Our civil servants head the various departments of the government and are seen as a badge of honour. They are the ‘permanent executives’ who keep things running long after the five years for our politicians are over. But, do we treat all of them equally?
A general piece of information that everyone is cognizant of are the three branches of civil services which are termed under the All India Services (AIS) – the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), the Indian Police Services (IPS) and the Indian Foreign Services (IFS). These are classified as Group A and governed by the All India Services Act of 1951.
There are also a majority of other services which are classified under Group A, also known as the Central Services, like your Indian Postal Service or Indian Revenue Service. Group B has the Central Excise Group and the Indian Meteorological Service. Finally, Group C possesses the Central Secretariat Service with a lot of junior administrative positions. Regarding promotion, however, there is a clear bias towards the AIS, and one AIS, in particular, the IAS.
Everyone knows how valued our society makes the Indian Administrative Services with people spending years trying to clear the exam in the hopes of a well-remunerated and perk-filled life.
The problem is that giving preference to a position socially is different than giving it a preference in terms of promotion. That opens the gate for inequality in our government’s process and for the people in the 99% of other civil services who worked hard to get to where they are.
This is where the bias is.
Empanelment is an important process in selecting civil servants for the highest posts. It is where you put all the officers from Group A, i.e. AIS and the other Central Services, on a list. From that list, a further process is undertaken, and officers are selected to serve as the Joint Secretary, Additional Secretary and Secretary to the Indian government.
This comes under the Central Staffing Scheme. Empanelment started in 1970, and the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in their 92nd report noticed that empanelment had become a tool to keep non-IAS services out of Joint Secretary level posts.
The committee observed that non-IAS empanelment was delayed. The clearest sign of IAS favouritism is the two years additional eligibility criteria between IAS and other services which needs to be done away with, the committee observed.
The government is yet to do away with the notification, dated 25.07.2001. This is clearly a bias. Is the IAS so unique that it has two years extra in the other Group A services getting empanelled to the highest post in our government?
Furthermore, the appraisal process itself has become tainted by disclosure. ACR’s or Annual Confidential Reports were not disclosed to the officer unless there was something adverse. Now, the APAR’s or Annual Performance Appraisal Report which have replaced them, are disclosed to the officer reported upon due to the Dev Dutt Judgement (2008).
In this judgement, a man claimed he was denied promotion due to being given low marks on his appraisal and filed a case. The court ruled that every employee must be communicated about their appraisal so that they have an opportunity of making a representation against it if they feel the marks given, are not justified. Can anyone maintain objectivity if results are shown to the appraisee themselves?
A partial disclosure was recommended by the standing committee, but still, all the officers get excellent marks because people do not like to write negative things about people to their face.
The IAS also has an over-representation on the Civil Services Board (CSB). The Civil Services Board takes the expert panel’s recommendations on which officer to promote to the Joint Secretary level and then it makes recommendations to the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) who has the final say.
The presence of IAS officers in the CSB indicates a larger number of IAS officers would be appointed to the highest posts. Obviously, reforms are needed here, and an equal distribution of services need to form the CSB.
The Establishment Officer (EO) is also always an IAS, the standing committee noted. The EO is the secretary to the ACC and Member-Secretary of CSB and thus plays a major role in facilitating
these bodies in appointment and empanelment of officers. Again, even asking the question why seems too simple and the committee wanted this to be stopped.
All bodies involved with the empanelment process consist of an IAS hegemony.
Even inside the IAS officers that get empanelled, state-wise data shows that there is regional disparity among which state IAS officers get empanelled. Among the more successful states were Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh having 13% and 11% representation in empanelment respectively whereas Telangana and Uttrakhand have 2% and 3%.
Gujarat has 5%, and Madhya Pradesh has 9%. One of the major benefits of officers getting empanelled is the expertise gained at the Centre which is benefited by the states when the officers return to their state cadres. However, with under/over-representation, that is not being done at all.
Among the-the AIS services, with IAS at the forefront, there is a discriminatory eligibility criterion for empanelment in comparison to other central services. Basically, if an AIS has an appointment of even one officer of a batch in a service to any state cadre for the Senior Administrative Grade (SAG), that, entitles all the officers of that batch to be considered for empanelment.
This does not happen with other central services. Is every batch full of identical perfect robots? If one officer from a particular service gets empanelled, why in the world is everyone from that batch? I certainly do not remember receiving awards that other people got in my school or university batches.
This bias causes demoralisation which is a big problem. An obvious example of demoralisation is that in the last three years, in the National Academy of Customs, Excise and Narcotics (NACEN), every year more than 20 officers have quit during and after training, citing lack of career progression.
On a side note, the empanelment system is still governed by an order from 1996 without any statutory backing. The system gives clear preferences towards the IAS. Non-IAS people need to be given equal treatment under this scheme, and the committee recommended that the Government take suitable measures.
This bears repeating – the entire process of appraisal and the empanelment of our civil service officers is through a 21-year-old executive order. The whole process needs a revamp starting with a body that has a statutory backing and clearly defined rules to make sure one service does not dominate.
However important the IAS may be, it is one of three branches of the AIS and one of many services in Group A. The need for equality in promotion is much, much higher.