THE Indian government should reshape recruitment and promotion processes of IAS, improve performance-based assessment of individual officers, and adopt safeguards that promote accountability while protecting them from political meddling, says a new paper released last week by US think tank — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Calling for urgent administrative reforms, the paper titled “The Indian Administrative Service Meets Big Data” further says that IAS is hamstrung by political interference, outdated…personnel procedures, and a mixed record on policy implementation. “Political interference generates substantial inefficiency: the best officers do not always occupy important positions, while political loyalty offers bureaucrats an alternative path to career success,” it further says. So, what can be done done immediately to achieve that? The Central and state governments, according to the US think tank paper, should pass and implement pending legislation that protects bureaucrats against politically motivated transfers and postings. In fact, the most states have stalled on such moves, despite judicial prodding.
Another aspect death by the research paper is sacking of inefficient IAS officers. It acknowledges that individual bureaucrats can have strong, direct, and measurable impacts on tangible health, education, and poverty outcomes. But the government should consider the proposal that “officers deemed unfit for further service at certain career benchmarks be compulsorily retired through a transparent and uniform system of performance review”. The paper then adds that the present government has moved in this direction, insisting that this procedure should be “institutionalized”.
The reason why the study took into consideration of only the IAS officers is because of “IAS’s disproportionate influence over policy formulation and implementation”. It then says, “While small in number, the influence of the IAS is outsize.”
On the predictable career progression of the IAS officers, it says: “Career progression is driven by seniority, not performance.” But it concedes that from their earliest days on the job, the IAS officers are entrusted with substantial responsibilities and authority over a large population.
In a sub-section called “Declining Human Capital”, the paper says one reason for the IAS’s “waning reputation” is the “supposedly diminishing quality of its recruits”. It then analyses: “Despite an incredibly competitive entrance examination—in 2016, 180 candidates were selected from a pool of 465,882 applicants (a success rate of 0.038 percent)—the government is finding it hard to lure young talent away from increasingly attractive private-sector opportunities.”
While talking about the decline quality of new recruits, the paper quotes yet another study to argue that successful candidates are “getting older, are increasingly less likely to hold a postgraduate degree, and take an average of four attempts to pass the entrance exam.”
“The combination of rising average age and lack of advanced academic qualifications implies that many candidates spend a majority of their twenties preparing for and taking entrance examinations for the elite civil services”, the paper adds.