Musings of an ex-bureacrat on IAS and the eroded morality

The article titled Appraising the IAS on Civil Services Day: Decline in the quality of the IAS cannot be denied by Uday Kumar Varma published by Newsroom24x7 on 1 May 2023 has struck a chord and evoked response from those who have played a distinguished innings as members of the Indian Administrative Service and also others from the All-India Services and Defence Forces.

Uday Kumar Varma, a 1976 batch IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, was Secretary Information & Broadcasting, member of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and member of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council, a self-regulatory body for general entertainment channels. As Secretary I&B, he spearheaded the nationwide digitisation programme.

Carrying forward the debate, after the ball has been set in motion by Uday Kumar Varma, we are now publishing the response from Kewal Krishan Sethi, who is known in knowledgeable circles as one of the most upright IAS officers.

KK Sethi, a 1963 batch IAS officer borne on the Madhya Pradesh cadre, has had an illustrious career. He was Chairman Board of Revenue Madhya Pradesh, Chief Secretary Manipur, and head of the National Commission for Linguistic Minorities (NCLM).

Kewal Krishan Sethi

A very thought-provoking write-up by Shri Uday Kumar Varma. He writes feelingly about the rusted, corroded steel frame. From its heights, it has plunged and is now deep in trouble being assailed by the people for its nexus with the corrupt politicians. Much was expected from the services but they have let down the people. “Most of the cognoscenti sincerely believe the ‘steel frame’ to have already fatally corroded”, he says.

Serious doubts have been raised from time to time about the relevance and efficiency of the services, especially the IAS. He goes on to say, a handful of officers in their ugly and reprehensible pursuit of power have denigrated the lofty ideals.  A little later he expands these “handful” to “many of the members”. The “services” referred to earlier are sought to be mollified by saying that “the isolation of IAS can be primarily traced to their patronising and condescending attitude towards their sister All India Services”.  Of course, the mechanisation of politicians and their pernicious political interest comes as a handy tool to mix up with arrogance of the IAS. A little later, the number again dwindles by saying that there are “still a large number of extremely competent officers whose integrity and commitment is beyond question” and “few unrepentant and unrelenting black sheep”.

So, where does that leave us. Whole of the lot is bad and on the way out or will the extremely competent personnel can they still pull the service around. The bottom-line is that members of other services are coming forward and “today the representation of the IAS in central staffing is at an all-time low and it is likely to be even less represented in times to come”.

It is not my intention to defend the IAS as I have already been denied this privilege by saying that “those who defend this service on this count are not so different from the ostrich that buries its head in the sand and denies the existence of a storm”. And it is reinforced by a statement I read somewhere that brain of ostrich is smaller than its eye. I would not like to be in that company.

Yes, the black sheep are there but are other services all white –paragons of virtuous and diligence – officers keen on taking India towards ideal society. They do not dance to the whims of the politicians. They are all development oriented, whose only concern is a model society. Perhaps not but the stories about IAS get publicity which is denied to other services. It only reinforces the popular adage “give the dog a bad name and hang him”. It is a cut-throat competition out there and let the “worse” man win. The criminal mafia is very much there and it is certainly not due to the doings of the IAS personnel. Singling out a service for all the ills of society is simply not convincing.

Yes, the IAS is losing its supremacy to other services. The underlying reasons may be manifold, not merely the arrogance towards personnel from other services. Ever since the Supreme Court, in their wisdom, or lack of it, decreed that all All India Services are equal and none is superior, the hold which the erstwhile steel frame had enforced has been loosened.

If the IAS still has the privilege of being considered government in the districts, it is due to the intricacies of governance. Much as the generalist is decried by the specialist, it has its merits which refuses to let them go into oblivion.

The prime minister in his address referred to in the article has called on the service “to inculcate a ‘people centric’ and ‘development centric’ mindset and to assess their success not in terms of what they are able to do for themselves but instead what they have been able to do for the nation.” The generalist is best placed for the people-centric approach quite distinct from the specialist who specialises in technology-oriented approach. It is not to belittle the importance of specialisation but to assert that so-called generalist has his own specialisation which deserves to be given its due.

But to return to the point at issue viz. decline in standards of the service, it is an unmitigable fact that morality over the years has been eroded. It is true for the entire society and no one has been left untouched by the phenomenon. The presence of black swan, even though rare, is not equivalent to disproving the concept that there are white swans, the presence of the black sheep does not rule out the existence of white sheep who are capable of giving while wool which can be dyed in all shades, including black. The fault, probably lies with the dye and not with the sheep.

It follows that we must take care of the dye and not the sheep. But where does the dye come from. If we look closely at the developments since India attained freedom, we will notice that sectionalism has been given preference over integration. Recall the case of Japan at the time of meiji restoration or revolution. Japanese society was very much divided into mutually exclusive categories. With one stroke, the new dispensation did away with all sectionalism and declared all Japanese to be equal. The call for patriotism became the war cry of the new regime. No privileges, no special treatment, no discrimination became the norm. The non-privileged were expected to pull themselves up and not being propped up by the State. We did not. We created sections, we created discrimination, we allowed differences to grow and we glorified them. We had the pet theory of celebrating diversity.

The new rulers who depreciated the British policy of divide and rule followed in their footsteps, enshrining it in the Constitution which they drew up, not in a hurry (which would have given them the excuse of short sightedness) but at leisure taking over two years. Making loud protestation of moral behaviour, they worked against it by continuing the same policies which exalted the worldly goods as against the noble virtues. a pursuit of rapid growth of wealth (through heavy industry and guided economy) led to negligence of character building which is the adornment of a noble progressive society.

It is not an essay on economy that is being attempted here but merely underlining the path which we had chosen led downhill so far as morality was concerned. The enforced correction of the path in 1991 merely made things worse as the pendulum swung to the other side. Consumerism has been on the rise and the worship of the God of Mammon has taken hold of the people at large. Those who come into higher services are from this very society, and not outsiders. It is true for all the services and not merely the All India Services. In fact, it is true for all the people whether with government or out of it. It does not exclude anyone who has even an iota of opportunity to be in it.

All said and done, Mission Karmyogi is welcome. At least someone has thought of issues of ethics and values and has tried to put it on top of the agenda. Again, the new education policy is welcome since it talks of virtues of the past – the distant past – and its values.

Obviously, there are difficulties. It is an uphill task. The lack of opportunities to the virtuous making it to the decision-making level is a major hindrance. The old generation, steeped in outmoded inherited mindset of caring for the procedure, for the process, for the formal approach, oblivious to the needs of the society, the need for coherence, for getting back to the spiritual wellbeing and finally to patriotism and nationalism will find it a difficult task which needs coordinated approach of all sections of society.  Perhaps starting at the school and college level would ease the process though it is likely to take time.

Let us hope that we can reform the recalcitrant and usher in the people-centric, society-centric, morality-centric conduct in our daily lives, in our official duties and in our behaviour out of office.


One comment

  1. I appreciate the discussion which comes from the write-up written and responded both by the persons from the same field .
    It is a welcome start .
    My best wishes .


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