IAS and its changing nature over seven decades

IAS and its changing nature over seven decades
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IAS and its changing nature over seven decades

Highlights

When all is said and done, the IAS remains a preferred career for many youngsters

When all is said and done, the IAS remains a preferred career for many youngsters. It is not uncommon, even these days, to find parents dreaming that their children will one day become Collectors or even Governors. Getting into the IAS catapults one into the top half percent of the country's population in terms of access to basic comforts, professional satisfaction, the power and authority to serve society, and social status.

It is therefore, strange that officers should prefer material considerations to dignity, probity, honor, reputation and, most importantly, the need to give back something to the society which has put one where one is, especially in a country in which infant mortality, school dropouts, qualities of education and health care, poverty, squalor and fear still stalk the environment, both in the rural and urban areas.

And it is not as though a career in the IAS is not attractive from the point of view of the salary, perks and post-retirement benefits either, apart from the social prestige that goes with it. Having started Service on a princely monthly consolidated salary (while under training) of Rs.400/-, I now draw a monthly pension of over a lakh of rupees. In any case, if money is the only concern that a young person has in mind, there are many other financially attractive options, such as opening a pan shop in front of railway station.

Thanks to those three letters after my name, I am today a member of the Nizam Club in Hyderabad as also the Hyderabad Golf Club, memberships which carry a price tag of several lakh rupees with them today. Another tremendous advantage of belonging to the Service is the opportunity it offers for networking, both horizontally in the batch of recruitment, and vertically, in the cadre of the state of allotment.

I can recall dozens of instances where someone needing help approached me, and I was able to provide necessary assistance, through reaching out to the right person through such batch/cadre networking. Not that such instance goodwill are not available in other Services, or in the private sector, or, for that matter, even in professions such as medicine, law or engineering.

But the tremendous canvas of local level Government functionaries one can reach out to through the IAS network is really of great value when someone wants help. From services that a local body offers such as water supply or sanitation, to health and medical services, to securing police help dealing for threats to personal safety or thefts, from a railway reservation to the issuance of a passport, there is little that cannot be done, given the patience and the will.

Part of the reason for all this, perhaps, lies in the manner in which preparation to the civil services examinations has changed over time. I, for one, only had my father to help me. And preparation was a way of improving one's personality, no matter what happened to the result of the examinations. But, today, with the advent of highly commercial institutes, offering services to help 'crack' the 'civils', the expense, and energy, involved have increased so much that the examinations have become more of a product to be purchased, than an achievement that demonstrates one's talent and merit.

Rau suggests that the time is ripe for structural changes of a revolutionary nature, such as revisiting the relevant provisions of the Constitution. I, however, remain optimistic; I believe that, even within the existing system, and given a degree of determination on the part of the members of the Service, and the requisite political will, substantial improvements are not difficult. This confidence arises, in no small measure, from the enormous enthusiasm, determination, serious commitment, energy and empathy I see as I go round the two Telugu speaking states and meet younger officers of the Service..

The ambivalent attitude of the central government, towards the Service, was very much in evidence recently when, on the one hand, it resorted to 'open market' recruitment at the level of the Joint Secretary, in the government of India and, on the other, brought in an amendment to the rules requiring states compulsorily to release IAS officers to serve in the government of India. Quite frankly, I was reminded of my telling a TV anchor once, that my wife and I found it as difficult to stay away from each other, as to live together!

Speaking derisively of the discipline that is inculcated in the members of the Service, as a result of years of patient effort, and calling it a sign of servility is nothing new. I recall Morarji Desai, as Deputy Prime Minister, visiting Mussoorie during our training days, and, seeing us all turned out in buttoned up coats, saying "if I asked you people wear dhotis you would do so". In bad taste, we all thought, but he was in a position to get away with it. Incidentally, by way of reinforcing the earlier argument of the feelings towards the Service on the part of others, he was, for some time, a Deputy Collector (in the Bombay Provincial Civil Service) before joining politics!

Many constructive suggestions have emanated, from many quarters, about how to redeem the present situation and enable the Service to play its legitimate role as originally conceived. Only, wisdom and good sense are required in good measures, in the relevant quarters.

The Service remains the prime mover of policy – making as well as implementation in the country. And, as far as the salaries and perks go, they are no longer as unattractive as they were, for instance, when we joined the Service more than five decades ago. Not to mention to sheer width if the canvas available to one, the variety and choice, the fact that so much power and authority placed in one's hands, so early in one's career life, especially for use to ameliorate the conditions of the underprivileged, are added inducements. Why, I keep thinking that a Tahsildar, in a backward district of the country, wields more real authority, when it comes to helping the poor and the underprivileged, than even a captain of industry or a Minister in the government of India!

I have no hesitation, whatsoever, in saying that, given another birth, I would unhesitatingly choose to be a member of the IAS once again!

A story, most probably apocryphal, about Groucho Marx will provide the lighter side in this context. Groucho had applied for membership in an exclusive Hollywood club and, given his background credentials and public standing, was promptly admitted. He wrote back a polite letter saying that he would not like to become a member of an institution that accepted people such as he as members!

(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)

(The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)

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