When power gets legitimacy, it becomes ‘authority’. In a parliamentary democracy, this legitimacy is sanctioned by the State’s ability to fulfil constitutional goals and obligations. State uses various tools, and a structure to fulfil those responsibilities and civil services is one of them. Indian civil services have played a great role in implementing various welfare schemes. They have helped State achieve giant goals like poverty alleviation, polio eradication, and implementations of other initiatives like the Right to Information, Food Security and Right to Education, etc.
In the end, it helped Indian State gain legitimacy of what it cherishes today.
In a parliamentary democracy, a quartet of the matured political class, efficient justice system, ethical and professional bureaucracy, and free media can implement constitutional philosophy in true spirit. In India, immediately after independence, there was an imbalance in this quartet, and it still persists. Centralized policy-making, immature federal polity, and late coming of local self-governments by 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments in 1992 burdened bureaucracy, particularly engaging with the last-mile citizenry.
Civil Servants had to face the wrath of citizens for brawl and disruptions. Still, Indian civil servants played their part with the highest standards in innovations in establishing public infrastructure in health and education, conducting elections, maintaining law and order, development of tribal and backward regions, urbanization, and percolating welfare measures effectively.
From the 1980s and 1991 LPG reforms, there was a transformation in the governance structure. Union Public Services accommodated new innovations from the selection process to professional standards in administration. In all these incremental changes, Indian civil services faced deep crises of corruption and officer-political class nexus dismantling the very nobility of the “steel frame.” But overall, Indian Civil servants own the right of appreciation for standing high in the all-encompassing evolutionary nation in the making.
Today, I decided not to go in detail for the evolution, as mentioned earlier in Indian civil services. Instead, I decided to focus on two important and little tricky issues.
First is becoming of Indian civil services as “ideal type” employment. It became only a “noble job” among the jobs, and officers became only “noblest child” among the children. This “Ideal type” idiom of giving supreme divinity and hallmark of patriotism to humans and their duties is itself against the “Steel Frame” philosophy. Hard exams, rigorous training, and a highly responsible work profile made only the best among all to enter in services. But ‘divinity’ and ‘ideal type’ should not be the rewards for such entries.
There are three challenges in assigning such noble divinity. First, it erodes the contemporary professional work ethos in civil services and makes it transcendental to pragmatic scrutiny in employee-employer setup. Second, it gives birth to extreme and unhealthy competition. We need to see this naïve competition from the perspective of fewer job opportunities in other sectors of the economy. Everyone curses capitalism for the consequences of unhealthy competition.
Noble ends of the serving nation can’t justify the same in case of civil service exams. The third is the rise of the coaching class industry. These institutes focus less on self-learning and create a vicious cycle where students were kept away from the true and wise analysis of their diverse opportunities. The models of these traditional ways of informal teachings with the publication of new book or notes every after two days (Though UPSC and SPCs include state and CBSE primary and secondary level) is not compatible with dynamic nature of the examination and changing nature of employment opportunity costs in the Indian employment sector. Also, there are accountability crises in these private coaching institutes.
Second is lethargy in civil servants to assist the process of decentralized participative democracy and inclusive development. There is a fundamental difference in the nature of participation of people in rural and urban areas. Problems and service delivery demands were different in rural-urban areas. Cities need clean air, efficient public transportation, health and education, clean water, and law and order.
Cities are also facing new challenges like migration, congestions and crowds, real estate sector, cybercrimes, terrorism, mental health and climate change, and unsustainable urbanization. Whereas Villages, beyond social infrastructure there is need of innovative initiatives on district levels in watershed managements, cooperative farming, youth empowerment through MSMEs, model for integrated agriculture produce an assessment for establishing a farmer-market supply chain, identifying new health issues of nutrition and maternal care, digital literacy through National Optical Fibre Network, etc.
For example, in Covid-19 situations, various state governments included agriculture in essential services. State authorities allowed APMCs to be open for the purchase of farmer produce. But, goods transportation was scrambled. Transporters were not ready to lift the produce from farmers, and those were ready, tried for rent sacking. On the other side, those we succeeded received meagre prices for produce.
Farmers were in no means to get authentic information about APMCs, and there was no one to stop rent sacking from transportation. Covid-19 is a national disaster. It is acceptable that the administration is already burdened. But the plight of farmers can be resolved if civil servants serving in rural areas would have been governing with the highest level of people’s participation.
In a nutshell, beyond recognizing their utmost service to the country and pure intentions to work for the welfare of the people, it is necessary to change the divinity and “ideal type” idiom in Indian civil services for its own sake and psychological justice to other professions in public and private employment sector. Else, it may result in unintentional and involuntary consequences in the Indian employment sector.
Urban Local Bodies gained political autonomy due to aware of people living in cities. On the other hand, Panchayat Raj Institutions were no match to those ULBs both in terms of political independence and aware citizens. Here, civil servants can fill the gap by making welfare programs as movements of decentralized participation. Till parliament doesn’t wake up for political and financial empowerment of local self-governments, civil servants, at least by involving people in program implementations, can bring inclusive and sustainable growth.