Wasted in the IAS

Topics IAS | BS Opinion | civil services

The prime minister has spelt out a multi-point reform programme. One of the points is administrative reform. And that reminded me. The other day on the popular quiz programme Kaun Banega Crorepati a young lady was being quizzed by Amitabh Bachchan. She said she was an almost fully trained medical doctor but wanted to join the civil services, preferably the IAS. Which poses a serious question for those Indians who are otherwise obsessed with the gigantic waste of national resources by politicians: Isn’t this the mother of all wastages, that a fully trained doctor should become.....
The prime minister has spelt out a multi-point reform programme. One of the points is administrative reform. And that reminded me.

The other day on the popular quiz programme Kaun Banega Crorepati a young lady was being quizzed by Amitabh Bachchan. She said she was an almost fully trained medical doctor but wanted to join the civil services, preferably the IAS.

Which poses a serious question for those Indians who are otherwise obsessed with the gigantic waste of national resources by politicians: Isn’t this the mother of all wastages, that a fully trained doctor should become a civil servant? Would you make, say, a fully trained pilot a flight steward? Or a nurse a cardiac surgeon?

Take Arvind Kejriwal, who is an engineer from an IIT. He became an income tax officer, then an activist, and finally a politician. Could he not have done the last three without becoming an engineer, that too from an IIT? Indeed, our laws don’t require him to be educated at all.

The same question must be asked of all those engineers and doctors who are joining these services. Why, for heaven’s sake, then did you become an engineer or a doctor?

Everyone knows the answer, of course. It’s because of a peculiarly Indian disease: The power and the status that government services confer on employees. To a few, it’s also because of the roads to riches that government services open.

The peculiar thing is that even though many states and municipalities don’t pay their doctors and engineers for months on end, they still want to join the government. The desire to join the major civil services could be because these guys always get paid on time, not to mention the ability to lord it over citizens. In Hindi the phrase for this is “sonay pe suhaga” or the icing on the cake.

 
My friends who had been, or still are, on the UPSC interview boards say that around 50 per cent of those who passed the written examination and were interviewed for the Class 1 services were or are fully trained engineers and doctors. That percentage may be an exaggeration but even half that number should scandalise us: Why spend at least a couple of crore of rupees on training doctors and engineers for a job that can be done by persons on whom just Rs 10-15 lakh has been spent because both student fees and teacher salaries are so low for liberal arts and basic science degrees.

Quite simply, civil servants don’t need to be engineers or doctors. They need a different kind of intellectual training, which can be had for just a few lakhs. This doesn’t make them inferior. In fact, it helps.

Second-best solution

Ideally, doctors and engineers, because they are more useful as doctors and engineers, should be banned from joining the civil services both at the central and state levels. But Article 14 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on any grounds whatsoever. So a ban is not possible, even if it is desirable.

What then is the way of ensuring that national resources are not misspent in this manner? And make no mistake: It is indeed a terrible waste, not only because these people don’t do what they were trained for, they also prevent someone else from becoming a doctor or an engineer.

The way to prevent this waste, without abridging or infringing a constitutional right, is via a simple administrative order by the government which says all doctors and engineers who become civil servants will serve 20 years in government hospitals and the public works department before becoming eligible for other posts. This is well within government remit.

This way the country will get its money’s worth from training doctors and engineers and the individuals will also have the satisfaction of exercising power. Their status, of course, lies in the three letters they add at the end of their names even long after retirement.

Another reform, please

Yet another long overdue reform is the way the preliminary written entrance test is designed now. The problem with it is that it tests for the candidate’s random access memory, and not much else.

This places a premium on robotic skills while discounting the main skill public service requires, namely, the ability to take non-quantifiable variables into account. This is the ability for independent judgement.

If in the name of social justice all we are getting are robotic skills, why not just have artificial intelligence? At least robots won’t harass citizens and play politics.


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