Need to change administrative mindset
by Amitabh Thakur on 19 Jan 2013 16 Comments

There is an urgent need for the Centre to revisit the present administrative structure in which generalists (officers of the Indian Administrative Service) have come to occupy all important positions in the Government of India and the various State Governments, resulting in the complete sidelining of specialists. There is, equally, a need to study the pattern and schedule of posting of officers of the IAS to all posts of coordination such as SDM, ADM, DM, Commissioner etc, so that these officers are posted after much more experience than at present, and are posted to these important posts for a much longer period than at present in view of the needs, relevance and importance.


Currently, members of the IAS are placed at all important places in all Ministries in the Central Government, all Departments and Ministries of various State Governments, and also as Head of the District and Sub-divisional structure of the administration. Again, IAS officers play the roles of Co-ordination officer at Sub-Divisional, District and Divisional level as the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, District Magistrate/Collector and Divisional Commissioner.


This set-up needs to be changed as it has failed to deliver the requisite goals and has lost much of its utility. Also, having Generalists at all pivotal places in all Ministries and Departments is counter-productive; we need respective specialists in these Ministries and Departments. Even the roles of co-ordination need to be revamped and restructured in such a manner that the officers occupying these ranks are much more mature and experienced than the present ones and are made to occupy these ranks after sufficient experience.


There are very definite reasons for believing so. It is well-known that the Indian administrative structure, as it stands today, is primarily ruled by the IAS. Its precursor was the Imperial Civil Service or Indian Civil Service (ICS), the elite higher civil service of the British Empire in south Asia between 1858-1947. Historians often rate the ICS, together with the railways, the legal system and the army, as the most important legacies of the British rule in India.


What needs to be understood is that with the passage of time, these services are fast losing relevance and prestige. Innumerable cases of corruption, ineptitude, malpractice, inefficiency, callousness, partisan behaviour, and political servility have made it a much reduced force than in the British period. Besides, a new problem seems to be emerging. While the 19th and early 20th century were the age of Generalists, where a person could be considered an expert in many subjects, this is the era of Specialists.


Today, while an IPS officer knows about policing, a Forest officer knows about the environment and forests, a Railway officer knows the Indian Railways, an IFS officer knows Diplomacy, a Power Engineer knows about electricity, a Doctor about Medicine and Health, and so on, an IAS officer does not have sound/thorough knowledge about any of these areas. As far as his training is concerned, he is mostly taught revenue law along with the basics of management and public administration.


With only cursory knowledge about many different departments, this IAS officer is made in-charge of almost every Department and Ministry at Central and State level. Outside government, however, super-specialization seems to rule the roost. Thus, an IAS officer who is appointed Secretary of a Ministry or Department only yesterday is presumed to know more than other Departmental Officers (Specialists) who have been working for years. Yet the new Secretary, with hardly any experience in that field, feels free to dictate terms and may change, overrule or amend any decision coming from a specialist of several years’ standing. Surely it is time to revisit this system of governance.


The world has changed immensely since 1800 and 1900 and a service useful in pre-independence days might have lost its relevance today. In the last 150 years, there has been a huge surge in specialization and super-specialization. The vast increase in knowledge has made it impossible for a person to know everything, and complexities and intricacies have come up in each field of activity. In such circumstances, to have a service which stands by archaic values and ways of thinking seems rather impractical.


There is also another aspect of the IAS – its role as Coordinator. The Sub-Divisional Magistrate, District Magistrate/Collector and Divisional Commissioner at the Sub-Divisional, District and Divisional level are Revenue officials and also coordinators of various Departments; they serve as the common bridge for coordinated and concerted functioning of the District Administration. The Chief Secretary at State level and Cabinet Secretary at National level play exactly the same role of coordination on behalf of various Departments and Ministries of their respective Government and with other Governments.


It is undeniable that there is a need for a coordinator at each level of administration. Since IAS officers are generalists by nature and profession, they seem to suit this role of coordination. Yet there is one serious problem – an IAS officer is given this extremely important role at a very early stage of his service. Thus, we have a situation in which an officer with just two years of service is posted as SDM and put in charge of directing, dictating and coordinating officers from 40-45 Departments, who are senior and more experienced than him.


Similarly, a DM is appointed after 4-6 years of experience in the IAS, and works as coordinator for the Chief Medical Officer, Executive Engineer, Basic Education Officer and so on, all senior officials who have been working in their Departments as specialists for decades.


While most other officers, except the District SP and the District Forest Officer, belonging to the IPS and the IFS are quite experienced with 10-20 years of experience, we have a situation in which an officer with hardly 4-6 years experience is given charge of guiding, directing, instructing and coordinating their work. This is both harmful and counter-productive.


It is imperative that these roles of coordinator at Sub-Divisional and District level, which are extremely important in the present system of governance, are seen in the light of contemporary needs. Such rectification is long overdue if we are to overcome the pervasive under-performance as also the stranglehold of a particular service.


The author is an IPS officer, UP cadre; the views expressed are personal

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top