US think-tank sees ‘urgent need’ for reforms in Indian civil services

A United States-based think-tank has depicted the much-coveted Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in somewhat poor light for being constrained by “political interference, outdated personnel procedures and a mixed record on policy implementation”, and said that “it is in need of urgent reforms”.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released the report “The Indian Administration Service Meets Big Data” a few days ago.

The 50-page report, authored by Milan Vaishnav and Saksham Khosla, reads: “The Indian government should reshape recruitment and promotion processes, improve performance-based assessment of individual officers, and adopt safeguards that promote accountability while protecting bureaucrats from political meddling.”

According to the authors, political interference generates “substantial inefficiency” and the best officers do not always occupy important positions, while “political loyalty offers bureaucrats an alternative path to career success”.

Underlining that individual bureaucrats can have “strong, direct, and measurable impacts on tangible health, education, and poverty outcomes”, the report says that surprisingly, “officers with strong local ties — thought to be vulnerable to corruption — are often linked to improved public service delivery”.

As a solution to the problem, the US think-tank says that both the central and state governments should pass and implement pending legislation that protects bureaucrats against politically-motivated transfers and postings.

Even though the judiciary has played its part by nudging the states to take a pro-active approach towards removal of the malady, most states have failed to act in the right earnest, it adds.

The government should consider the proposal that officers deemed unfit for further service at certain career benchmarks be compulsorily retired through a transparent and uniform system of performance review, the report says.

“While the present government (at the Centre) has moved in this direction, this procedure should be institutionalised,” it recommends.

It suggests that state and central governments should discuss whether state cadres should be given greater latitude to experiment with increasing the proportion of local IAS officers and track their relative performance.

“Further research is needed to better understand the impact of local officers on development outcomes, to develop data on bureaucratic efficiency among officers in senior posts, and to systematically examine the workings of state-level bureaucracies,” the report adds.

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