Finding the right fix

Rather than imposing a mandate over officers, the Central government must assess the reasons behind their ‘unwillingness’ to be deputed for Central roles
A controversy is raging these days regarding the proposed amendments to the IAS (cadre) rules proposed by the Central Government. Several states have reacted strongly opposing these amendments as they feel that this would give the Government of India much greater control over the posting of IAS officers to the Center. This amendment is agitating the State Governments more because of certain recent orders issued by the Government of India like those relating to the Chief Secretary of West Bengal and some senior officers of the same state.

To put the matter in perspective it is important to understand the current rules regarding deputation. Central deputation in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is covered under rule 6(1) of the IAS cadre rule 1954 inserted in May 1969 which states that “a cadre officer may, with the concurrence of the State Governments concerned and the Central Government, be deputed for service under the Central Government or another State Government”. It further states that “provided that in the case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the Central Government and the State Government concerned shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government”.

There were around 5,200 IAS officers in the country as of January 1, 2021, and 458 were on central deputation. The Central Government is concerned because the required numbers of officers are not coming forward for central deputation and the Government of India is facing a shortage of officers. Central Government wrote to the State Governments recently pointing out that States were not sponsoring an adequate number of officers for central deputation. Depending upon the strength of the IAS officers in a particular state a central deputation reserve is created which indicates the number of officers, at various levels, who are eligible for Government of India deputation. Based on this, the Central Government asks for an “offer list” of officers from which it selects the required officers. The Government of India has now proposed an additional condition in 6(1) which states “provided that each government shall make available for deputation to the Central Government such number of eligible officers of various levels to the extent of the central deputation reserve”. It goes on to add that “the actual number of officers to be deputed to the Central Government shall be decided by the Central Government in consultation with the State Government concerned”. It also says that in the event of any disagreement the State Governments shall give effect to the decision of the Central Government within a specified time. In the letter written to the State Governments, the Central Government has also said that “in specific situations where services of cadre officers are required by the Central Government in the public interest the Central Government may seek the services of such officers for posting under the Central Government”. The states realized that through these changes the Government of India is taking greater control over the IAS officers and this is the reason why they are objecting quite vociferously.

It is significant to note that the willingness of the officer concerned to go on deputation to the Government of India is essential as per rule 6(2) which states that “no cadre officer shall be deputed except with his consent”. The clause about posting the officers in the Government of India in public interest appears to override this crucial requirement of the willingness of the officer concerned. In effect, it would mean that any time the Central Government can pull out an officer from the State Government to serve in Government of India irrespective of the willingness of the State Government or the officer concerned. This has become the real bone of contention, particularly, in the light of recent examples of West Bengal and earlier Tamil Nadu.

Most states are having a central deputation reserve shortfall. Over 14 states have a CDR shortfall of over 80 per cent with the West Bengal figure being 95 per cent and it is above 90 per cent for MP, Haryana and Telangana. It is a fact that most states are not meeting their CDR obligations. This is not in consonance with the concept of an All India Service. This is happening even though the annual recruitment to the service has gone up since 2000. There is a particular shortage at the level of Joint Secretaries, Directors and Deputy Secretaries. This is a genuine problem that needs to be resolved through consultation between States and Central Government.

It is also essential to understand the concept of All India Services as well as the federal structure of the constitution. The idea behind the creation of All India Services like IAS has been to have a common perspective between the State Governments and Government of India and that States should also function towards the achievement of national goals. On selection, IAS officers are assigned to a State cadre where they serve in the district and State Secretariat and acquire knowledge about the ground-level realities. They can also opt for central deputation and generally, they spend five years in the Government of India if selected and acquire a national and international perspective. He carries his experience back to the state after his central deputation period is over. The All-India character of the service is maintained by the mechanism of giving 1/3 of the vacancies in a state in a particular year to candidates who belong to the state and the balance is given to the officers from outside the state.

I think the most important point is that there should be a willingness on the part of the officer to go to the Government of India. He should not be forced to do so. Central Government must analyse why officers are not offering themselves to the Government of India. At the Deputy Secretary/ Director level the main issue is that at the same level of seniority the officer is working either as a District Magistrate or head of a department or some other important post in the state where he has a lot of authority to make decisions and the job is immensely satisfying. Further, creature comforts like a vehicle, house, schools for children and availability of health care are ensured. At the Deputy Secretary level in the Government of India, many of these hygiene factors are absent and even the job content is such that very few decisions are taken at that level and the officer is primarily involved in pushing files. If the Government of India really wants officers to opt for them at this level of seniority, it should focus on taking steps to enrich the job content and also provide basic creature comforts. I am surprised why there are fewer officers on offer for the Joint Secretary (JS) level posts because the JS is a crucial person in the Government of India and most decisions are taken by her and she contributes in a big way to the working of the department. The reasons for the shortage at the JS level would need to be studied. I feel one reason could be that a lesser number of officers were recruited into the IAS between 1990 and 2000 as a measure to slim down the bureaucracy who was misplaced and from 2000 onwards more officers are being selected into the IAS. The states are also guilty of not sparing officers for Government of India postings because they are doing some very important work and they cannot be allowed to go. They have been instances where due to political reasons the names of officers are not forwarded to the Government of India. I feel it is the responsibility of the State Governments to have the required number of officers in the central deputation reserve. Thereafter deputation to the Government of India can take place on the basis of the willingness of the officers and consultation between the two governments. This is how the character of All India Services can be maintained and also it is in accordance with the federal nature of our union. The problem only comes when political reasons start influencing this process either from the Government of India or the State Government level.

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Government needs effective communication strategy

The Government’s performance depends upon proper communication of its policies and schemes but little or no effort is made in this direction

I was the chief guest in a seminar of the medium and small industries sector (MSME) at Lucknow recently and surprised to find that the biggest problem appeared to be a huge communication gap between the government and the entrepreneurs. Most MSME members are not aware of the government schemes available for them and are unable to take advantage of them. That is why the objectives of the schemes are not fully realised.

MSME is a key sector. Nearly 60 million MSME units in the country employ about 110 million people and contribute 30 percent of GDP and 48 percent of exports. At the seminar,I found that most industrialists spoke about the problem of getting credit for the sector, marketingtheir products, and technological innovation. Later, when the various schemes were outlined and explained to them, they were surprised to find that they could run their industry much better by using the incentives offered by the government.

It was then decided that awareness meetings need to be held in various industrial areas, districts and academic institutions and that the government should take the initiative so that intended beneficiaries are sensitized properly. Strangely though, the entire performance of the government depends upon proper communication of its policies and schemesbut little or no effort is made in this direction. It is true for other sectors as well — agriculture, environment, health, and education. There is thus a need for a communication strategy at the level of the Union and State Governments.

I was closely associated during my tenure as an IAS officer with the information department of UP. The department issued advertisements to the mediato highlight government’s achievements. The vital schemes are mentioned but details are not given. Merely issuing an advertisement does not make people aware of the benefits of the schemes. During my tenure as District Magistrate, we had an information officer whose job wasto make people aware of the government schemes and projects. He was expected to use local folk artists and theatre to popularized government schemes and make them reach the citizens in a simple and entertaining manner. This used to be quite effective but over time these innovative tools of communication are not being resorted to.

The quickest way to reach the millions is through the use of social media. Increasingly the government and its officers are using Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Whatsapp messaging to communicate their ideas and schemes. Normally large budgets are allotted to the information department but somehow it is spent on expensive advertisements. We need to evaluate whether this budget is being utilized effectively and are the people being made aware of government schemes and policies.

One-way communication does not always give the right results. For communication to be effective, there is need for feedback. Fortunately, technology has made this a simple matter. I recall as Chief Secretary, I wanted to know whether the beneficiaries of various schemes are genuine and have got the desired benefit. In the past, the only way of knowing was to physically verify things. Technology now makes it possible to do 100 percent verification and in no time.We set up a call center to contact the listed beneficiaries on their cell phones to find out whether they had received assistance under various government schemes. We also gave them details of schemes over the phone and took their feedback and suggestions. This worked really well and I would like to use this template for future use of technology-based communication.

In rural areas radio is an excellent mode of communication. Television also plays a useful role. However, there is no substitute for old-fashioned face-to-face interaction. I remember as a District officer I use to visit villages and hold meetings explaining to the villagers about government schemes and how they could avail the benefits. The audience was given time to clear their doubts and put forward their grievances. Over the years paper work increased so much that that touring in the interior areas has become rare.

The government needs a professional approach for dissemination of information and communication with the citizens. Apart from print media, television, field visits and use of folk art, the strategy is to go digital.Social media has tremendous reach and therefore becomes an important medium. Technology can make information accessible to all. If the Government genuinely wants to get full benefit of the budget being spent on the development schemes it would be well advised to make communication strategy and consequent action plan one of its top priorities.

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Urgency for Reforms

Indian bureaucracy is in dire need of reforms to ensure its independent and harmonious functioning, as also to hold it accountable to the people

I had the opportunity of chairing a session in the annual convention of the Lucknow Management Association (LMA) on the very important topic of governance reforms for the transformation of Uttar Pradesh (UP). My session was on bureaucratic reforms and leadership development. The panel consisted of illustrious speakers like ex CAG and IAS officer Vinod Rai, Pradeep Mehta of CUTS International and Himanshu Rai, Director, IIM Indore. Though the focus was specifically on the state of UP, the webinar had a larger relevance in the context of the entire country as it is clear that good governance is essential to make India a developed economy. Various studies have established a clear correlation between good governance and pace of growth of GDP. Very often it has been argued that various political parties on coming to power come up with a large number of infrastructure projects and development schemes but have not made any substantial reforms in public governance.

Good public governance is about a system where there is accountability, transparency, impartiality, fairness and integrity. The institutions of governance have to perform their designated roles. It is important that quality public services are delivered to the citizens, which is the ultimate goal of good governance. There is no denying the fact that there is a need for greater result and outcome orientation in the government system. Bureaucratic reforms are an essential component of governance reforms.

Curiously, whenever there is a discussion on bureaucratic reforms, the talk centers on reforming the Indian administrative services (IAS). It is true that IAS is at the top of the bureaucratic structure but it accounts for much less than one per cent of the total bureaucracy. Merely reforming the IAS will not change everything as reforms have to travel down to the last level of the bureaucratic ladder. I can give a classic example of this from my experience in UP. At the top level, we went through several sessions of discussions, formulated policies and issued detailed government orders regarding ease of doing business. We were rewarded for this by attaining a high rank amongst the States in the ease of doing business rankings. However, despite our claim that all clearances should be given online, the prospective entrepreneur had to vigorously follow up at the lower level of bureaucracy to actually get his work done. For example, we found that though online clearance for power connection was given, the entrepreneur did not get the connection for a long time and had to constantly make an effort to contact the junior engineer to get the job done. Ease of doing business failed at the last stage of implementation. It is for this reason that it is important to consider changing the mindset of the entire bureaucracy and not merely the IAS.

The panelists rightly felt that there was a perception about the bureaucracy being unresponsive, insensitive and insulated from people. It is up to the officers themselves to look within and alter their working style to make it people- oriented or citizen- centric. For this they will have to look at themselves as providers of public services to the people and not as rulers. This requires an immense amount of humility, empathy and compassion. Training and orientation programmes can help in bringing about this attitudinal change. However, the real change will come if there is an inbuilt system of reward and punishment which rewards the right kind of behaviour and result orientation. It is not as easy as in the private sector to have quantifiable targets for issues relating to public policy. However, some degree of quantification is definitely possible. There are performance evaluation systems which can be designed to accurately measure the attitudinal aspects also.

For bureaucracy to perform, it has to come out of the maze of rules, processes and regulations, under the garb of which it generally shelters itself. This is possible with wide-ranging reforms in the entire system of governance where an officer is not penalized for bonafide actions done in public interest. We need these reforms to ensure a system of prompt decision-making which is the basis of good governance. Above all, the bureaucracy today needs to be innovative and always ready to take initiative in resolving problems of the people with a positive orientation.

It is not that the bureaucracy cannot perform. There are several instances of outstanding work done by the officers. Two recent examples are the vaccination drive against Coronavirus and the development of Kashi Vishwanath Temple corridor. I remember, during my tenure as Chief Secretary from 2014–16, we implemented game-changing projects like construction of Lucknow- Agra expressway, Lucknow Metro and Dial-100 in a record time with no cost overrun. The quality of execution was also exemplary. Even today, officers in the districts are doing a lot of good work which is not being recognised because of lack of documentation.

Good governance requires a relationship of mutual trust between the politicians and the bureaucrats. They are like two wheels of a vehicle which have to move in tandem otherwise the vehicle will not be able to move. Unfortunately, the instances of political interference in governance are on the rise. The mechanism of transfers is used by the political executive to control the working of the officers. Senior officers are not able to get the team they want because of this interference. It is well known that unless you have the right man on the right job it becomes difficult to deliver results. Today it is almost impossible for an officer to have a team of his choice.

It is necessary to develop leadership qualities at all levels of bureaucracy. The officers have to be trained to work in teams and be motivated and inspired to achieve the goals set for the organisation. They must develop the quality of reflective listening which means absorbing the opinions of others and also developing crucial negotiation skills. The bureaucracy has to implement laws in true spirit and provide justice to all citizens. They should wield power for the benefit of the citizens and development of the country. A system should be evolved where the officers need not reinvent the wheel every time but learn from the best practices of others.

Bureaucratic reforms are possible if there is a political will to do so. I hope that the mission Karamyogi started by the Government of India will prove to be a positive step in this direction. The bureaucracy must appreciate that the real test of their performance is in the hands of the citizens. They must deliver if they want respect. It is urgently required to reform the system of governance and make it accountable to deliver outcomes without which the bureaucracy shall never be able to justify itself.

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Opinion: DoPT finally sets out to rectify deficit of IAS officers at Center; what actually needs to be done

According to the data provided by DoPT the authorized strength of IAS officers is 6,699 as on 1st January, 2019 but the actual officers available are 5205

In a welcome move the Department of Personal and Training (DoPT) has given an in-principle approval for constituting a committee to look into the deficit of IAS officers at the center and to suggest a recruitment plan for the years 2021 to 2030. The main issue is the shortage of IAS officers in various senior positions. The estimated amount of shortage as told by DoPT to a parliamentary panel is in excess of 1,500.

According to the data provided by DoPT the authorized strength of IAS officers is 6,699 as on 1st January, 2019 but the actual officers available are 5205. It is also a matter of concern that this gap between the sanctioned strength and actual availability is gradually increasing.

The genesis of this shortage can be traced back to the reports of the Central Pay commissions, particularly, that of 1996. This was a period of grave financial crises being faced by Government of India as well as the state governments.

I remember that the Government of UP was facing a situation where the daily cash flow management had become a challenge and we were concerned about the revenue as well as fiscal deficit. The pay commission had recommended higher pay scales for all government officers and employees but had also cautioned about the financial impact. A major part of the recommendation of the pay commission report was about how to control the expenditure on salaries.

I recall that we had arrived at a figure of 3 percent employees retiring every year and it was decided to fill up only 2 percent of the vacancies thus created and in this manner gradually reduce the government staff. This did not take into account the imbalance that such a measure would bring about.

In addition to the above the recruitment to various government posts was slashed and, in particular, the IAS was a major sufferer. The batch strength of the IAS was reduced considerably and brought down to below 100 every year. This led to serious crises and I remember that in a state like UP where we have 75 districts it became a very difficult task to find officers to man the district administration. In fact, several batches of the IAS had only about 4 to 5 people joining the UP cadre. This trend continued for quite some time and is one of the major reasons for the shortage of officers of a particular seniority which is having an adverse impact today at both Government of India and state government levels.

In particular, there is a huge shortage of officers at the Deputy Secretary and Director level in the Government of India. The realization soon dawned on the policy makers and larger batches began to be recruited going up to a level of 180 every year. It is not clear whether a proper rational assessment has been done to decide upon this figure and there are those who feel that this number should be further increased.

In the light of this I find merit in the Government of India decision to setup a committee to examine this issue. We must make an assessment of the number of posts that would be required in the IAS to meet the current and future challenges of governance. They will have to take into account the number of officers recruited directly into the IAS as well as those promoted from the state civil services.

The shortage is more manifest at the Government of India level than in the states. This is because the states can fill up vacancies by rapid promotion of the officers belonging to the state civil services. The number of years required for state civil service officers to be promoted to the IAS varies from state to state ranging from 10 to 25 years.

Again, this is not based on any scientific study but is implemented more as a rule of thumb or decided by the kind of pressure which state officers can mount on the political executive. It is also pertinent to note that the state civil service officers, but for a few exceptions, do not opt for a posting in Government of India on promotion to the IAS.

There are some obvious reasons because of which young IAS officers do not opt for Government of India at the Deputy Secretary / Director level.

The fact is that at the same level of seniority an officer gets much greater creature comforts at the state level as compared to Central government. Many officers are posted as district officers which is one of the most attractive posting for an IAS officer. Even in the state government he is either head of department or in a significant position in the state secretariat where he does not have to bother about issues like an official vehicle, house, school, independent office etc. At the same level if he comes to Government of India he finds that very often he might even have to share an office room and is not likely to get an official vehicle.

A very interesting feature is that in Government of India only Secretaries have an attached toilet to their office while the others have to use a common facility. Then it might take him months to get an official accommodation and for this period he has to fend for himself. The houses allotted, also, are nowhere near what he would get in the state government. To this are added the woes of getting your child admitted to a good school and getting adequate medical facilities.

It is, thus, no rocket science as to why a young officer prefers to stay back in the states rather than going to Centre leading to a shortage of officers at the Center. Moreover, below a Joint Secretary level officers in GOI mainly do clerical work where no decision making takes place at their level. The position is very different in the districts and state governments.

In the IAS, out of total vacancies in a state cadre a certain percentage is filled by those candidates who belong to that state while the balance goes to officers from outside. It is generally seen that the “insiders” prefers to stay back in the state while the “outsiders” have a greater propensity to opt for GOI.

Also, officers allotted to North Eastern states prefer to come to Delhi while officers from states nearer to Delhi often prefer to remain in the states.

It is good that the entire issue is finally being examined. It is clear that to attract IAS officers to GOI at a level below Joint Secretary the service conditions would have to be improved and jobs enriched. The whole issue of requirement of IAS officers at each level needs to be scientifically determined. The reality is that the intake of IAS officers each year will have to be enhanced.