May 27, 2020
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‘Here Promotions Are A Tribal Movement’

Rathin Roy, one of the three members of the Seventh Pay Commission and director, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy on civil service in India.

‘Here Promotions Are A Tribal Movement’
‘Here Promotions Are A Tribal Movement’

The civil service in India is where promotions are time-bound. It is ‘a closed shop’ where you don’t have to get additional qualifications, clear exams or prove your worth, says Rathin Roy, one of the three members of the Seventh Pay Commission and director, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. Excerpts of the interview with Lola Nayar:

In your study of the pay structure, do you think the IAS cadre is being given extra privileges which are being denied to the others?

No I don’t think there is that much of a difference between the pay of the IAS and the other allied services, other than the particular two increment edge, which I have stated should not be there. I do appreciate that the IAS is the country’s general executive service, and therefore it’s a different service from the others. In many circumstances, such as in the case of the District Magistrate, it is first amongst equals. But the increment edge is not the instrument to define leadership. That should be done by either recruiting them separately, or by saying so in an order….. Just giving two increments is not going to provide them with leadership. It must be made of much sterner stuff.

When you’re looking at the promotions which the IAS officials get, which is at least 5 within their service lifespan, irrespective of their performance, why is that those in the other lower cadres / groups get 3 or sometimes 2 promotions in their service of 30 years and more?

That is not factually correct. The opportunity for IAS officers to rise above the grade of an Additional Secretary is limited. Everyone gets at least 3 promotions within 13 years from the level of undersecretary to director when it comes to a non-functional upgrade as specified in the report. They go from Under Secretary to Deputy Secretary to Director in 13 years. It’s not that the IAS is getting to the director level faster. They’re already hired at undersecretary grade, which is already in the middle of the civil service rank. So arriving to the top of the middle in 13 year is the fast and universal as everybody goes through it, which is unlike any other civil service in the world.

Then comes the issue of getting to Joint Secretary level…. (I’m talking of the Central Government) and that too everybody gets, by empanelment, which happens at differential speed for different cadres. It isn’t that everybody who gets empanelled becomes a Joint Secretary. Then there are lots of Joint Secretary posts, which each individual cadres have, like the income tax which has hundreds of joint secretary posts. So in the Income Tax Department there are several Joint Secretary posts, for which the IAS is not eligible. Only the income tax officials are eligible. These are called en-cadred posts. I don’t think it is bad progress to retire as Joint Secretary, without any reference except basic propriety and minimum performance.

Then comes the Additional Secretary - you can see a number of officials reach there, provided you have not joined the services late age wise. They take the post either in their own cadre or in the Secretariat. It’s a very horizontal structure. Now the fact that there are more IAS officers in the Secretariat - in the ministries of the government of India as opposed to others is not happening because of lack of opportunities for promotion. The IAS is expected to be a general management service. When they’re recruited, there is a deputation reserved for people working in the state governments to move to the central government. That in the case of the IAS is 40%. Other services have 5%. It is assumed that you’ve joined the services with open eyes. Say if you have joined the Railways, then you should continue with the Railways. What can you do by moving your career to the Ministry of Health?

The thing is the IAS officers seem to be moving across to other areas requiring greater domain expertise…

You have to take a call on whether that’s a good thing or not. Whether someone from the Income Tax Service should be serving in the culture ministry? I think there may be a profound reason why the Government of India opts for it, or there is a lack of IAS officers – I don’t know which. But really it’s not how things should be. An income tax official should be collecting taxes, which is why they are in income tax service. A railway official should be running trains and running the department of health.

The problem is in fact the reverse. You have specialised cadres in general management functions. Then they’re simulating the career of a General Manager when that is not supposed to be their function.

There is a five percent deputation quota set for officers from allied services coming to the centre. Having set that quota, I agree with the Chairman here, the 5% on deputation should be treated equally with rest of the general management. That’s 40% from IAS versus 5% from allied services, which I don’t think should change as it is important that officials from specialized cadres should continue to work within their cadre.

You’ve also pointed out that IAS officers seem to be dominating everywhere, even where technocrats would do better…..

I do not think that an IAS officer is more or less technocratic than an audit officer, because a history graduate can enter both streams, and they indeed do by taking the same exam. And there are very few instances of these generalists. What they require is functional expertise in a particular area. There is no place for technocrats within the UPSC system, as they are recruited as generalists who may then specialise in one thing or the other. There are some exceptions such as the Economics Service and the Forest Service but that’s because the jobs are very particular.

It is often said that if our bureaucrats are paid well like in the private sector, there would be less corruption?

That’s not true. I find that an extremely invidious remark. Corruption is a matter of your own personal integrity. When you join the government, you know your salaries, and they have only got better not worse in the last 30 years. If you get corrupt if you think others get better money than you, then you shouldn’t be in public service.

How do our bureaucrats fare compared with counterparts worldwide as far as salaries and other perks go.

It is difficult to say as there are two things about our bureaucrats: they’re almost un-sackable for performance, and they don’t exit and they have much of a pyramid. In other countries it is not always that you will reach level three of government, level one being the top or secretary level. There is no entitlement that you will become a joint secretary. There is a pyramid and not every gets to the level of joint secretary. Outside you may not even get more than 2 promotions as it is a more competitive process then here. Here it is a tribal movement where batches are promoted and they go up. The only thing that stops you from reaching the very top is just your age. So you have to look at civil services from the point of job security. Three promotions are your due. The fourth will happen unless you have done something very wrong. And fifth will happen if you hang around long enough provided you joined services when very young. So this is in a way a unique civil service. It is a closed shop (you don’t have to get additional qualifications or clear exams for promotions). Its dynamic is different. A lot of the perks these people get are to say the least very elastic. They don’t get affected when we are in recession or the GDP drops 3 percent.

A shorter, edited version of this appears in print

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