A news report of May 21 noted that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) wanted a major change in the policy regarding allocation of services and cadres for 1,000-odd candidates selected every year through the All India Civil Services Examination. It suggested that their cadre and services should be allocated only after a three-month Foundation Course.
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) sent a note at the behest of the PMO to all the cadre-controlling authorities and ministries and sought their comments on the possibility of probationers being allocated their cadres after taking into account their performance in the Foundation Course along with their scores in the Civil Services Examination. The change is considered necessary because it might provide a better assessment of the candidates and their suitability to various cadres or services. The current practice is that cadres and services are allocated before the start of the Foundation Course. This prima-facie shows that the PMO wishes to introduce subjectivity instead of objectivity that the current system for cadre allocation follows.
There are currently approximately 24 services, including the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), the Indian Police Service (IPS) and other central services such as Indian Revenue Service, Indian Postal Service, Indian Civil Accounts Service etc., for which the selection exercise is done at three levels.
First, lakhs of candidates are required to go through, and I say with great respect to the UPSC, a most haphazardly designed grilling, preliminary test for which no guidelines have been prescribed. In two hours, the candidates have to mark one of the various alternatives given in 100 questions from limitless disciplines. This test is apparently intended to examine the “warehousing” capacities of the candidates, not their intelligence or suitability for any service. The questions asked do not have any relevance in the functioning of the persons taking the examinations. For example, the first question in the preliminary exam of 2017 was:
“Q-1: Which one of the following was a very important seaport in the Kakatiya kingdom?
[c] Machilipatnam (Masulipatnam)
The question relates to an historical aspect, which doesn’t have any relevance in the present context and raises the issue as to what is the objective in asking such questions?
IT seems the only objective is to cut down the number of aspirants drastically by such arbitrary, meaningless and irrelevant questions and by deciding cut-off marks unilaterally. This is obviously, unjust and unfair. It would be more appropriate if such a test is designated as ‘elimination test’ rather than a ‘preliminary test’.
This is followed by CSAT test. The marks obtained in this test are not added for determining seniority. Only pass marks is necessary for this test. Those who qualify in preliminary test have to appear for written examinations by choosing one of the optional subjects prescribed along with compulsory subjects. Candidates clearing the written test are called for interview by boards, comprising the UPSC Chairman and members and experts from various fields.
After the interviews, a list of successful candidates is drawn up (in order of merit) by the UPSC, which is sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for issuing appointment orders to the successful candidates in the order of merit, keeping in view their preference for services given in their applications and cadres (in case of IAS aspirants). This is done before the successful candidates are required to report for the Foundation Course at various institutes at Mussorie, Hyderabad and Bhopal. The Foundation Course starts after the allocation of cadres and services and the candidates are well informed about these.
This arrangement is proposed to be changed as it might provide a better assessment. A communication sent by the DoPT to the cadre-controlling authorities states that “the PMO has desired to examine if service allocation/cadre allocation to probationers selected based on the examination be made after the Foundation Course”. The departments concerned have been asked to examine the feasibility of giving due weightage to performance in the Foundation Course and make service as well as cadre allocation to All-India Services based on the combined score obtained in the Civil Services Examination and the Foundation Course, the communiqué said.
Against this background, the first issue is how many examinations the aspirants of Indian Central Services need to undergo. After been screened through three tests (supra) by an independent body, why should the successful candidates be asked to undergo yet another test for determining their services and cadres through subjective tests set by the directors of the Foundation Course, which can differ from one institution to another? Is it not unfair to make changes in the cadres or services of those, who objectively, without knowing any outsider or inter-se knowing each other, have been evaluated in an objective manner by an independent body like the UPSC and assigned positions on the merit list? Why such positions be changed based on the assessment of the directors of the Foundation Course, granting them superior evaluating power to the UPSC?
The next issue is what the proposed change intended to achieve? All that the Minister of State, DoPT, Jitendra Singh, said: “There was a suggestion to this effect, which has been followed up by eliciting the views of all stakeholders. At present, the issue is still in the consultation stage. There is nothing more to it.” The next issue is what is the purpose of changing and disturbing a well-settled system? This has not been made clear either in the PMO’s communiqué or in the statement issued by the minister.
IF the present system for allocating services and cadres is being done on a well-settled premise and has been working well, then there is no reason to change it. It would be a sheer waste of time and energy to change a system, which has been working well in the past. These can be better utilised in other areas where change is badly needed. The proposal, apparently, has no merit and needs to be dropped.
If implemented, it would further lead to ‘brain drain’ in the Indian Civil Services for which anxiety has been expressed quite frequently, demoralise the people in service, introduce uncertainty in areas where the position is well-settled and working well. It would bring subjectivity to a system, which hitherto has been working well based on objective considerations and UPSC’s assessment of candidates on merit will be upset by the assessment of some Foundation Course directors. This should not happen.
The writer is former Chairman, CBDT