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A dive into the govt's plan to overhaul entry into the civil services

The heart of the reforms programme aimed at redesigning the entry into the civil services is likely to happen only after the next government comes into office in May 2024.

This is not a delay but simply the operational time frame for the ambitious Mission Karmayogi project drawn up by the Narendra Modi-led central government, to refashion the civil services. The Mission, or to go by its full name, National Programme for Civil Services Capacity Building, is already into its operational stage, though. The Capacity Building Commission, which will sit as the cornerstone of the Mission, has already got a chairman in Adil Zainulbhai, the former  chairman of Mckinsey and Quality Commission of India. Three members have joined him as well. It has also begun drawing in officers and non-executive staff to work in the Commission, which will operate from the old JNU campus in New Delhi, at present.

Top officials of the department of personnel and training (DoPT) reckon that the changes in the recruitment pattern will come much later in the cheat sheet of the Commission. The Union Public Service Commission and the DoPT work on a two-year time table to recruit the 800-odd officers to be posted in the 29 civil services each year (it was 19 this year due to the reorganisation of the railways and some other services). Officers for Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service, Indian Police Service, Indian Revenue Service and the Indian Audit and Accounts Service, among others are selected through these exams. Once the Mission is up and running, future civil servants will not enter a service just on the basis of their final ranks in the examination, but on the basis of tests of aptitude. The Mission expects to define what each role should mean for a civil servant, slotting it with an identified activity list. Based on such appraisals, governments can identify which skills will be needed in future and shape recruitments or appointments accordingly. So a combined catch-all exam like the current civil services is definitely not going to survive. To make such a large-scale change in the permanent executive, several years of preparatory work are needed.

The recruitment advertisements for the combined entrance and interview examinations were issued in early 2020 for those who will join the services in September 2022. Again, the advertisements with the terms and conditions of the service have already been issued for the batch who will join in 2023.

Since the Capacity Building Commission has so far just got going, it will be a stretch from now for them to get all the plumbing done with a host of concerned departments, to change the recruitment terms even for those who will join in 2024. The most difficult of those could be the changes in the All-India Services Act of 1951 which will have to be done through Parliament. The law might have to travel through the state legislatures, too.

Given these complexities, the schedules shall stretch far into the term of the new government at the Centre which will assume office by May 2024.

At this stage, it is useful to score a checklist of the changes the Modi government has brought about in the civil services and governance plus those that are still on the drawing board.

Done:

1. Expansion of recruitments: Faced with a shortage of officers in most ministries, the government has begun to aggressively recruit them. For the IAS for instance, as per the recommendations of the BS Baswan committee, the annual intake has gone up to 180. For IPS, the number has risen to 150, it has been further increased to 200 from last year. Still, of the total cadre strength, the vacancies in IAS are 22.5 per cent as on January 2020. For IPS, it is 18.2 per cent. To catch up with the retirements, so that the vacancies come down to single digits at the present rate of intake, will happen by about 2025.

2. Lateral entry: A very slim project was begun in 2018 to bring in fresh talent and augment the ranks of senior officers in the Central Government. An advertisement for lateral recruitment of ten joint secretaries was put out, of whom seven finally joined in the ministries of civil aviation, commerce, economic affairs, new and renewable energy, financial services, environment, forest and climate change, road transport and highways, and ports, shipping & waterways. The recruitment was initially handled by DoPT but after it realised there were drafting errors in the advertisements and the volume of response was humongous, it had to cede the role to UPSC which finally did the selection.  

3. The government now proposes to recruit three more at joint secretary level, plus 27 posts at director level and 13 at the deputy secretary level through lateral recruitment. These officers will work for a limited term of three years with the government. They will be on contract/deputation (including short-term contract) basis. The advertisements are already out and responses are being shortlisted by the UPSC.

4. To weed out officers who were at least 50 years old and who were proving to be a burden on the administration, or those whose names figure in cases with investigation agencies, the government decided to make use of a clause in the service rules Fundamental Rule (FR) 56 (j)/(l). The clause was there since 1972 but was dusted up, to offer premature retirement to these employees. The carrot is that the dismissal is not treated as a penalty and so the officers retire with their full retirement benefits. In 2019 and 2020 DoPT data shows 170 officers have moved out accordingly. Of them, 90 are from the top ranked Group A services “to respond to the challenges of improving performance, and for bringing efficiency and transparency in administration”.

5. A key reform in the selection of non-executives begun since 2016 is to eliminate interviews for them. It means other than officers no other employment in the government requires an interview. So recruitment of all subordinate staff in ministries and departments are on the basis of written tests or skill tests eliminating a lot of subjectivity in the process. The same rules have been deployed for all companies or any bodies run by the government of India or is supported by it. “Only in case of specific posts for which any particular Ministry or  department considers an interview absolutely essential, a clearance from DoPT is necessary”. Twenty-four state governments and union territories have also discontinued these interviews for lower level posts.

6. Common recruitment agency: To eliminate the need for candidates seeking government jobs to appear for separate examinations conducted by multiple recruiting agencies, a common first-level screening of candidates through a Common Eligibility Test (CET) at the Graduate, the Higher Secondary and the Matriculate levels has begun. The various government and public sector recruitment agencies like the Staff Selection Commission, the Railway Recruitment Boards and the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection use the results from this test to pick candidates. A government estimate notes that every year, approximately 25 million candidates used to appear in these multiple recruitment examinations for approximately 125,000 vacancies, making their own expenditure to travel across different cities to appear at the exams. The CET is conducted by the National Recruitment Agency. The scores obtained by candidates in the CET may also be used by the state governments, the public sector and the private sector in their recruitments. The aim is to have at least one examination centre for CET in each district of the country.

7. The union cabinet had approved Mission Karmayogi in October 2020. The Mission is meant to redraw every aspect of the civil services including the policies, the institutional framework and their competencies. To do all of that it will bring in a new age digital learning framework and alter the human resource management system of all the civil services. As per the 7th Pay Commission the total number of officers in the states and the government recruited for serving at the top of the administration in India is about a hundred thousand, at any moment.  Tasked with this mega reform will be the Capacity Building Commission. It shall play a central role, advising a cabinet level team—the Prime Minister's Public Human Resources Council, developing an annual capacity building plan according to which the civil services will be shaped.

Pending:

1. Under Mission Karmayogi the Capacity Building Commission will operate a non-profit company, iGOT that will house the digital learning capabilities developed for training and upgrading the skills of the officers. Essentially, each officer recruited to the government in future, will be trained for delivering projects and will return to the Commission periodically, for upgrading her skills. There is supposed to be a lot of emphasis on a policy framework that will enable adoption of technological tools including Artificial Intelligence by the officers to implement programmes.It is a deep dive.

All the training institutions for the civil services (there are a lot of them including Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussorrie) will operate under the Commission. The Commission has begun to recruit 12 directors and under secretaries in the first phase with their complement of supporting staff. The scale already makes it larger than the Finance Commission.

2. Lokpal Is yet to give its first report to Parliament. It was set up under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 as an independent statutory body to which both the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Bureau of Investigation were to report, for corruption cases. It has not happened. Rather, even though it was promised to be set up very early in the first term of the Modi government it could get going only five years later in March 2019 when  it got a Chairperson and eight Members. The Lokpal is required to present annually to the President a report on the work done by it which is then to be tabled in Parliament.

While the Government has sanctioned 124 posts for the Lokpal at various levels including that of the Joint Secretary, Director/Deputy Secretary, Under Secretary, Section Officer, Accounts Officer as well as secretarial and support staff, it has yet to appoint Director (inquiry) and Director (prosecution), two key positions at additional secretary level, for the agency to perform.

3. Corruption: The Government amended the Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act, 1988 in July 2018. It claims the amended act will “clearly criminalise the act of giving bribes and will help check big ticket corruption by creating a vicarious liability in respect of senior management of commercial organizations”.  But the amendment is seen to have given more room to the senior officers to shield themselves especially as it makes it mandatory for the prosecuting agencies to acquire prior permission of the superior of the officer implicated, to move against them. In a reply to Parliament, DoPT has noted only seven IAS officers arrested for corruption during the last three years. The number of IPS is just one.

However the government has told Parliament it has “not received any specific complaints as regards discrepancies or  loopholes in anti-corruption laws and rules due to which awarding punishment to the people involved in corruption is delayed”. There are more than one cases challenging the amendments to the law in the Supreme Court and the High Courts.

4. The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014 was notified in May, 2014. In terms of provision of sub-section (3) of section 1 of the Act, the provisions of the Act shall come into force on such date as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint. No such notification has been made by the Government. The reasons are that the Act requires amendments which will ensure safeguards against disclosures affecting sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state and others before it is brought into force. To make these amendments to the Act, the Government introduced an amendment bill in the Lok Sabha in May, 2015 which was also passed. But discussion on the Bill has not cleared the Rajya Sabha. The Bill has since lapsed upon the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha. 

Measures done 
Measures not done
Expansion of recruitments to civil services as per Baswan committee report
Changes in recruitment rules civil services yet to come through
Lateral entry, begun in 2018, has been expanded 
Lokpal is yet to give its first report to Parliament
Premature retirement of officers of 50 years & above who were falling short Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act, amended. Only eight IAS and IPS officer charged under the Act
Selection of non-executives without interviews Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014 notified. But not implemented. Amendment bill has lapsed
Common recruitment test (CET) to eliminate the need for candidates seeking government jobs to appear for separate examinations .
Mission Karmayogi launched with Capacity Building Commission .



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