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Seventh Pay Commission may bump up salaries, but IAS has institutionalized the caste system

Seventh Pay Commission may bump up salaries, but IAS has institutionalized the caste system

Shortly, the Seventh Pay Commission is expected to hike the salaries of the great Indian bureaucracy. Unless the terms of reference are enlarged in its final stages to ensure one rank-one pension for the retired military personnel, the Commission may hand over its recommendations in about three months. But all that the Commission is qualified is to tinker with the numbers and not respond to the feedback from within. The members and officials of the Commission had made several field tours and collected valuable suggestions, which are all going to be trashed as the Commission winds up its office.
What stares in the face of Indian bureaucracy is the pyramidal caste hierarchy with the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) on top and the rest of the services stacked below them. Merit, experience, domain expertise, efficiency or integrity cannot alter this caste system. The system ensures that only the IAS reaches the top. For instance, among 57 secretaries to the government of India, there are just two non-IAS officers: one chosen by the President as his secretary and other the insignificant postal department secretary. Sure, there are technical posts held by scientists and legal services veterans but IAS officers hold all non-technical positions without letting even those with domain expertise flourish.

Rat Race
For instance, the Indian Police Service (IPS) officers are most qualified to hold the home secretary’s post, a forest service officer is best suited to head the environment and forest department, an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer is an ideal candidate for commerce or revenue secretary. But the twice-born IAS will not let go of any of these fiefs.
And the IAS by erecting entry barriers for other services has institutionalized the caste system.
The first barrier is the empanelment for joint secretary. Even an IPS officer has to wait two or three years after his IAS batchmate’s empanelment to become eligible to be a joint secretary. Then comes the turn of other all India services and Group A central services. The gap between an IAS and a non-IAS officer widens to the extent of even 10 years in certain cases, making others ineligible for empanelment for additional secretary.
So, obviously they all lose out in the race to become secretaries. Another systemic filter is the personnel department that controls empanelment and postings: secretary, department of personnel, its establishment officer and civil services board, essentially the sanctum sanctorum of the civil services, are staffed solely by IAS officers. Only the Indian Foreign Service has so far kept the integrity of its service, probably by virtue of being acknowledged as the toppers at the entry-level exams.
“In this caste system, what you know is not important.
Who you know is very important. It is better to be on the golf circuit than to be at the desk working hard. There is no one-to-one correlation between what the officer studied or was trained for and what he does in the service.
A doctor may never get to work in the health department, an IITian may never get an opportunity to prove himself in planning highways or running the power or urban development ministry,” explains an insider. The Commission is supposed to examine issues of empanelment, but it doesn’t.
“There are historical injustices and there is no dearth of sound recommendations like those of the Administrative Reforms Commission. But who listens to them? Nobody wants to stir the hornet’s nest. And the Pay Commission is only concerned with pay, allowances and pension,” says Javed Chaudhary, former health secretary.
IPS and paramilitary officers believe that it is their divine right to treat junior colleagues as cleaners, cooks, babysitters, errand boys, gardeners and sundry domestic helps.
So, those trained to fight insurgency in Chhattisgarh or Manipur would be cleaning saheb’s toilet or doing memsaheb’s laundry.
The officers consider these constables and jawans as some sort of an official perk that comes with their rank and pay. Even those who have long retired manage to keep three to four constables at home. In fact, there are instances of officers holding on to 15-20 orderlies amounting to an outgo of Rs 5 lakh a month in salaries. The system is much worse in armed forces, particularly the army.
Efficiency, obviously, is the biggest casualty in a casteist, feudal system. There are generalists at the bottom — the central secretariat services that hold all positions from under secretary and below without any field experience — and the IAS at the top. The system no longer lets a technocrat like KPP Nambiar or RV Shahi or V Krishanmurthy to become secretaries. The generalist’s fear of decision-making could only partially be born out of fear of the investigating agencies, it could also be because of incompetence, incapacity and lack of domain expertise.
And when the political masters turn tough, central deputation becomes an avoidable hassle for officers. Since Narendra Modi took over as prime minister, 56 IAS officers have returned to their parent cadres. A clear sign of changed times or unwillingness to change by the bureaucracy.
Among other measures, Modi’s blanket ban on foreign travel is not going to help the bureaucracy. Unless they know the best practices, how will they become international standard-setting players?
“It is necessary to undertake measures to induct technological upgradation of governance, improve the productivity of the civil services and match their salaries with their efficiency levels”

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