On to Union Public Service Commission
After Jabalpur I had quite a whirl. I went to Bhopal on a short posting from where I went to Jammu & Kashmir (about which I have recorded my memories quite extensively). From J&K I was sent again on a brief posting to Visakhapatnam from where I came up north and landed in Delhi. This was a posting that was significant for me as it was on deputation in the Union Public Service Commission. Initially it was for three years but lasted for more than four years.
It is here that I learnt a lot about the methods and office procedures used in the Government of India. The Commission is meant for recruitment to the superior services of the Government of India by the methods of competitive examinations, interviews, promotion, contract and deputation from other organizations including those of the government.
Located in the Dholpur House on Shahjehan Road well known to the civil service aspirants I was in little awe of the organization. It is through this formidable organization that two of my older siblings joined the civil services after qualifying in the tough written examinations followed by rather testing interviews. Later I, too, followed them and joined the civil services. I spent around four years and seven months in this remarkable organization, initially as Under Secretary and later as Deputy Secretary. The Chairman of the Commission was one Mr. Damle of the ICS (the ICSs were still around in 1970s) and the Secretary was one Mr. Rajendra Lal who was known for his penmanship all over the Government of India. It was from him that I learnt the art of drafting, that is, whatever little I know of it. In those days we were only three deputy secretaries and one Controller of Examinations in a higher rank. There were about half a dozen Members of the Commission who were either retired civil servants or distinguished men from other areas, including the defense forces and various scientific fields.
After a brief induction training I was placed in the Appointments Wing of the Commission. I had two sections under me, both headed by very competent section officers and I worked under the supervision and control of Deputy Secretary (Appointments) who was a very genial officer of the Central Secretariat Service. I had to process cases of appointments (including ad hoc appointments in the superior posts) by selection and by promotion by the method of screening by departmental promotion committees headed by a member of the commission nominated for the purpose by the Chairman of the Commission. As there were two under secretaries in the Appointments Wing ministries of the Government of India were allotted between the two. There was, however, a third under secretary who used to look after only the appointments of the officers of the All India Services.
Things went in an even tenor till I was promoted as deputy secretary. I was then placed in the Recruitment Wing of the commission which dealt with recruitment by interviews. I inherited a huge amount of arrears as the post had remained vacant for a few months. The secretary used to monitor the progress of disposal of recruitment cases every week. The cases used to be identified by the date by which applications were to be submitted for recruitment to the advertised post. The short-listing of candidates used to be initiated by the under secretary concerned and the short-listed candidates would be recommended to the specified member of the commission for approval after a recheck by the deputy secretary. For very senior posts the cases would be routed via the secretary.
Level jumping was prescribed in the office of the Commission and hence as under secretary and deputy secretary I could submit cases directly to the Chairman – an officer of the rank of secretary. The target used to be to issue calls for interviews within a month or so of the last date for submission of application and my arrears were formidable – dating back almost a year. Slowly I worked my way through and started nibbling at the arrears. Working late hours and on Sundays and holidays I brought the arrears down to very manageable levels and my room which used to have piles of folders of applications in hundreds lined up along the walls started looking more decent. In the weekly monitoring meeting around three months after my promotion I saw the Secretary breaking into a smile as I gave him the figures.
The recruitment by interview entailed scrutiny of applications by the under secretary and then by the deputy secretary. Depending on the number of posts advertised and number of applications received a reasonable criteria used to be decided upon keeping in view the qualifications and experience of candidates to short-list them for interviews. Generally 7- 8 candidates would be called for interview for a post and the rest would be weeded out.
No wonder there would be writ petitions by rejected candidates in high courts and the Supreme Court and they were in pretty high numbers. Dealing with them took quite a bit of time and one had to be careful with the use of language in response to the petition as the image of the Commission could not be compromised. It is because of them that I learnt to organize matter and tried to use the most appropriate words in the response. With a remarkably adept secretary above me I used to keenly see the corrections made by him by his highly sharpened pencils. Much later one day when a file with a response to a writ petition came back without any correction by the secretary I could not believe my eyes. Thinking that he had just signed on the file in a rush I went to him and asked whether he had seen the rather lengthy draft. When he said he indeed had I felt very elated as I thought my day was made.
There was a Hollerith Section in the Commission. Though I had nothing to do with it the in-charge of the Section once invited me to take a look. The machine was an electro-mechanical punch card machine that helped in summarizing information. Applications received by the UPSC for recruitment by examinations would be routed through the Hollerith Section creating records of each applicant in punch cards with the vital items of information like year of birth, educational qualifications and so on. It was kind of a precursor to computers which have now replaced the Hollerith machine. Much later, in 1982 I saw somewhat similar machines being used in China for manufacturing cloth with designs punched on punch cards.
The lunch break at the Commission used to be interesting. More than half a dozen officers of the level of under secretary and deputy secretary used to meet in one of the rooms for tea and refreshments. There would be gossip and jokes and peals of laughter. Some of them are still around and we keep in touch by very rare phone calls. That is what happens when people start aging.