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How To Make The Indian Civil Services Market-Friendly

The Indian private sector, too, has changed – driven by intense market pressures, the regulatory influence of the new Companies Act and SEBI Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements – emerging as smart, methodical and transparent, albeit in an exclusivist way.

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In light of the Prime Minister’s recent outburst in Parliament about the stranglehold of the IAS, there is need to examine ways to diversify the feedstock for top jobs in government.

That the PM was only contextually cynical and, in fact, recognizes the relevance of the IAS is borne out by the fact that he has consciously chosen IAS officers to head every conceivable key position around him – in his own PMO, the Governor RBI, the CAG, the CVC, the Competition Commission, the National Health Authority, the Insurance Regulatory Authority, the Electricity Regulatory Authority, the SEBI, the NHAI … even as Lt Governors and as a Minister. Since the IAS is the most impactful and the veritable public face of the civil services, the need for reform can never be overstated.

The IAS today has shed the cultural elitism of the past. Its officers cut their teeth in long spells in districts handling multi-dimensional development works – rubbing shoulders with lowly farmers, health and sanitation workers, tribals, dalits – to the politically high and mighty. These officers are harbingers of technology, upholders of public morality, and sentinels of national unity with at least half their strength transplanted in regions vastly different from those they hailed from. As a system they have largely delivered – holding up the fragile fabric of the country from – pandemics, agitations, civil emergencies, atrocities, distributive injustices and so on. Whenever the political executive has invoked radical reforms, they have ensured their rigorous implementation. Shortcomings have occurred only when the directions are ambiguous or the political consensus has been elusive – eg, in the implementation of GST or the new Farm Laws. Or, when the agenda being pursued by the political executive appears dodgy and is liable to be questioned as being unconstitutional.

Today, the Indian private sector, too, has changed – driven by intense market pressures, the regulatory influence of the new Companies Act and SEBI Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements – emerging as smart, methodical and transparent, albeit in an exclusivist way. If private sector efficiencies are to be emulated and imbibed by the civil services – there are two ways of ensuring that. One, vigorously promote Public Private Partnerships in all fields including in social sectors. For this to work, create fireproof systems to safeguard officers from political vagaries and witch-hunts if and when things go awry. Further, allow (they are currently barred from joining the private sector) career civil servants to find their worth outside the government for a few years while retaining their lien – and permit them to plug back into government, without loss of seniority. Start with publicly listed companies and start-ups – joining these should not require scrutiny. Likewise, let young private sector executives join freely in the districts for defined periods to gain experience in social sectors – government offers the best field experience in inclusion and sustainability. That will help prepare a diverse talent pool of expertise for top positions in the government – civil servants with a better market-orientation and private sector experts with social sensitivity. The nation will also benefit from a dynamic cross-pollination of modern ideas on the go.

For a developing country such as ours, we should feel reassured that we have a permanent civil service that is essentially inclusive, secular and impartial, as compared to a private cadre that has a profit-oriented vision and a personalized agenda. Indeed, the very best KPIs can be extracted from the civil service. But, that will depend on – quality, consistency, depth and sincerity – of directions that flow from the very top.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Raghav Chandra

Former Secretary Government of India

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