conscious public service. There are international conventions and workshops on the theme of reorienting the mindset of public functionaries. A colloquium on the subject was organised in Brazil, which concluded that ethics, and not efficiency, is the soul of good governance. I wonder, if the debate between the services would ever focus on quality of their service delivery.
Endpoint: Has the Indian Bureaucracy really come of age, as claimed by the Chairman of the 7th Pay Commission?
The writer was the Cabinet Secretary and the first Governor of Jharkhand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org