Indian Civil Services may have its lacunas but there is little doubt amongst even its critiques that the examination and the training used to build this steel frame that runs Indian administration are second to none in the world.
UPSC is arguably world’s toughest exam where a million people register each time to compete for about one thousand positions, making it a quest worthy of the best of the best.
UPSC helps the nation identify the members to be added to the steel frame as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel called it, and it still remains the most coveted path to serve the nation at the highest possible level.
As more and more people try for UPSC each year, cracking this exam is getting tougher and tougher. At this point, it takes so much of preparation time that the average entry age in IAS and IPS is now pushed almost to 27 years.
Though UPSC is still producing high quality steel, we now have another development that requires immediate attention if we don’t want the steel frame of our nation to start rusting.
We are now finding that a lot of welding is being done to it, and that too a bit too fast, thanks to a situation that was probably not pre-cognised by the original architects of the steel frame.
When Indian Civil Service was founded on the British ICS model, India had just earned independence and nationalism was in the air with Congress dominating the political scene almost as a monopolistic single party. But, over the seventy years that have passed, we now have a thriving multi-party democracy that has yielded an unforeseen problem.
India now has states and center often at loggerheads because of different parties being in power in both, and this is where the problem has started.
The original design did not anticipate a state-center conflict and hence there is no overlap between UPSC and state public service exams, even though both exams produce officers joining one homogeneous administration at the end of the day. This was not a problem in earlier days as the career paths of direct recruits and state recruits were not converging.
The state cadre could access the senior designations (that direct recruits started with) only at the fag end of their careers, so a distinction always remained between direct recruits and promotees entering the IAS or IPS cadre from state services because of the massive age difference.
This difference was not because of any form of elitism as people often like to believe. It existed because of a simple reason that UPSC and state exams are as different as chalk and cheese in terms of difficulty and competitiveness.
Unfortunately, today the difference in level of difficulty still exists between these entrance exams but the career paths of both cadres have changed dramatically.
Today, often due to social and even political traction that state cadre officers enjoy locally, we are now seeing a trans-India pattern of state cadre officers getting promoted rapidly to the designations conventionally held by direct recruits.
The situation is rapidly deteriorating to a level where wasting years in preparing for the UPSC may not be a wiser way to become an IAS or IPS, as state exams would be lot easier and quicker to crack, and same can become conduits to a lot quicker entry into IAS or IPS.
While this is not about officers of state cadre being inferior, what this has done on the ground is bringing bitterness to the direct recruit community of IAS and IPS and also made some of them to seek alignment with the political establishment so that they are not shunted to side-posting while state cadre is placed in important posts.
This is now turning into a massive problem that can damage the steel frame of the nation beyond repairs and amends must be made quickly.
One way to do this is to use UPSC as the sole examination for all government posts.
The state-center distinction can be made by simply making two merit lists, one for the toppers entering the union cadre, while the other can be a set of state-wise merit lists for each state.
Such a change will not only bring both state and central recruitment on a common platform, it will also remove the stigma that plagues all state cadre officers of being children of a lesser God because of not having passed UPSC.
Such a move will also cure the malaise of paper leaks that is now getting more and more common with state service examinations across India.
A change like this can also offer a collateral gain. At this point, we have a lot of really talented people attempting UPSC again and again when they end up just a few places away from entering the civil services. Such aspirants may start joining the state cadre whereby increasing the quality of state cadre substantially.
As India is working on various administrative reforms, including experimenting with the lateral entry option to bring in specialists for the top jobs, the moment is just right to review the big picture.
The idea of separation between the state and the central cadre has little justification as both recruits ultimately end up in the same system. So, there is a logical need to review the two-exam format.
It is entirely possible that such a move will not be appreciated by political parties as it will mean end of their interference in the recruitment process at state level. But, it is a bitter pill that needs to be administered to save our administration.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.