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Tension brews within civil service caste system as IPS cadres get ambitious

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For every Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, the badge of 'Director, CBI' is invariably the most coveted post. However, that designation could soon be giving way to more ambitious roles if the options given by recent successful civil service candidates is anything to go by. One of their seniors, Ajit Doval, has already earned the post of National Security Advisor, with the rank of a minister of state. The cabinet secretary, the highest post an IAS officer can currently hold, is a constitutional position, but isn't ministerial. 

Those ambitions could fuel tensions at the top rung of the civil service. Breaking a 26-year-old tradition, the government has appointed a non-IPS officer to head another important investigative agency, the Enforcement Directorate. Indian Revenue Service officer Sanjay Kumar Mishra replaced Karnal Singh last week. Another IRS officer, K V Chowdary has been the Central Vigilance Commissioner since 2015. CVC has the powers to direct the operations of the CBI on issues of anti-corruption.

Yet, in the last two editions of the annual civil service examinations, upending long-established trends, some of the candidates in the top 50 have opted for the IPS. Since the so-called caste system in the civil service is quite rigid, this is quite a surprise. Among the 800-odd candidates who clear the examination each year, the choice for the first 100-odd is clearly IAS, with some smattering of Indian Foreign Service and then IPS. Though the IPS recruits about 150 officers, the toppers among them have usually been holding ranks no higher than those in the nineties. This is beginning to change. In the 2017 batch, candidates with 13th and 25th rank have opted for IPS. In the year before, it was the 38th. These are early days, but in the highly status-conscious world of civil servants, these changes are most significant. 

This trend could also set off a stir among their seniors. For decades, IPS officers have been content to pick up only law and order-related roles at the states and even at the centre. Compared with their nearest competitors in the Indian Revenue Service (income tax), IPS officers rarely ventured into other assignments. So even though they have a cadre strength of 4,940, against 6,077 in IAS and about 4,200 in IRS, their presence in non-police departments has been very low. They have, instead, confined themselves to run police establishments even when they are on deputation. 

The website of the department of personnel and training has a puny list of just 14 IPS officers who have offered themselves for being placed in central government ministries as joint secretaries, additional secretaries and secretaries. It is also in line with a survey conducted under former cabinet secretary K M Chandrasekhar in 2010, to study how civil servants perceive their jobs. He had discovered that among civil servants the proportion of respondents agreeing with the need to specialise is the lowest among IAS (70 per cent) and highest among IPS (80 per cent) which makes them stick to their assigned roles instead of seeking new ones. 

Some of that reticence could be peeling off. Young officers who want to join the IPS with such high ranks in the qualifying examination will obviously demand more from their jobs. Speaking about the trend, a top IAS officer acknowledged this as a challenge. The government has already alienated a large percentage of IAS officers by advertising for lateral entry to the top jobs (The centre has advertised for 10 posts at  the level of joint secretary to be filled by recruits on contract from outside the government, including the private sector). 

Another officer, Vivek Rae, member of the Seventh Pay Commission and a former IAS officer, had told Business Standard that he opposed the move; "I am not clear what is driving the proposal. The width and depth of experience which IAS officers garner by virtue of their varied assignments is hard to beat. There is plenty of specialised knowledge available with them which needs to be tapped. In fact, government personnel policies have not given adequate importance to consolidating and tapping this expertise. Reform of personnel policy is the remedy, not lateral entry."

Meanwhile the department of personnel and training has put out an advertisement to fill up the post of Director of Prosecution at CBI. The post is something like the Director General of Military Operations in the army, which directs deployment of fighting units in war. The advertisement for the post makes it clear it is not restricted to only IPS officers.

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Disclaimer: The story has been modified to incorporate factual corrections

IPS fact sheet
Cadre strength 3,972 (actual); 4,940 (sanctioned)
Central deputation 1,067
Of these 12 posted in ministries/departments in Delhi

2 CEO

14 have offered themselves for empanelment to various ministries
CSE exam year Highest ranking candidates opting for IPS
2017 13
2016 38
2015 97
2014 100
2011 101


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