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 1 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 1 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 the 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 crisis 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 governments level.

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 GoI 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 the 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 goes 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 GoI 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” prefer 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.

(The author is a retired 1978-batch IAS officer from the UP cadre; views are personal)


Union Budget 2022 Analysis with Leading Voices of Public Sector

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1 presented the Union Budget for 2022-23, with the focus on fast-tracking the economy, providing opportunities to businesses and creating six million new jobs. Technology, Agriculture, healthcare, MSMEs and infrastructure, too, feature prominently in the minister’s scheme of things.

Senior public sector leaders joined us to decode the fine print of the budget announcements and key takeaways for various sectors including government IT, urban development, health and education.


Mohd Ujaley, Senior Assistant Editor, ETGovernment
Alok Ranjan, Former Chief Secretary, Uttar Pradesh
Dr. Bhimaraya Metri, Director, IIM Nagpur
Vidya Sagar Singh, Senior General Manager & Head-Digital Services, National Small Industries Corporation (NSIC)
Amit Jindal, Co-Founder, Flex Advisory
Amit Singh, Partner – Technology, PwC India


Glaring lapses

Urban misgovernance, illegal encroachments, and fast-depleting urban water bodies are the root causes behind the massive deluge faced by major Indian cities

All of us have been concerned by the pictures of major cities, including the national capital of Delhi, being flooded by heavy monsoon showers. A blame game is going on, and it is being said that there has been unusually extreme heavy rainfall that the drainage system was not geared to handle. Undeniably, the rainfall has been excessive, perhaps the heaviest downpour in a day, breaking records of over 40 years. However, making this an excuse for an unprepared drainage system is not acceptable. Climate change has given rise to unpredictable climate issues, and the last several years have witnessed heavy rainfall getting concentrated within a couple of days. The system should have anticipated and been ready for this. Better planning and proactive measures are the answers to this kind of situation.

In any case, it was distressing to see the national capital of Delhi being deluged by the rains, with water flowing above knee level. In the past two decades, we have seen similar flooding take place in cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad. The main causes of this phenomenon are illegal encroachments, inadequate stormwater drainage capacity, the disappearance of urban wetlands, which used to function as natural drains, and the tendency of solid waste being dumped into the drains and clogging them. Stormwater drains are an essential part of urban infrastructure, yet my experience of working in the urban development department has been that it is perhaps the most unglamorous activity and receives the least attention from urban governments. In many cities, stormwater drains were constructed almost 100 years ago and are now in no position to handle the increase in the intensity of rainfall brought about by the vagaries of climate change. The Government of India is aware of this problem and has issued detailed guidelines to upgrade these stormwater drains, but either due to a paucity of funds, lack of technical knowledge, or simply a careless approach, these guidelines have not been implemented in many cities.

Strange as it may sound, many cities do not have proper drainage maps that show the location, gradient, and outflow of these drains. How can we talk of having smart cities if we do not have an idea of the drainage system? Interestingly, I recall when I was the Municipal Commissioner of Allahabad in the late 1980s, there was an area in the city that used to get heavily waterlogged during every monsoon. On enquiring and delving into the details, I was amazed to find that in several portions, the drain was sloping in the wrong direction, leading to the accumulation of water. This was not an isolated incident; similar situations could be present in many cities and require a detailed inspection of the drainage system.

Every year before the monsoon, elaborate instructions are issued for cleaning the drains so that the garbage in the drains is taken out and the drains are desilted. Unfortunately, despite huge amounts of money being spent, this activity never gets done properly due to collusion between the Municipal staff and the contractors, or simply because of poor supervision and monitoring. Sometimes, the silt taken out of the drains is stacked on the side of the drain and conveniently finds its way back into the drain with the very first monsoon shower. To complicate the matter, there are several areas that are unauthorized or informal and do not have drains or sewers, and the water has no place to go. In many places, particularly in market areas, the drains have been encroached upon, leading to the accumulation of water and flooding of the roads.

Most of the cities have historically had urban wetlands that provide a natural avenue for water to flow into. These urban wetlands have disappeared at an alarming pace, replaced by concrete structures that block the natural flow of water. Lucknow Municipal Corporation had 964 ponds in 1952, but only 494 remained in 2006, and the figure must have substantially reduced by now. Bangalore had 260 lakes in the 1960s, but only 80 remained in 2019. Devashish Dhar, in his book on managing our cities, has quoted ADB experts as saying that between 1970 and 2014, Mumbai lost 71 per cent of its wetlands, Hyderabad 55 per cent, NCR Delhi 38 per cent, Ahmedabad 57 per cent, and Greater Bangalore 56 per cent. Obviously, this means that we have lost out on the natural water regulation and flow in a big manner. We must urgently attend to rejuvenating urban water bodies, which recharge the groundwater and also assist in absorbing rainwater.

The causes are well known, as are the measures to be taken to redress this problem. However, it requires a strong will on the part of the government and also funds. The issue is not only a technical one but ultimately one of reforming urban finances and urban governance. The focus has to be on urban planning and innovative ways of developing infrastructure and financing.

For example, the city of Kuala Lumpur has constructed a huge stormwater drain and road tunnel that carries a large amount of water from the city to a storage reservoir, protecting the city from flash floods. Similarly, China has started a “sponge city” initiative under which, by 2030, chosen districts will be able to capture, reuse, and absorb 80 per cent of the stormwater runoff.

The root cause of the problem is urban governance, which needs to be addressed urgently. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments took a huge stride in this direction, but the States have not been forthcoming in implementing the constitutional amendments in letter and spirit. Both the politicians and the bureaucrats are responsible for this. The MLAs and MPs do not want to share political space with the local body elected representatives like the Mayor and Chairman of Municipalities, and the bureaucrats resent any reform which they perceive as bringing about a reduction in their authority. Janaagraha, an NGO that has done excellent work in the area of urban development, carried out an annual survey of Indian city systems to assess the quality of governance in selected Indian cities. The benchmark cities for this survey, London and New York, scored as high as 9.3 and 9.8, respectively, while the Indian cities scored an average of 3.5, showing the poor state of governance in Indian cities.

If we have to address the problems of drainage, sewerage, solid waste management, urban transport, urban pollution, or slum development, then the topmost priority has to be given to urban governance reforms. The Mayor and the councillors need to be empowered and held accountable. There is a need for sustained effort to build their capacities. Senior civil servants with the right kind of aptitude need to be selected to serve in urban Municipal corporations for a reasonable tenure. A cadre of city managers is required with the right kind of qualifications and training. Similarly, a separate competent cadre of engineers and other technical personnel, such as waste management experts, is required to be developed.

Funds, functions, and functionaries must be transferred to the local bodies, and grassroots democracy in the cities should be strengthened to ensure accountability. Parastatals like development authorities must, sooner or later, cede space to the municipal corporation. The cities must generate sufficient resources of their own, and there should be a larger devolution of funds from the States to the urban local bodies. Technology must become an essential ingredient of urban government. If serious thinking on these issues is done, policies formulated, and implemented, then our cities can surely become engines of growth, providing a high quality of life to its citizens.

The writer is an ex-Chief Secretary, Govt of Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal.


Marred with obstacles

Even though Central and state governments have been working diligently to promote the MSME sector as economy’s growth engine, plethora of challenges persist

June 27 is celebrated as World MSME Day. MSMEs not only play a crucial role in India’s economic scenario but are also of great global relevance. According to the World Bank, small and medium enterprises play a major role in most economies worldwide, particularly in developing countries. They represent 90 per cent of global businesses and contribute to more than 50 per cent of employment. The World Bank estimates that around 600 million jobs will be needed by 2030 to absorb the growing global workforce, making the development of MSME sectors a priority for most governments.

In India, the MSME sector provides significant employment opportunities at a comparatively lower capital cost than large industries and serves as an important vehicle for industrialisation in rural and backward areas. The MSME sector in India contributes about 29 per cent of GDP and 31.83 per cent of GVA. It also accounts for 48.10 per cent of exports and creates employment for almost 11 crore people.

Any industry with an investment in plant and machinery up to Rs 50 crore and an annual turnover not exceeding Rs 250 crore qualifies as an MSME. These limits have presumably been expanded based on the requests of certain industry sectors, with the aim of bringing more units under the ambit of MSME. However, in my opinion, this new definition compromises the interests of the micro sector, which accounts for 99.47 per cent of the total units under MSME and provides 96.96 per cent of employment. A micro-industry is defined as one with an investment of up to Rs 1 crore and turnover of less than Rs 10 crore. This situation leads to larger units in the MSME sector cornering all the benefits of various government schemes.

Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of MSMEs, accounting for 14 per cent of the total. The employment generated by MSMEs is almost equal across manufacturing, trade, and other services.

Despite its obvious importance to the Indian economy, the MSME sector continues to face several challenges such as the availability of adequate and timely credit, high credit costs, collateral requirements, retention of skilled personnel, access to equity capital, rehabilitation of sick enterprises, and more. Many micro units remain unregistered or unmapped, which hampers the government’s ability to develop and support them. Furthermore, one of the biggest hurdles is the lack of financing, as banks and financial institutions are often reluctant to meet the credit needs of the MSME sector, possibly due to their past experiences of high ratios of bad loans. Additionally, the MSME sector suffers from significant delays in payments, including those from the government and other entities. The lack of a reliable and up-to-date database is another challenge. Moreover, due to their limited paying capacity, this sector faces a shortage of skilled manpower, resulting in a lack of desired managerial capabilities.

Since most units in the MSME sector belong to the micro sector, it is this sector that plays a major role in generating new employment. India has the largest number of people in the working age, and with more and more young individuals entering the workforce, creating sufficient employment opportunities has become the biggest challenge for the Indian economy. Therefore, it is crucial to provide focused attention and emphasis on the micro sector. It is recommended to establish a special cell within the MSME sector specifically dedicated to addressing the problems faced by this sector.

There is no doubt that the Government of India and state governments have introduced numerous schemes for the development of the MSME sector. To provide technical education to the MSME sector, the government has implemented the Technology Centre System Programmes, which involve the development of technology centres to provide technical education and support. Steps have also been taken to simplify the registration process for these units through various digital platforms. The Micro Unit Development and Refinancing Limited (MUDRA) is another significant initiative aimed at providing employment opportunities to small entrepreneurs. Additionally, there are schemes like the Credit Guarantee Scheme, which was announced as relief during the COVID period, and the Prime Minister Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP). State governments have also introduced their own schemes, such as One District One Product (ODOP) by the Uttar Pradesh government

To enable the MSME sector to benefit from these schemes, the government has assured a single-window clearance system, eliminating the need for entrepreneurs to navigate multiple departments for permissions. Governments have also provided capital subsidy, interest subsidy, GST refunds, and reduced stamp duty. Several state governments have prescribed a preference of up to 20 to 25 per cent for the MSME sector in government purchases.

 However, it is evident that there is a lack of awareness among MSME entrepreneurs regarding the plethora of government schemes formulated for their benefit. Moreover, even if they are aware of a scheme, they often lack the necessary skills to access its benefits. Therefore, it is crucial to make concerted efforts to raise awareness among entrepreneurs about government schemes and provide them with training on how to apply for various schemes and submit the required documents. Continuous handholding is particularly needed, especially for the micro sector.

 If the micro sector and the entire range of MSMEs are to play their important roles in the Indian economy, certain steps need to be prioritised. To begin with, the definition of the MSME sector needs to be reconsidered. It is important to reserve a certain percentage in all government schemes, especially for the micro sector, enabling them to benefit from opportunities. By setting separate targets for the micro sector, bankers will also be more inclined to extend credit to them. One of the major issues plaguing the MSME sector is the problem of pending payments. Although the government of India has announced a 45-day payment timeframe, this is not being implemented effectively. It is imperative to establish a payment recovery tribunal for MSMEs to ensure timely payments.

The government’s preference purchase policy should ensure that the 25 per cent procurement from the MSME sector becomes a reality, and fabricated claims of poor quality should not be used as a ground to deny them this benefit. Once again, a separate quota for the micro sector within this policy is necessary. While most governments now make purchases through the digital GEM Portal, which has advantages and acts as a check against corruption, the tender specifications often tend to favour larger enterprises and exclude the MSME sector. Therefore, it is crucial to launch a major capacity building program for the MSME sector. An escrow mechanism to ensure payments to MSMEs from the government should also be considered. Above all, there is a need for the development of a separate MSME stock exchange to facilitate funding for the MSME sector from the market.

Governments tend to focus on attracting new investments and setting up new units, often neglecting the grievances of existing units. It is necessary to formulate a framework for addressing grievances and establish policies for the revival and rehabilitation of sick MSMEs. Lastly, the development of a proper MSME data bank is essential to formulate appropriate policies and channelise benefits to the MSME sector.

In conclusion, it is important to acknowledge the attention given to the MSME sector at both the central government and state government levels. However, this sector still faces challenges, and persistent and greater efforts are required to make it viable and allow it to fulfil its role as the growth engine of the economy.

The writer is an ex-Chief Secretary, Govt of Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal


Balance of power

SC’s decision regarding powers of transfers and postings of civil servants is laudable, but the NCTD government should uphold the criteria of professional competence and integrity

The Supreme Court’s verdict on executive control over administrative services in the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD) has generated immense interest and discussion. The Supreme Court has unequivocally stated that the Union and the NCTD share a unique federal relationship. NCTD is not subsumed into the Union solely because it is not a state. The legislative assembly of NCTD has jurisdiction over entries in the state list and concurrent list, except for those entries that are expressly excluded, such as public order, police, and land. The executive of NCTD extends to all matters in which it has the power to legislate, and the Lieutenant Governor is bound by the decisions of the NCTD government on services. This means that now, apart from the excluded services mentioned above, the authority for transfers and postings of Indian Administrative Service officers and officers of other services shall rest with the NCTD government. Of course, since certain departments have been excluded postings in the home department, posts like BDA vice chairman, MCD commissioner and chairperson of New Delhi Municipal Corporation shall remain with the Union government. As for the chief secretary, the centre will continue to make the appointment, albeit in consultation with the chief minister.

The verdict of the Hon’ble Supreme Court is based on the interpretation of the governance scheme outlined in the Constitution. As an administrative officer and a member of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), having previously held the position of Chief Secretary in Uttar Pradesh, I can say based on my experience that this decision will undoubtedly enhance the administration system. Even before the Hon’ble Supreme Court delivered its judgment, I used to contemplate how the Delhi government would function because, ultimately, governance relies on the cooperation between elected political representatives and the permanent civil service, all working in the interest of the citizens. The elected politician represents the people, and in any democracy, the government must operate in accordance with the will of the people and for the people. This necessitates that the political executive is held accountable to the legislature. Furthermore, the political executive formulates policies with the assistance of the civil service, and it is the duty of civil servants to properly implement these policies. Civil servants must be held accountable for their actions. The political executive must oversee the work of civil servants to ensure that appropriate action is taken in accordance with the will of the people, as reflected in the policies of the governing administration.

Transfers and postings hold great significance in the career of a civil servant. It is natural for an officer to be more responsive to the person who possesses the authority over transfers and postings. Prior to the Supreme Court’s order, this authority was vested in the office of the Lieutenant Governor rather than the Chief Minister. This created an anomalous situation where officers were more inclined to report their actions to the LG rather than the CM. In any state government, the Chief Minister cannot fulfil the mandate of the people without the support of the civil service. This led to avoidable situations, such as the alleged manhandling of the Chief Secretary of Delhi by public representatives in the presence of the Chief Minister, and all IAS officers initiating a non-cooperation movement against the ministers in response to this incident. These incidents indicate a significant lack of trust between the officers and the elected government, which is likely to have adverse effects on performance at the ground level. One can empathise with the civil servants in such a situation, as they are being pulled in two directions with two centres of power demanding their accountability. The ultimate sufferer in this scenario is the citizen, for whom the government exists. It is in this context that I believe the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s decision to grant the powers of transfers and postings of civil servants to the NCTD government will undoubtedly contribute to a more professional and effective functioning of the government.

Having served as chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, I have experienced first-hand that the chief secretary and the chief minister must work in close coordination to achieve good governance. Similarly, the principal secretary and the relevant minister must work in harmony to formulate and implement policies. Of course, civil servants must operate in accordance with the Constitution and the government’s rules of business. However, the strength of civil servants lies in their political neutrality. They must remain committed to the government’s policies while ensuring that these policies are in the best interest of the people and compliant with the law. Their job is to provide unbiased and honest advice and implement policies for the benefit of the citizens.

Immediately after the Supreme Court judgment, I read that the service secretary of the NCTD government had been transferred, and the government announced that a significant number of officers would soon be transferred to enhance governance. I also came across the statement that honest and efficient officers would be given important postings, while corrupt and incompetent ones would face consequences. I have no complaint about this because officers should indeed be honest and efficient, and they need to be held accountable for their performance. However, my only concern is that the pendulum may not swing to the other side, resulting in certain officers being unjustly punished due to their perceived association with the previous administration. It should not become a situation where officers are expected to demonstrate loyalty to a particular political party. I hope that, in the future, merit becomes the primary criterion for transfers and postings, rather than alleged political affiliations. Unfortunately, in many states nowadays, the power of transfers and postings has been weaponised by ruling parties to intimidate civil servants into submission. It is disheartening to witness civil servants being categorised along political party lines in several states. This creates a situation where some civil servants receive favourable postings when a specific political party comes to power, only to be discarded once the government changes. The officers holding esteemed positions in a particular government should not be interpreted as a reflection of their personal loyalty to that political party. It is the duty of officers to serve with professional integrity under any government that has been duly elected by the people. Officers are usually posted based on their competence rather than their political affiliations. However, I do acknowledge that there is an alarming trend in many states where officers are deviating from the longstanding principle of political neutrality and attempting to exploit their closeness to a particular political party for personal gain. This increasing tendency poses a significant threat to the efficiency of the entire governance system.

I am convinced that the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s decision regarding the powers of transfers and postings of officers will undoubtedly contribute to the establishment of a more responsive and accountable civil service. However, the NCTD government should also ensure that professional competence and integrity serve as the criteria for future transfers and postings. I would like to emphasise that during the time of independence, the Indian Civil Service (ICS) was criticized for following the instructions of the colonial government. However, visionaries like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel defended the ICS and stated that the civil service had always fulfilled its duties, and it would continue to serve the government of independent India with the same professional competence as it did under the previous administration.

The writer is an ex-Chief Secretary, Govt of Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal


Setting benchmark for posterity

IAS officers must live up to the lofty ideals envisaged at the time of incorporation of the service, and act independently for welfare of the people

April 21 is celebrated as the national Civil Services Day. It was on April 21, 1947, that Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel introduced the All-India Services to the nation by transforming the former Indian civil service. I would talk about the IAS in this article (being a member of this service, I feel more qualified to do so). The IAS is the direct successor to the ICS which was known as the steel frame of the country, and the entire British administration of India depended on the competence, strength, impartiality and integrity of the service. However, at the time of independence, the ICS faced a monumental crisis of existence because of having served the colonial masters and carried out their orders through which they had incurred the displeasure of many leaders of the nationalist movement. There was a feeling of resentment and they were seen as oppressors. Many senior leaders called for abolition of the ICS but the service found a savior in home minister Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel who was clear that many of them were loyal and patriots, and that they would now give their total support to the new government of independent India. He went so far as to say, “if most of the members of the service had not been serving the country efficiently, practically, the Union would have collapsed”. However, to remove the psychological barrier that people may have against the ICS, he introduced the IAS which would be an all-India service and be recruited through a common exam.

On the annual civil service day, IAS officers must go back to the expectations that Sardar Patel had for the service. He famously said, “you are pioneers in the Indian service and the future of the service will depend much upon the foundation and tradition that will be laid down by you, by character and abilities and by your spirit of service”. He highlighted the five characteristics the IAS as the service should have. The foremost among these was absolute impartiality and incorruptibility, followed by integrity, working without any expectation of extraneous rewards, sovereignty and spirit of service. He went on to say, “along with discipline you must cultivate and esprit de corps without which a service has little meaning. You should regard it as a proud privilege to belong to the service – covenants of which you will sign and uphold, through your service, its dignity, integrity and incorruptibility”.

The IAS today has to ask itself whether it has lived up to the lofty ideals with which it was created. The answer to this would be mixed. The service has produced outstanding and dedicated officers who have contributed to building the nation, and they have stood for the values enshrined in the Constitution as well as worked with a sense of service to the people. Yet, a large section of people criticize the service as being rule-bound, resistant to change, overbearing, arrogant, self-seeking, obstructionist and not suited for the 21st century. Some of these adverse perceptions may not be based on reality, but it cannot be denied that the IAS is at the crossroads, and it is only through working with integrity and impartiality and delivering results, that they would be able to justify their existence.

One of the charges against the service is that of elitism but this is not true today as the service today represents a diverse body of individuals who are in a position to understand the genuine problems faced by the nation. The technological, social, economic and political environment is changing at a rapid pace, and the IAS as a service must show that it has the capacity and dynamism to not only respond to these changes but also provide leadership for the future. There is no doubt that the recruitment for the service done by UPSC is absolutely fair. The best amongst those who apply are selected through a rigorous process. People may have suggestions about improvement in the scheme of the recruitment exam but there is no denying that the current process has also emerged after deep deliberation, and has proved to be successful in selecting the cream. However, the working environment is such that after a few years in the service, a large number of officers tend to lose their initial dynamism and mellow down considerably. The fear of being held responsible for their action in the future by the CAG, CVC, CBI or the Hon’ble Courts makes the officers adopt a safety-first attitude and they are more interested in covering their tracks than in getting things done. This leads to a culture of files moving from one table to another without decisions being taken, thus slowing down the growth process of the economy. There is an urgent need to evolve a system where performance would be measured on the basis of decisions taken, projects implemented, public services delivered, innovative solutions found to problems and integrity in all aspects ensured. It is possible to evolve such a system, and efforts are being made in that direction, but much more needs to be done. An IAS officer must be aware that just by maintaining a status quo, he/she is not likely to get promoted to higher echelons of the service, and that the only way to reach the top is by delivering on results and outcomes. Processes, procedures and regulations are important to reduce discretion, create a level playing field and also lead to proper utilization of public money. However, these rules and regulations should not get converted into red tape and bind the officer down into a state of action paralysis. Of course, it is important for the government to design systems which will allow the officers to fail in the process of taking bonafide decisions in the interest of the people. The officer should not be personally held accountable for every mistake because if this is not done then the officers will not be proactive, innovative, imaginative or creative.

In a democracy, the elected political representative enjoys supremacy and his/her main strength is understanding the pulse of the people. It is the politician who gives the vision of how the country has to move forward but it is the IAS officer whose job is to translate the vision into reality. The officer has to assist the political master in designing policies for the welfare of the citizen and then ensuring that these policies are effectively implemented. However, the problem these days is that there is a high degree of political interference in the areas where the civil servant is expected to act independently. Political intervention is necessary in a democracy but interference that hinders the process of delivering quality services with integrity and impartiality to the people is definitely not acceptable. Unfortunately, the trend now is that the level of political interference has increased considerably, emasculating the bureaucracy. Transfers have been weaponised by the political master to bring the civil servant down on his knees. This has also led to two more dangerous trends. One is that the civil servants and the politicians form a nexus and together work in a manner which is detrimental to good, honest governance. The second is when civil servants openly start aligning themselves with a particular political party. A democracy will give results if the political master and the civil servants work in tandem like two wheels of a car. If they both pull in different directions the car would crash. There is, thus, an urgent need to evolve a system where the politicians and the civil servants stick to their turf and work together for the benefit of the people.

The writer is an ex-Chief Secretary, Govt of Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal


Finding the right remedies

Considering the comprehensive parameters on which the World Happiness Report is based, India should take the findings seriously and explore ways to improve its ranking

The latest World Happiness Report came out, and Finland once again ranked as the happiest country. The Nordic countries, along with Switzerland, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Iceland, have traditionally occupied the top positions in the happiness index. This is probably due to the welfare state model they have, which provides a high degree of social security to its citizens, in addition to high per capita income. India has improved its ranking from the previous year to come at 126th position, but this low rank, which India has been getting consistently over the last ten years since the World Happiness Report was institutionalised, is a matter of concern. To a large extent, this is difficult to believe and explain since India ranks lower than even Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. This is indeed a distressing situation, and it is easy to go into the denial mode and dismiss the findings, citing faulty methodology or Western bias. In fact, this is exactly the tenor of a spate of recent articles on this subject that have appeared in the media. However, the right approach would be to attempt to diagnose the problem so that the policymakers may be guided in designing better policies to improve the happiness quotient of the people.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is no longer considered to be a comprehensive measure of the level of well-being of the people. Various other indicators are used to assess the subjective well-being of people, like the human development index which factors in indicators on health and education, along with per capita income, to indicate the level of development of a country. The happiness index goes beyond this on the basis of a Gallup poll using questionnaires in which people are asked to rank themselves from 1 to 10 across various parameters to arrive at a happiness index score. The latest measure being used by most progressive countries is to compute gross national happiness (GNH) of their people, rather than focusing merely only on GDP. The concept of GNH originated from the mountain kingdom of Bhutan whose king decided that he would like to focus on all aspects of well-being of his people, and to measure this, a detailed analysis was made to arrive at gross national happiness. The United Nations has also recognised the importance of happiness, and declared March 20 as a World Happiness Day. World happiness reports, which started being released from 2013 onwards, have analysed the factors influencing the state of happiness every year, and arrived at a ranking of countries on happiness index. The essence of this index has been that happiness is not only a factor of material well-being but includes several non-economic, social and psychological factors which can be measured through a well-designed survey. The common factors which are taken into account while calculating the happiness score of the nation are GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perception of corruption. The ranking also takes into account the positive feelings like joy, peace, and calmness along with negative feelings like sadness which a person may feel while comparing his present condition to the immediate past. This is indeed a very comprehensive analysis, and it cannot be denied that it gives a very concrete picture of the well-being of the people.

India is growing at seven per cent in the current year, and is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. India has also become the fifth-largest economy, and is poised to leave Germany and Japan behind to become the third-largest economy in the world, with a GDP of about five trillion dollars. However, it is not GDP per se which is relevant, but GDP per capita which is a more important factor, and India ranks poorly on this indicator even if we use the purchasing power parity. Consistently, India has been ranked beyond 100 on GDP per capita index, and this is perhaps the main reason which pulls down the ranking of the country in the happiness index. This should provide immediate material for thought for our policymakers who should focus on reduction of inequalities and inclusive growth. The country should give the highest importance to the areas of education and health, which would help in strengthening the human capital and also enable its citizens to participate on an equal footing — socially, culturally, politically and, of course, in the economic sphere.

India is a complex country where, along with economic inequality, there are factors like caste, gender and family background that account for lower levels of well-being. The inequality extends to issues like availability of school facilities, sanitation, and basic infrastructure like electricity, water, and healthcare. In addition, because of social and economic factors, the crime rate is also on the higher side, and because of the population pressure, there is a continuous threat of environmental degradation.

This is the age of television and social media, which has made even people living in rural areas aware of the quality of life that is being enjoyed by the better-off sections of society. India is also enjoying a demographic dividend, with its median age being 29, and this young population is full of aspirations for a better life. It could be a fact that they are not satisfied or happy with their existing state of affairs, and that is why, in any survey related to happiness, there is a tendency to give a lower score on the current level of happiness. This, by itself, is not something wrong, but the important thing is that the policymakers should take India on a higher and faster path of development, so that the dreams and aspirations of the people are realised, or at least achieved to a considerable extent.

Caste remains an important factor in Indian society, and despite the progress that has taken place, caste discrimination still continues to be a matter of discord and unhappiness. This is despite the fact that over the years, there has been political empowerment of the backward castes. Social support is one of the important factors for happiness, and this implies mutual trust, sharing and caring in society. India has a family system which, I feel, gives much more support to members than in the West but, strangely, with urbanisation and development, the supportive role of the family is getting reduced, which is reflected in the low ranking that India gets on this parameter in the happiness index. The public expenditure on health in India is only 1.3 per cent of GDP, which leads to low ranking in healthy life expectancy and other health-related indicators. It is true that we are a vibrant democracy, but the voters have repeatedly shown in elections that there is more often than not an anti-incumbency factor. Also, the perception of corruption in government and society is on the higher side. These are the factors that need the attention of the policymakers if India has to significantly score in the happiness index.

It is imperative for policymakers to focus on those aspects of policy which directly influence the level of well-being of the people. Instead of rejecting the findings of the World Happiness Report, we should realise that India is a welfare state, and aim to create an environment where most of the people feel happy about their current quality of life. Such a society would be based on harmony and peace, and lead to greater realisation of the human potential.

The writer is an ex-Chief Secretary, Govt of Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal


Dealing with a distress

To resolve the recurring crisis faced by growers of TOP vegetables, policymakers should build a sustained institutional mechanism to ensure price assurance for farmers

Recently, we read that the onion farmers in Maharashtra were suffering due to low prices of their products in the Lasal Gaon Mandi. There was a farmers’ agitation on this issue, and the Maharashtra onion growers have been on relay hunger fasts. They are also marching from the onion-growing areas to Mumbai. Similarly, there is an issue regarding the prices of tomatoes where the farmers are barely getting Rs 7 per kg which is not sufficient to cover their costs. There is a glut in the potato market in Uttar Pradesh which is the largest grower of potatoes in the country. Recently, a news came that the farmers are getting less than Rs 5 per kg, which has got them agitated and, in various districts of the potato belt, they are taking to the streets to voice their protest. The UP government has responded by fixing the price at Rs 6.5 per kg, which has not enthused the farmers who are threatening to throw their crops on roads unless a minimum support price of Rs 10 per kg is provided to them.

Year after year, these three crucial horticulture crops, without which any Indian dish cannot reach the table, have been facing a serious crisis. It would be better to have a sustained institutional mechanism to deal with this issue rather than having knee jerk reactions which often are a case of too little and too late. One problem identified by policymakers is that of storage, but UP does not face this issue as there are 2,406 cold storages in the state, with an overall capacity of 14 million tons. These are all concentrated in the potato belt of UP but, still, the problem has not been resolved and, after every few years, this issue of steep fall in the price of potatoes is raised. There is no denying that the farmers of these three most important crops need a minimum remunerative price. It is also true that further work has to be done in developing modern storage, farmgate infrastructure and value addition through processing. We need to divert the farmers from growing the traditional wheat and paddy crops. The agriculture growth rate in horticulture crops is much higher and if proper logistics and market reforms are carried out, it would significantly add to increasing the incomes of the farmers.

At this juncture, I would also like to discuss the efficacy of the market intervention scheme (MIS) for these crops which comes into operation once the proposal sent by the state government is approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. The proposal sent by the state government indicates the cost of production and, accordingly, suggests a market intervention price and the quantity to be purchased. This is examined by the experts at Government of India level, and the MIS price and quantity is decided. However, in reality, very little quantity of the commodity is purchased. It is true that a mere announcement of the price lifts the market sentiment, and the price that the farmer gets in the market becomes better, but that is not enough to meet his costs and afford him a decent margin. If large-scale procurement is done then it would certainly provide a lot of support to the farmers, but this is normally not done due to a structural problem with the MIS scheme. I recall that as Managing Director of NAFED, I had the responsibility of carrying out these MIS operations on several occasions, and found the scheme not really satisfactory. Actually, the scheme says that the procuring agency should dispose of the stocks purchased at not more than 25 per cent loss. The reality of the agriculture marketing scenario is that this does not happen and the procurement agency has to incur a loss of more than 25 per cent which is not reimbursed by the Government, and the procurement agency cannot be expected to suffer losses on this account. It is for this reason at the time of price fixation that the Government of India is conservative in deciding the price which does not make the farmer happy and does not lift the market prices to the desired level. The Government of India must seriously examine the viability of the MIS scheme. It needs to be redrawn considering the needs of the farmers and the procuring agencies. Once again, in the current UP case, not much is going to be procured, and it has to be seen to what extent the market sentiment would improve.

It is true that in addition to MIS, the state government can consider other initiatives like organising buyer-seller meets, exporting the crops to other countries, and even to the states of India where there may be a requirement. In the case of potatoes, regular procurement on the basis of a remunerative support price can be done by linking this to providing potatoes in the Mid-Day Meal scheme and other nutrition interventions.

In the 2018-19 Union Budget, the Government of India showed its awareness of the problems faced by the farmers producing tomatoes, onions, and potatoes, and announced a new scheme called operation green for these crops which they labelled as ‘TOP’. We are all aware of the tremendous success story of operation flood in relation to procurement, storage and processing of milk. The Amul story is a landmark achievement. An attempt has been made to replicate this model for oilseeds and pulses since the 1980s without much success. Even for the TOP crops, so far, it has not been successful. The Government of India itself diluted the scheme by extending it to all fruits and vegetable crops. In my opinion, this led to a situation where the focus moved away from the TOP crops that were in maximum need of assistance. The scheme was handled by the Food Processing Ministry which was to provide subsidy at 50 per cent of the costs of both transportation of eligible crops from surplus production clusters to consumption centers, and / or hiring of appropriate storage facilities for eligible crops for a maximum period of three months. The objective was to enhance the value realisation for TOP farmers. NAFED was to be the nodal agency to implement these price stabilisation measures. This was to be handled by developing FPOs (Farmer Producer organisations), building their capacity, developing post-harvest processing facility, providing Agri logistics, and creating and managing e-platform for demand and supply management of these crops. Unfortunately, so far, this well-intentioned intervention has not yielded results. The scheme needs to be evaluated, considering the feedback from farmers and other stakeholders, and amended to make it relevant.

It is clear that TOP crops need a separate market intervention scheme, and it should be limited to only the three crops. This will lead to a greater focus on these commodities which are vital for the Indian economy and the interests of a large number of farmers are connected to this. A mechanism for giving price assurance to farmers of these crops, and to link it to the entire value chain, are the need of the hour. I would suggest that the government launches a new mission to implement the required intervention in a sharply focused manner.

The writer is an ex-Chief Secretary, Govt of Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal


Leading the change

Through their creativity, innovative skills, and problem-solving approach, District Officers can transform the lives of people by facilitating good governance

Citizens in any nation expect good governance from the government. This requires the formulation of policies which will solve the grievances of the people and also bring about the economic development of the state and the country. However, it is often said that policies are good but implementation is the problem. Execution of government policies and implementing projects and schemes and giving good administration to the citizens is the responsibility of the civil service. Civil servants advise the political executive in policy formulation and once a decision has been taken, it is their job to see that it is implemented in letter and spirit. The IAS along with officers of the state services has a very crucial role to play in getting things done at the ground level. The most important institution which performs this task is that of the District Magistrate who across various states are known as District Collectors, Deputy Commissioners or District Officers. The term Collector is a legacy of the colonial regime when the collection of revenue was the primary duty at the district level. This is no longer true and the term Collector does sound like an anachronism. The district officer today coordinates all activities at the district level and, therefore, we will use the term District Officer in this article as it best signifies the role that the officer performs at the district level.

The institution of the District Officer has faced scrutiny over the years but it has evolved and gained strength as it has the faith and confidence of the people and it is the single point at the district level to solve their problems. During the colonial regime, this post was vested with a lot of powers and had direct control over all the departments at the district level including the police. However, governance has become more complex and now every department has its own line functionaries at the district level who report to the departmental head at the state level. The role of the District Officer is now to coordinate the activities of all the departments at the district level and ensure that the government schemes are implemented effectively. Even though direct authority over the departmental officers is no longer there the role of the District Officer has become increasingly more important. Every department involves the District Officer in the implementation of its schemes and it is his leadership quality which makes the difference at the district level. The leadership quality required involves the capacity to build a team at the district level, align them with the goals of the government, develop a work culture which is responsive and accountable to the citizens, ensure transparency in government work, motivate the employees to give the best and deliver results and outcomes.

The job of the District Officers today is not merely maintaining the status quo but he is an agent of change. He has to use his creativity, innovative skills and problem-solving approach to bring about a quality change in the lives of the people of the district and bring about overall development. It is one post in the IAS which gives you a great opportunity to transform the quality of the lives of the people and make a difference to every person living in the district. There is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of the District Officers and also a great opportunity to make a difference in society. No wonder this is one of the most sought-after postings in the IAS. This job is so enriching and can give so much satisfaction that after retirement if you talk to an IAS officer he will remember his days as a District Officer and the initiatives he took to influence the lives of the people. People join the IAS to become District Officers. The institution has evolved and various Prime Ministers have hailed the contribution made by the District officers to the process of development.

My experience has shown that young District Officers have come out with innovative ideas which they have implemented at the district level which has brought about quality governance. Unfortunately, there is very little documentation about these achievements and the general public is not aware of the kind of work many young officers are putting into the service of the nation. It is in this light that I must appreciate the governance awards given recently by The Indian Express to outstanding works done by young District Officers and celebrating them as agents of change. It was heartening to see that the Union Home Minister was himself present to give away the awards and many important people attended the function. The awards appreciated the innovative solutions to governance challenges at the district level across the country. The Union Home Minister said that development envisaged by the Constitution is only possible through good governance at the district level through the institution of the District Officer. The award-winning District Officers did innovative governance in areas like providing telemedicine to villages, quality education, disaster management, micro irrigation in terrorist-infested districts and others. There is another organization called ‘Nexus for Good’ founded by ex-IAS officer Anil Swarup which has done a great job in documenting the outstanding works done by the young IAS officers in various capacities in the government. Yet, much more documentation and recognition of the work done by young District Officers is required to inspire other officers and make the people aware of the excellent work being done by them.

The pandemic was one challenge where many District Officers responded using all their leadership qualities, as under the pandemic act it was the District Officer who was responsible for all aspects related to the handling of Covid. There are many success stories in this regard. The vaccination programme was such a success because of the exemplary leadership of the District Officers. There have been officers who eliminated manual scavenging and there have been others who created online grievance redressal systems to solve the problems of the citizens. I recall implementing a literacy project in Agra where 5.50 lakh adult non-literates in the age group of 15 to 45 were made literate through purely voluntary efforts using the young boys and girls of the District. I also recall starting the computerization of land records in the districts where I was posted which later on became a template for other districts to follow. The mettle of the District Officers is genuinely tested when he conducts free and fair elections and also handles natural calamities like floods, droughts and earthquakes.

The young District Officers must realise that this post affords them a tremendous opportunity to bring about a positive change in society. They should work with total honesty, integrity and dedication and should focus on the development of the underprivileged sections of society. The institutions need to be further strengthened and a reasonable tenure given to the District Officers so that they can make a mark. The work done by them and the best practices must be documented to make people aware of their work and serve as an inspiration to young officers. The District Officers must utilize their time in the districts to touch the lives of the poorest of the poor and make a transformative contribution to society.

The writer is an ex-Chief Secretary, Govt of Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal


Micro-model of governance

Identification of aspirational blocks under local area development plan holds promise for rural development, but only with the right leadership

It is no secret that the ‘balanced development’ of all regions is essential for the overall economic development of the country. There are some particularly backward areas. The reasons are either historical or remoteness or infertile land or being prone to natural calamities or having a majority of its population from the Scheduled Castes and Backward castes. These areas pull down the rate of economic growth and if left unattended can be the cause of numerous economic and social problems. It is in light of this that a welcome initiative was taken by the Government of India to identify 112 Districts in the country as aspirational districts where the social and economic indicators are particularly poor. The idea was to give a comprehensive thrust to the development of these districts and bring them to the level of other better-developed districts. This was to be achieved through the convergence of the Central and State Government schemes, collaboration of officers of all departments under the leadership of the district Collector and competition among the district through the system of monthly ranking being done by the NITI Aayog.

The more backward states have a larger number of aspirational districts. This programme was launched in 2018 and it focuses on the strength of each district and goes about developing it in a time-bound manner. There are a set of 49 key performance indicators under five broad socio-economic themes and the incremental progress in these indicators is considered for the ranking. These five themes are health and nutrition, education, agriculture and water resources, skill development and infrastructure and financial inclusion. These districts have to catch up with the others and then aspire to be the best by learning by the experience of each other. This initiative is part of the strategy to achieve sustainable development goals in a time-bound manner. The state of Uttar Pradesh has eight aspirational districts. An evaluation of this programme in 2020 by UNDP found that it is a ‘clear and comprehensive framework’ that it provides to the districts, distinguishing it from other programmes. Initially, the programme did encounter several challenges but with the right kind of leadership, these issues can be sorted out. It is also found that for the long-term sustainability of this programme motivation of the implementing team and in-house capacity building are vital. So, it has been a successful local area development scheme. Taking this success story forward the Government of India and the NITI Aayog have now come out with an aspirational block development programme which will focus similarly on the comprehensive development of 500 aspirational blocks across the country. This is indeed an idea which will take the development process forward in a progressive manner.

Local area development always gives scope for understanding the problems which are specific to that area and accordingly a plan can be evolved to develop that area. The knowledge of people living in that area is of immense value in designing projects for their development as it not only creates awareness but enables the people of that area to identify with the development plan and also own it. Development can never be forced from the top because then it becomes like a dole and makes the people dependent upon the government for everything which is not the way it should be. Also, India is indeed a vast country and different areas have diverse problems which need to be resolved. In Uttar Pradesh, almost 25 years ago, the Ambedkar Village Scheme was introduced focusing on those villages which had a large concentration of scheduled caste population and were economically backward. The scheme paid rich dividends as the performance indicators in these villages improved considerably. Similarly, almost a decade ago, when I was Agriculture Production Commissioner, Government of UP, we introduced the Lohia Village Scheme where 2000 villages which were backward and had a large share of the OBC population were chosen to be developed in an integrated manner. I remember that about 37 parameters of development were identified and a benchmark survey was done. These indicators include development schemes like connecting the village with a ‘pucca’ road, bringing electricity to the village, providing adequate drinking water sources, building houses for the poor and also schemes like providing education, health care and skill development. There was an initial political issue about the selection of these villages but once it was decided that 10 per cent of the villages would be selected on the recommendation of the political representatives and the remaining 90 per cent would be on rational criteria, the scheme took off and the results were very satisfying. People from various villages began to approach the government for including their village in the scheme. No extra funds were given but the whole concept was that of convergence and the District Collector was made responsible for the implementation.

It can be a matter of discussion whether a district, block or village should be taken as a unit of development. The village-level schemes succeeded but I feel that aspirational blocks schemes by focusing on the blocks have taken the right approach. Blocks have been historically units of development and there is an established organizational structure working under the Block Development Officer (BDO) looking after all aspects of agriculture and rural development. It is my view that rural development can be speeded up if we can develop rural growth centers and these aspirational blocks can fulfil this purpose. At the block level schools, colleges and hospitals can be made fully operational and also based on local raw material availability and skill sets of the local people, rural industrial hubs can be created particularly in the agro-processing sector. This will not only add value to the agricultural produce of that area but also enable the youth to move from farm to non-farm occupations leading to an increase in their income and also to the development of the state and the nation. Something along this line was visualized in the scheme introduced by the late President Abdul Kalam which was called PURA (Providing Urban Amenities to Rural areas). India needs to develop in a manner that people living in rural areas find jobs near their place of stay and all basic amenities are available to them.

However, such administrative innovations cannot succeed without competent and participative leadership. This role has to be provided by the District Collector /DM. Even when I was Chief Secretary, I tried to make sure that the most energetic and creative young IAS officers were posted as District Magistrates of the backward districts. This not only provided them with an opportunity to learn about development at the grassroots level but also to provide momentum to the growth process in these districts. The same has been the norm for the aspirational districts. I feel that the aspirational blocks scheme would succeed only if the most innovative young IAS officers are posted in the districts where these blocks are located. Similarly, some of the best officers of State Civil Service need to be posted as BDOs in these aspirational blocks. The authority of the BDOs has lost ground over the years because of departmentalism and it needs to be restored. Convergence and collaboration are not possible without effective leadership and this is where you need the right man at the right place.

The local Block Panchayat functionaries would also need to be sensitized about this initiative and their full involvement ensured in the planning and execution of the various development schemes. Without using local leadership the best results would never be attained. It should become a people’s programme rather than just yet another government scheme.

The local area development plan is the right way forward but its success depends upon effective leadership provided at the district and block level and also the involvement of all the local level elected representatives.

The writer is an ex-Chief Secretary, Govt of Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal