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'Tinkering with the civil service is not advisable'

July 27, 2018 11:08 IST

'The wheel does not need to be reinvented.'
'The question is whether we are prepared to put our shoulder to it to make it turn.'

Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi interacts with additional secretaries and joint secretaries in New Delhi, August 23, 2017. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi interacts with additional secretaries and joint secretaries in New Delhi, August 23, 2017. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Madhav Godbole served the country for 33 years as an IAS officer before resigning as India's home secretary after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.

The author of several books and an important voice on the India of today, he discussed his latest book Indira Gandhi, An Era of Constitutional Dictatorship -- which he Dr Godbole presented to Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi on June 22 -- and Indira Gandhi's similarities and differences with's Archana Masih

In this concluding segment of the interview, Dr Godbole, one of the finest bureaucrats to serve the nation, discusses the government's proposed changes in the Indian civil services.

As a former bureaucrat, what do you think of the proposed change in the IAS of allocating services to selected civil service recruits only after adding to their scores their assessments during the Foundation Course.
How will this impact the civil service?

The pros and cons of this proposal are far from clear. It is not clear if it means allotment of candidates to various services.

This is done today according to the merit of the candidates in the competitive examination and their individual preferences. There is no reason to change this.

Short foundation training period can hardly provide an opportunity to judge the aptitudes of candidates. Neither is the training content designed for the purpose.

As for allotment of IAS, IPS and IFS (Indian Forest Service) candidates to state cadres, the present method seems to work quite satisfactorily.

It is designed to ensure that all states get meritorious candidates by turn and the interests of ushering in good governance all over the country are served.

Tinkering with the civil service matters without adequate thought and public discourse would hardly be advisable.

How will inviting professionals from outside the IAS at the joint secretary level change the existing way of functioning? Is this a good move?

I have serious reservations. A number of reforms are necessary in civil services, but this certainly is not one of them.

There is no dearth of highly qualified persons in the civil services.

The question is of permitting them to give their best which is lacking due to the environment in which they have to function.

Lateral entrants from the private sector will be faced with the same situation.

Further, inducting persons at such a senior level directly will lead to demoralisation among regular officers as their chances of promotion and advancement will be adversely affected.

The tendency to consider the other side of the fence greener and more attractive has been evident in the past too.

When Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister, he had initiated a scheme of deputation of officers of the rank of joint and additional secretaries from government to the private sector in the hope of improving the functioning of the government. This scheme failed miserably. I had criticised it in the past.

Functioning of the private sector has its own pluses and minuses and by no stretch of imagination the functioning of government sector can or should be brought in line with it.

Are these the reforms civil services need? Or reforms should include some other initiatives?

I have written extensively on the subject over the years. My books Public Accountability and Transparency-The Imperatives of Good Governance (2003), and Good Governance: Never on India's Radar (2014) are a case in point.

I had also filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court in 2004 with a plea that, like freedom of press, right to information, right to privacy etc, which are not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution as fundamental rights, but have been recognised as such by the Supreme Court, good governance should also be recognised as a fundamental right of every citizen.

Unfortunately, I was ahead of time and the court did not admit the petition.

I have been advocating a number of Constitutional and statutory changes to improve the functioning of the civil services which include, among others, amendment of Article 311 of the Constitution to take away the protection to persons who are charged in corruption cases, taking away powers of suspension of all India service officers from the state governments, weeding out officers at levels of joint secretary onwards if they are not found fit for promotion to the next level, doing away with extensions and re-employment after retirement, filling positions in statutory and Constitutional bodies by an open and transparent process in which the selection committees will include the Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and so on, and providing for a cooling off period of two years for officers to join politics or take up employment in the private sector.

A few months ago, 48 retired bureaucrats sent a letter to Prime Minister Modi expressing concern at the decline in the secular, democratic, and liberal values enshrined in our Constitution.

I entirely share these concerns. I had commented on these issues at length in my book, Secularism: India At A Crossroads (2016). I have urged therein that India's future is inexorably tied to making a success of secularism.

I have suggested a number of Constitutional changes towards this end which include, among others, defining the words 'secular' and 'minorities', deleting the provision pertaining to 'prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves' in Article 48 of the Constitution, and setting up of a commission on secularism to closely monitor policies and programmes not just of the government but also the private sector, media, educational intuitions, political parties and all other sections of society, which may detract from secular precepts.

India cannot be called a secular country unless its whole society becomes secular.

Do you think our institutions are failing and bureaucrats are not discharging duties fairly?

Empowering institutions and ensuring their proper functioning must be accepted as a national challenge.

People often wonder how officers appointed as election commissioners function so well and why their counterparts in other positions in the government are so ineffective.

The answer is to be found in the Constitutional office which they occupy and the powers and independence which they enjoy.

Are we prepared to give the same autonomy and independence to other officers?

My public interest litigation in 2004, referred to earlier, had raised precisely this and other related issues.

Gross political interference in the working of officers in states and the Centre and politicisation of services shows how the situation has steeply deteriorated over the years.

Even the directions of the Supreme Court regarding restructuring of police departments in states and the Centre, given in 2006, have hardly been implemented.

A series of contempt petitions had to be filed and the Supreme Court has in July 2018 reiterated its directions on the subject.

The wheel does not need to be reinvented. The question is whether we are prepared to put our shoulder to it to make it turn.

Archana Masih /