Rebuilding the Civil Services


Democratic constitutions which mandate separation of powers rest on three main organs of the State, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. In most constitutions other than Indian the civil service per se is not even mentioned. Under the American Constitution the executive power of the United States rests in the President. Whereas there are officers to assist him the executive power of the United States is not exercised through them. In other words the concept of an independent civil services does not exist in that country. Under Article 58 of the German Constitution orders issuing in the name of the Federal President or on his directions require the counter signature of the Federal Chancellor or a Federal Minister. Under Article 65 it is the federal ministers under the directions of the Chancellor who are required to conduct the affairs of their departments. Of course there are civil servants in Germany, but they work as directed by the ministers and are not in themselves independent executive authorities.

The Indian Constitution represents a departure from other democratic constitutions in that it recognizes a fourth organ of the State, the permanent executive or the civil servants. Under Article 53 of the Constitution the executive power of the Union is vested in the President, which is to be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him in accordance with the Constitution. Article 154 makes a similar provision mutatis muttandis regarding the Governor and officers subordinate to him. In exercising his executive powers the President or the Governor, as the case may be, will be aided and advised by the Council of Ministers appointed by him under Articles 75 or Article 164 respectively, whose advice will be binding under Article 74 and 163 respectively. However, the distribution of work between ministers will be determined by the President or the Governor under Business Allocation Rules framed under Article 177 and 166, but the business of government will be conducted under the Business Rules framed under Article 77 and 166. Since clause 2 of both these Articles states that the authentication of instructions made and executed in the name of the President will be done as prescribed by rules and the said rules vest the power of authentication in a Secretary to government, it is clear that the executive itself is divided into two parts. The first consists of the Council of Ministers, which is constituted from members elected to the legislature, to each one of whom is allocated a department on whose affairs he is required to advise the head of state, the said advice being binding, but in the authentication of the orders emerging from such advice it is the officer concerned who is authorized and it is he who is responsible for implementing the orders.

What dos this distinction mean? The Council of Ministers represents the will of the people during its tenure as expressed through the vote. The Council is required to frame policy, give guidelines and initiate legislation, all of which will bear the imprint of the ideology or program of the political party or parties in power. In an elective democracy it is perfectly valid for the party in power to have a program which may be radically different from that of the party in the opposition provided that the program does not transgress the Constitution. The ruling party has every right both to legislate and to prescribe the policy for the implementation of its program. An excellent example of this is the post Second World War Labour Government in Britain which adopted socialism as its ruling philosophy and legislated for nationalizing of large sectors of the economy. Many years later when Mrs. (now Lady) Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister she ordained the dismantlement of the socialistic policy of nationalization and brought about a major political and economic change in Britain. However, in both cases it was the civil servants who were required to implement the policy which, to the credit of the British Civil Service, its members did with considerable competence. Certainly most of the civil servants serving the first Labour government came from a background which militated against nationalizing the economy, but they nevertheless implemented the policy of government faithfully.

In India, too, it is the civil servants who are required to implement policy because Articles 53 and 154 of the Constitution require them to exercise the executive power of the State under the orders of the President or the Governor and on his behalf. Under Article 74 and 163 the policy would actually be that of the Council of Ministers, which means that the civil servants exercising authority on behalf of the President or Governor are actually doing this on the orders of the Council of Ministers. However, because our Constitution distinguishes between officers appointed by and subordinate to the President or the Governor and the Council of Ministers, the civil servants acquire a status of their own which is independent of the Council of Ministers. This independence does not mean that they are not subordinate to the ministers also, but this is subordination limited to implementing policy. It is not a subordination arising out an employer-employee relationship. Whereas I shall revert on this issue in due course, I am supported in my view by Part XIV of the Constitution, which lays down the provision relating to the civil services, their appointment, removal and terms of service and the method of their selection through an independent Public Service Commission which enjoys a specific constitutional status. I am not aware of any other constitution in the world which has the equivalent of Part XIV of the Indian Constitution. 

Within Part XIV is contained Article 312 which constitutes the All India Services. This is a unique feature in what is a federal constitution because the federally constituted and administered All India Services also man the senior posts within the respective cadres in each of the states. At present there are three All India Services, the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Police Service and the Indian Forest Service and between them they hold all the important posts in the central and state governments. Normally in a federal set up the central and state governments have their own independent cadres of officers. In India the cadre controlling authority for the All India Services is the Government of India and not state governments. Part XIV of the Constitution prescribes that recruitment at specified levels will be done through an impartial process overseen by a Public Service Commission, there will be security of tenure and removal or punishment will only be by due process of law. Even the lowest level of government servant is entitled to such due process. The civil services under our Constitution enjoy a high degree of immunity from arbitrary action by politicians or by vested interests. The All India Services enjoy a double protection because their cadre controlling authority is not the government of the state in which they serve but the Government of India, which is not subjected to the daily pulls and pressures of politics in a state.

I shall revert to the issue of immunity from arbitrary action and the reasons why such immunity is included in our Constitution, but at this stage I would like to harp back on my theme that the executive itself consists of two parts, the elected as represented by the Council of Ministers and the permanent as represented by the civil servants. Civil servants have the following main tasks:

  1. To assist the Council of Ministers in the framing of policy and, in particular, in preparing the necessary documentation which would make it possible to implement a given policy.

  2. To frankly advise the Council of Ministers about the possible consequences of a particular policy proposal or proposed legislation, including pointing out the consequences of change as a result of the new law, its financial implications, legal ramifications, if any, and the probability of public acceptability of the change. Of course the final decision will rest with the Council of Ministers which may or may not accept the advice rendered,

  3. Once the policy is decided, to quickly prepare the guidelines, rules, etc., which would put the policy into effect,

  4. o implement the policy faithfully,

  5. In implementation of policy, to ensure absolute fairness, justice and even-handedness. What this means in effect is that the policy will be implemented across the board and not selectively, as often desired by politicians. In implementation no one, not even the Council of Ministers, should interfere except to check deviation, monitor timely implementation and ensure that the civil servants do not apply their own prejudices and biases in implementation.

After the policy is decided and implementation begins the civil servants must not permit any interference because it would either slow down implementation, favor a particular party or promote certain interests at the cost of others. To elaborate slightly, government decides on a policy of prescribing the ceiling on land holdings. The competent revenue officer would now be required to ensure that surplus lands are identified and taken over by government for such redistribution as may be prescribed. The identification and taking over of surplus lands has to be systematic, universal, and not selective. Very often politicians intervene in such cases and request the authorities to go slow in the case of certain favored people. In a system where the civil service is politically appointed such discriminatory application of a policy may be practiced, with only the courts intervening if petitioned by an aggrieved party. Under the Indian dispensation a civil servant cannot be asked to apply a policy selectively and as per the mandate given to him by the Constitution he is required to act independently, reject any attempt at influence or interference and apply the Ceiling Act across the board to all persons having surplus land. The Constitution gives him the authority to do this and in fact enjoins a duty to act impartially. The elected executive cannot interfere in such matters, because the civil servant acting according to law is not subordinate to any one. 

Two examples would illustrate this point even better. A postman is virtually a ruler when distributing the post. He is required by law to deliver the mail to the address and the addressee recorded on the envelop and not even his Post Master General can direct him to deliver the mail to an unauthorized third party. The postman is totally independent in performing his duties. His superiors can intervene only if he deviates from the path of duty. Similarly a traffic policeman on point duty is a ruler for the purpose of directing traffic. Even his Inspector General cannot order him to let traffic converge at ninety degrees as this would lead to accidents. When a traffic policeman holds up his hand to stop traffic coming from a particular direction even the President of India must obey his signal. Every tahsildar, inspector of police, food inspector, land surveyor or any other official doing about his duty as mandated by law, rules or standing instructions, is independent and if someone is annoyed with him of doing his duty he must not hesitate because he enjoys the protection of Part XIV of the Constitution. 

Why were the civil services given an independent status and constitutional protection? When the Constitution was being framed Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Deputy Prime Minister played a role which was in no way less important than that of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in ensuring that India had a constitution which would be as strong on practical implementability as it was on ideology. Sardar Patel realized that unlike the old Thirteen Colonies which came together at the time of independence to become one nation voluntarily relinquishing necessary powers to the federation, India was a country put together by the will of the imperial master, Great Britain. This is not to state that there was not an underlying unity of Bharatvarsha, but the political entity that we call India is the legacy of the Indian Empire of which the British Monarch was King Emperor. Such a federation and, for that matter, even the US federation, has both centripetal and centrifugal forces and because of the immense diversity of geography, ethnicity, language, culture and religion these forces are simultaneously equally but paradoxically strong in India. Sardar Patel carried the conviction that we must build into the Constitution certain binding forces which would ensure centripetality without detracting from the unity in diversity theme so basic to our country. Therefore, an analysis of the Constitution would show that whereas India is a Union of States (Article 1), whereas parliament itself has a Council of States which represents the states and which must be consulted in anything which affects the basic status of the states, whereas Article 246 and the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution prescribe the exclusive legislative competence of the federal parliament and the state legislature, thus giving a degree of sovereignty to the states, there are also equally strong features of the Constitution which prescribe how there will be a unitary thread running all the way through the Constitution. Some of these unitary measures are:

  1. Whereas the council of ministers in a state is headed by a Chief Minister who is appointed by the Governor because he enjoys the confidence of the House, the Governor himself is appointed by the President under Article 155 and will hold office during the pleasure of the President under Article 156 of the Constitution.

  2. The Seventh Schedule which gives the legislative competence of parliament and the state legislatures also has List III, the Concurrent List, which gives simultaneous jurisdiction on the prescribed subjects to both parliament and the state legislature under Article 254. In any matter enumerated in the Concurrent List the law made by parliament will prevail over the law made by a state legislature in case of conflict or repugnancy. The Concurrent List has been expanded from time to time by constitutional amendments.

  3. In the US Constitution the judiciary is divided between the federal judiciary which interprets and applies federal laws and the state judiciary which interprets and applies state laws. Of course the Supreme Court has overarching jurisdiction but the state and federal judiciaries have their own hierarchies and their own respective jurisdictions. In India, however, there is only one judicial set up in which the subordinate judiciary ranging from the lowest civil or criminal court and up to and including judges of the district and sessions court are appointed by the Governor of the state concerned in consultation with the High Court and in accordance with rules framed in consultation with the High Court and Public Service Commission control over the judiciary vests in the High Court as per Article 235. Under Article 227 the power of superintendence over all courts and tribunals within the jurisdiction of a High Court vests in that High Court. Judges of the High Court, in turn, are appointed by the President in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and the Judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President in consultation with and on the advice of a Collegium of Judges as prescribed by the Supreme Court. The High Courts and the Supreme Court are courts of record and the law declared by the Supreme Court is binding on all courts under Article 141 of the Constitution. The courts are competent to adjudicate on all laws, whether made by parliament or the state legislatures and together the entire judicial set up from the lowest court up to the Supreme Court forms a pyramid. The courts are a tremendous binding force. 
    Part XI of the Constitution prescribes the relations between the Union and the States. Article 248 vests residuary powers of legislation in parliament. The position in the US is that as per Article 10, which was added through an amendment, the residuary powers vest in the states. Under Article 249 parliament may legislate with respect to a matter of State List if the Council of States resolves that it is in the national interest to do so. Similarly under Article 250 parliament acquires the right of exclusive legislative jurisdiction during proclamation of an emergency.

  4. Under Part XI the administrative relations between the Union and the States are also prescribed. Under Article 257 the Union Government may give directions to the States on how to exercise executive power in certain matters. Under Article 262 and 263 parliament can legislate in matters relating to inter state water disputes and the President can establish an inter state council to advise on disputes which may arise between states.

  5. Part XII of the Constitution gives the financial relations between the Centre and the States in which, once again, the federal government has a major role.

  6. Part XVIII of the constitution gives the emergency provisions in which on the proclamation of an emergency under Article 352, a proclamation under Article 356 in which the President takes over the functions of a state because the state is no longer being run as per the provisions of the constitution and a proclamation under Article 360 when the President declares a state of financial emergency, the executive and legislative powers of the state would be transferred protem to the union counterparts. The German Constitution does have Articles 35, 37, 84 and 91 which permit federal intervention in the Lander (States) in certain cases, but there is no provision for dismissal of a state government and the taking over the administration by the President.

  7. The Armed Forces themselves are a tremendous binding force because they are of a truly national character.

Sardar Patel saw in the civil services, especially the All India Services, an instrument for the strengthening of the centripetal forces which bind India together. Sardar Patel was of the view that the All India Services as represented then by the Indian Civil Service (ICS) and the Indian Police (IP), though inherited from the British, had the experience, the nationwide loyalty and ability to provide stable administration, though under a changed national and democratic government. The reason why the Constitution has provision for All India Services which serve both the federal and state governments, have federal protection and are constitutionally immunized from arbitrary action by the State, is that Sardar Patel firmly believed that if India were to survive as a democratic but united nation it must have built into its administrative structure an element which could provide stability, impartiality and even-handed implementation of policy. That is the reason why the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Police Service (IPS) and later the Indian Forest Service (IFS) were created as successors to their counterpart British Indian Imperial Services. It is to the credit of these services that by and large they have hitherto remained true to their salt. However, the fabric of the Services, which had begun to fray at the edges, is now in serious danger of structural failure.

1967 was the watershed year for the Civil Services. For the first twenty years of independence we were led by stalwarts who had been tempered in the crucible of the freedom movement, were sure of themselves, had a feel of destiny, were austere in their personal habits, had a commitment to the nation, were prepared to take decisions and certainly did not feel threatened by the Civil Services. Such political masters are easy to serve because they welcome impartial and frank advice, base their decisions on ideology and the realities of the ground situation and are prepared to back up the civil servants entrusted with implementation of policy. However, in 1967 everything changed overnight because this is the year in which in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, etc., party loyalties were broken by purchase of legislators and governments were bought through bribes. Suddenly the legislators found that they could command a price for supporting a government and that selling themselves to the highest bidder was a permissible political exercise.

In order to pay bribes money is needed and it can only be forthcoming by subverting the State and misusing power. As a strong, impartial and honest civil service is an obstacle in the path of political corruption therefore, such a civil service must be broken. Transfer, posting of pliant officers in key positions and marginalizing of those who are straightforward, the playing of favorites and open encouragement to corruption were used to break the homogeneity, morale and integrity of the civil services, especially the All India Services. The Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service became the main targets because whereas the former occupied the top administrative posts, the latter was the main coercive force available to the politicians. I have already stated that the civil services, especially the All India Services, are well protected against arbitrary action and it is to the utter shame of the All India Services that instead of standing firm they surrendered abjectly.

It may be worthwhile quoting a few examples. Tamil Nadu has always been considered to be a state in which the Services have been strong, united and bound by the rulebook. That is the state which has experienced the disgrace of a former Chief Secretary being arrested for assisting the then Chief Minister to amass wealth, whereas the police has acted like the hired goondas of the main in power, first Karunanidhi and then Jayalalitha. When Karunanidhi became the Chief Minister just prior to the present regime of Jayalalitha, he asked the Police Commissioner of Madras to arrest Natarajan, Jayalalitha's Secretary. Without an FIR being registered and with no preliminary investigation to establish a prima facie case the police immediately ordered the arrest of Natarajan. When pressure was built on Karunanidhi to retrace his steps he ordered the same police immediately to release Natarajan and dropped the cases against him and this was done without the formality of obtaining a magistrate's order on a final report under Section 173 Cr.P.C. requesting permission to close the case. It is the same police force which dragged Karunanidhi out of his bed at 0200 hours and tried to arrest N Ram and other senior editorial staff of The Hindu. The law is very clear. Under Chapter XIV of Cr.P.C. the police is bound to record a first information of an alleged cognizable offence. Before the FIR is recorded the police has no power of investigation. Once investigation begins no authority, including the Supreme Court, can intervene in investigation except in the case of grave miscarriage of justice. Despite this our senior police officers invariably succumb to political pressures in the investigation of offences and as an excuse cite the non-implementation of the recommendations of the National Police Commission to justify their own pusillanimity. When the constitutional protection of Part XIV of the Constitution does not give courage to these officers, can the implementation of the half-baked recommendations of NPC, which probably are not worthy of implementation, make them courageous? 

It is invidious to quote a personal example to prove a point, but I shall be so fool hardy. Perhaps the best-drafted law post independence was the Bonded Labour Abolition Act. The Act clearly identifies bonded Labour, gives steps for freeing of Labour from bond, provides for rehabilitation and empowers executive magistrates to summarily try people who keep bonded Labour and sentence them to up to three years rigorous imprisonment with fine. In 1984, shortly before I sought voluntary retirement from service, I was summoned to the cabinet and asked by the Chief Minister whether my department had posted inspectors under the Act in Bilaspur Division. When I replied in the affirmative the Chief Minister told me that these inspectors were harassing cultivators, five of whom happened to be present in the cabinet, all from Bilaspur and all booked under the Act. The Chief Minister asked me to tell the inspectors to go easy in enforcement and to ignore the more stringent provisions of the law. I told him that I cannot do so because both he and I had sworn an oath to uphold the laws of the land. In any case if I did give such instructions, in one case they would ignore the law because I told them to do so and in nine cases they would take bribes and ignore the law. I would not be able to distinguish between the two types of cases. On this the Chief Minister became a trifle annoyed and told me that my obstreperousness would make agriculture very difficult in the state. On this I sought ten minutes to prepare a letter from him to the Prime Minister, pointing out the difficulties in implementing the Act and requesting its repeal. A horrified Chief Minister told me not to do so because the Act was a fine piece of social legislation. In other words, have the law on the statute book because it reads well, but do not implement it and thus engender a general disrespect for law because a person who could escape the consequences of keeping bonded Labour might be encouraged to think that he could escape the consequences of dacoity, rape or murder. I have quoted this example to show that a civil servant doing his duty can and must point out to the politicians the consequence of an act which is illegal or improper. It is sad indeed that officers have stopped doing so.

Why have the civil services stopped performing their vital function of giving correct advice fearlessly to the political executive? Why have the Services virtually abdicated their function of implementation of policy and why do civil servants take orders from ministers even in the matter of details of implementation? In short, why have the civil services stopped being the fourth pillar of the State as envisaged by our Constitution? Partly, of course, the blame lies with the politicians, the new breed of which has value systems which are totally different from those expected of responsible participants in the political process in a democracy. The first requirement of a parliamentary democracy is that there should be political parties with a strong ideological base and a program designed to serve that ideology. Civil servants have no problem with implementing an ideology-based program of the ruling party, provided they are not asked to do so in a biased manner. Like the British Civil Service, the Civil Services in India are trained and designed to carry out the just, proper and legal orders of the political executive. From this emerges the second axiom that politicians who strive for power should be prepared to quit it if the electorate so ordains. They should be prepared to accept electoral defeat without abandoning their ideology or program; in the same manner as did Lady Margaret Thatcher. It is only when in order to avoid such defeat that politicians abandon ideology and adopt a perceived populist stance that problems arise. When reason departs and populism take hold every decision becomes one of the momentary expeditiousness and civil servants are asked to do favors to undeserving people merely because politicians feel that this will enable them to retain their vote bank. One cannot allow a system based on such naked patronage to exist because thereby it is only the law abiding who will suffer. In India as successive elections have shown, there is a competitive populism which has made a mockery of laws, systems, canons of propriety and even ordinary commonsense. It is immaterial that such decisions beggar the exchequer, destroy institutions and negate even medium term planning, leave alone the long term. It is immaterial that such steps encourage criminality and are an open invitation to corruption. What matters is the politician's own perception of whether this will give him a few more votes. No organized civil service can function properly under these circumstances.

The Constitution and the framework of laws enacted under it do in fact give the civil services adequate authority to oppose unreasonable populism. The police is answerable to law and not to an individual politician or bureaucrat. A bureaucrat is answerable to law and is bound by rules and he is certainly not expected to carry out whimsical orders. The fact, however, remains that pure whimsy and arbitrariness often prevail and bullies such as Jayalalitha, Mayawati or even Bal Thackeray terrorize officials to do their bidding. During the recent Gujarat riots the Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad allowed two ministers to take over his control room and prevent the police from doing its duty to maintain law and order. Both the ministers should have been arrested on the spot but this was not done. This happened because the Police Commissioner did not do his duty and the Chief Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Director General of Police of the State did not give protection to the Services and allowed the politicians to ride rough shod over them. Who suffered? It is the people who were subjected to the fury of rioting.

It is easy for me to pontificate on the duties of a civil servant and what is expected of him vis a vis the politicians. That is because I do not have to face the fate of many civil servants in states such as Bihar, UP and Tamil Nadu, all of them ruled by Chief Ministers (I do not include Mulayam Singh in this category) who are either megalomaniacs or totally indifferent to the rule of law. Civil servants tread in fear in such states. That is where the paradox lies. The Constitution and the law give sufficient protection to the civil servants provided they are prepared to endure hardship. The politicians who have a duty to uphold the Constitution, on the other hand, are prepared to terrorize the civil servants so that under fear of the whip they knuckle under and participate in wrong doing. The paradox is that though the Constitution is specifically designed for them to meet such situations fearlessly, in many cases they fail to do so. I would put the entire blame on the civil services, especially the All India Services. 

One should try and understand the deleterious effect of break down of civil service morale. An honest and impartial civil service is good both for the people and for the politicians. Only such a civil service can deliver the goods in terms of implementation of government policy and promoting development. Proper implementation of policy and the successful completion of development projects is what brings credit to a ruling party and it is for the politicians to cash in on this. Supposedly working in an environment of anonymity a civil servant can neither claim credit nor needs to do so because he is not participating in a popularity contest. If the civil service is honest the level of bribery would dip appreciably and people would be able to get their work done without having to make illegal payments. If the civil services, including the police, do their job according to law there would be law and order, an absence of rioting and a general environment of peace and tranquility, without which no development is possible. A biased police force may be liked by a political party, but the end result would always be a Gujarat type situation in which all communities suffer because there is no law and order. Even in the matter of decentralization, once the policy is to decentralize through devolution and not merely through delegation, an efficient civil service would provide the mechanism through which such devolution occurs and there is genuine decentralization of power. Incidentally, I would not go along with the criticism that it is the civil service which opposes devolution. At the central and state levels the civil services have adjusted very happily to the process of democratic decision making and they have no problems with this democratic process being carried down right up to local government level. As has been proved in MP, it is the politicians, especially the ministers and the legislators, who are most opposed to genuine decentralization because this cuts into their power and to counter which a 'neither here neither there' form of district government has been devised in which real power rests with the minister in charge and Collector and not the Zila Panchayat.

One fall out of the break down of systems and institutions is that corruption has become rampant because every decision is adhoc. How can the civil services, including the All India Services, remain immune from this disease? My experience is that the process begins with the civil servant initially not resisting corruption, progressing thereafter to becoming a junior partner in the process, then equal partner and subsequently even beginning to suggest to the politicians new and better methods of graft. This is the real nexus between the civil services and the politicians in the matter of corruption, with the civil services often playing a vanguard role. This is not what Sardar Patel had envisaged when he recommended inclusion of Part XIV in the Constitution. In a way I consider the civil servants, especially members of the All India Services, who have gone along with the situation, as traitors to the nation because they have betrayed the trust, reposed in them by the Constitution. For such persons no punishment is too harsh, including capital punishment, because that is how traitors should be treated. Just as in the Nuremberg trials orders of superiors were not accepted as an excuse for war crimes, senior civil servants should not be allowed to plead force majeure as an excuse for failing to do their duty and indulging in corruption and worse.

When one talks to people one sometimes hear remarks such as a particular officer being efficient though corrupt. A corrupt officer cannot be efficient. He may be able to do a politician's bidding. In a particular case he may be able to achieve a particular thing because he is prepared to cut corners, but in the final analysis the harm that this does will cancel out any good and ultimately it is the system which is damaged. It is only the honest civil servant, who is prepared to observe the rules and treat everyone even-handedly, who can efficiently and honestly implement the policies prescribed by the political executive. In the long run this is much more effective than adhoc implementation, which is the only thing of which a corrupt civil servant is capable.

Under our polity the role of the civil service as laid down in the Constitution still holds validity. This includes the constitution of All India Services under Article 312 because our federation continues to be different from federal set ups such a s the United States of America. The fissiparous forces, especially along the periphery of India, are still strong. Even in heartland India we need a unifying force which can bring a semblance of settled government according to the rule of law to states which have become politically volatile. The Constitution itself has many centripetal features to reinforce which need the All India Services. What is more, because the weak point of any Westminster type of democracy is that without proper checks the tyranny of majoritarianism can develop, we need civil services which will hold the scales even for the minority groups by ensuring even-handed application of policy. The civil services have to be free, fair, frank and independent in action; in other words, the pre 1967 position must be restored. How can this be done?

Every democracy requires a set of rules by which the democratic game is played by all the players. It is a well known axiom that political parties must agree to disagree, i.e., there must be agreement that each party can have its own ideology, other parties may disagree with this ideology but on certain fundamental issues there has to be agreement. One area of agreement has to be that there will be even-handed application of law, rules and policy. Civil servants who uphold this principle should not only be accepted by all political parties but should be supported in doing their duty. Where, however, there is no agreement to disagree there can be no impartial civil service because it would not be allowed to function. If political parties resort to unashamed populism at the cost of policies and programmes, there can be no impartial civil service because it would be opposed to adhocism. Therefore, the first reform needed is that political parties have to accept the rules of the game of democracy. Unless they do so one sees very little chance of rebuilding the civil services.

Having said that the fact remains that the Constitution does recognize the civil services and, in particular, the All India Services, as constitutional entities. Independent of whether the parties reform themselves the Services have to introspect and restructure themselves. A beginning should be made with the All India Services in which a drastic process of weeding out the useless, the corrupt, the slovenly and the laggards must be set in motion. If we have to amend the All India Services Act and the rules framed thereunder for this purpose, we should do so. A new system should be introduced in which after one year's training in the three service academies officers should be sent in the field. On completion of a sub division they must be brought back to their respective academies for a six months course in which they exchange their experiences, access a properly put together library of case studies to see how specific issues are dealt with by different officers at different times and hone up their professional skills. Thereafter they must go back to a district charge. In the tenth year when the officers are beginning to show signs of moving to higher responsibilities they must again be put through a training course. At this stage I shall refer to the IAS, but similar procedures should apply to the IPS and IFS mutatis mutandis, keeping in view the more specialized requirements of these services. Ten years of service is the time when there should be assessment of an officer's aptitudes and he should be put through a rigorous course of training which would lead him towards more focused and specialized skills. The officer should then return to a posting to be pulled back once again on completion of fifteen years of service to undergo an even more rigorous course of training with an even greater focus on an area of specialization. 

On completion of twenty years of service the IAS officers (and their counterparts in other All India Services in their own specialized fields) should be sent on a two years sabbatical. If the officer chooses to go abroad government should pay the full cost involved. If, however, he chooses an institution or university in India, government should pay him a lump sum amount which would roughly be the difference between the cost of training abroad and the cost of training in India. This would be an incentive for the officer to chose an Indian institution. During this two years period the officer has to do original research on a subject of his choice, obviously related in some way with his service career, resulting in a thesis which would be subjected to a very rigorous examination by a panel of experts. If the thesis and its subsequent viva voce defence is found acceptable the officer would be entitled to the award of a doctorate. If it is found that the officer has been unable to or has otherwise failed to live up to expectations he should be immediately retired as being unfit for higher responsibilities. At every stage an officer must be under observation and if it is found that he is wanting in application, is not motivated, has not kept in touch with the latest trends in administration, has not lived up to the highest standards of integrity and morality and has not maintained an independent and impartial stance, he must be removed from service. The armed forces have no hesitation in doing so in the officer cadre. We should not hesitate in the case of civil services. 

Peer pressure is important. In the old days the civil services tended to be drawn from a narrow spectrum of class, educational background and even economic status. There was a homogeneity in 'the biradiri', but this did also give a certain exclusivity which kept out those from a less fortunate background. Now the services are much more broad based, which is as it should be in a democracy. Unfortunately the virus of caste has crept in and this has made the services less homogeneous, not in composition but in the general approach of officers to the administration as such. We have to restore to the civil services, through training, motivation, percept and example, a psyche and an attitude in which there will be very similar reaction of officers across the board to a given situation. Thus, if undue pressure is brought on an officer to do something which is not proper and if he refuses to do so, shifting him will not help because the next officer will also do exactly the same thing. In other words, the reaction of the civil services to a situation in which they are required to deviate from duty would be almost identical and the officers would refuse to do that which is improper. Our training academies and senior officers at every stage must indoctrinate the officers in behavior and attitude so that regardless of the officer's personal background he will react positively to that which is good and negatively to that which is improper.

Our academies are probably not equipped to undertake the above type of indoctrination. I am not talking of regimentation but rather of the development of a code of behavior to which all officers adhere. It is the academies which must evolve such codes and then make it second nature for the officers to adhere to the code. This can bring about a fundamental change in the behavior pattern of the civil services. Once the behavior pattern changes there will be peer pressure on officers to further the good and reject the improper and it is this peer pressure which will really reform the civil services. In this behalf a weighty burden falls on the All India Services which are supposed to be in the vanguard of the administration.

We also have to find a way in which arbitrariness in postings and transfers can be avoided. The administrative tribunals which were set up to give protection to civil servants against arbitrariness have failed. One reason for such failure is that these tribunals have become the refuge of retired judges and civil servants who really have no stake left in the system. The tribunals have also started to act as clones of regular courts without possessing the basic characteristics of a court, which is to give justice. We should abolish the tribunals and instead establish bodies within the Services which will perform the dual function of ensuring compliance with the code of conduct and protecting the Services from arbitrariness. 

There are certain key posts which must have a tenure, with no possibility of lateral movement. This would include the Cabinet Secretary and the Secretaries to government at the Centre. Such vital heads of departments as Director, CBI, the Chief Secretaries, Directors General of Police and PCCsF in the States and heads of key departments, including PWD, Irrigation, PHE, Medical and Public Health, Agriculture must also enjoy a tenure. There has to be system of selection to these key posts by a search committee which has credibility and ordinarily only a person from the approved panel should be appointed to the post. There must be a prescribed tenure in which the upper age limit does not apply. During this period the officer cannot be shifted, unless a departmental enquiry finds charges proved against him after a formal charge sheet. There should also be a provision for the officers holding posts such as those of Cabinet Secretary, Chief Secretary, DGP, PCCF, Secretary to Government of India, etc., not being eligible for any further appointments under government, not even in a public sector undertaking, on retirement. An officer who can no longer hope for further favors from government is more likely to be independent than one who uses his post as stepping stone to higher things. An independent head of department will be more protective of his subordinates and tolerate much less political and administrative interference in their work. In any case once the politicians find that they cannot whimsically transfer key officers they would be less inclined to dirty tricks in the administration.

Our system neither provides for reward for good work nor punishment for bad. There is no fear of consequence in this country any more. This fear has to be restored in the civil services, who must realize that failure of performance, failure to work impartially, failure to give correct advice and to stand by it, failure to maintain the highest standard of integrity will all result in swift and drastic action up to and including dismissal and prosecution. Simultaneously there has to be a system of rewards for good work. There should be an independent evaluation group which would determine how well an officer has performed and if it finds that an officer has worked above and beyond the call of duty or turned in performance of outstanding merit, he should be rewarded by being given a cash incentive, public recognition or accelerated promotion. We have to create a positive environment in which government servants look forward to being rewarded because their good work is recognized.

Protection against arbitrariness, punishment of those who do not live up to the highest standards of the service, rewards for good work, weeding out of the worthless, continuous indoctrination and motivation for improvement of the civil services and the agreement of parties to disagree on details whilst agreeing on basics are all means by which we can restore the rule of law and rebuild the civil services. This is both mete and proper because a democracy needs efficient civil services which are honest and have an 'lan.  


More by :  M. N. Buch

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