Why are IITians making a beeline for the IAS?

Why are IITians making a beeline for the IAS?

In the last four weeks, I have closely interacted with over 100 aspirants for central services. These are not ordinary young men and women; they have already cleared UPSC’s written examinations for central services and have been called for the interview.

As three times more candidates are called for interview than the actual number of vacancies available, one third of them will eventually make it to IAS/IPS/IFS and other central services. Their educational background makes an interesting read. It also reveals
a new phenomena which are not generally known.

Eightfive of them were engineers having done their BTech/MTech in computer science/ electronics/IT/ mechanical / electrical / civil engineering from prestigious IITs and ten of them had obtained MBBS/MD. Remaining five had studied humanities: political science, history, economics and psychology.  

It is surprising that the IITs whose students virtually created the Silicon Valley in the US and several of them such as Vinod Khosla,Vinod Dham, Sabeer Bhatia, Vinod Gupta, Rajat Gupta, Raghuram Rajan have become iconic international figures are today witnessing huge migration from their fold to central services. After getting admission through a national-wide tough competition in the IITs set up with large funds and having studied specialised engineering subjects for 4-5 years, the young graduates are abandoning their chosen career paths for the lure of the central services, particularly the IAS.

Have the IITs lost their sheen? How come the proud engineers and doctors are no more satisfied with their chosen professions? Is it good for India, whose infrastructure and healthcare facilities are abysmally inadequate? Why this great rush for the government’s services in the times of free market economy, mushrooming MNCs and fat salaries? Why this Kolaveri Di for the IAS?

Public perception that the brightest of the bright young men and women would be making a beeline for the corporate sector is misplaced. Some of the candidates were working for Goldman Sach, KPMG, Accenture, TCS, Infosys and other IT companies drawing an annual salary of Rs 15-18 lakh.They still aspired to join the central services and were prepared to take a steep dip in their initial salary if selected. Around 95 per cent had given IAS as their first choice followed by IPS, IRS, customs/audit & accounts services. Indian Foreign Service which, till late 1970s, attracted the crème de crème was pushed to sixth place; only one candidate, a daughter of a serving IAS officer, had opted for IFS as her first choice.

Asked why they wanted to get into the IAS, the stock replies were: to serve the people, accept higher challenges, become a part of nation building process, work at a much wider canvas and so on. When confronted that as engineers and doctors too they could have had plenty of opportunities of serving the people, being a part of nation building and coming face to face with numerous challenges their replies lacked coherence and conviction. What they don’t admit candidly is that in their eyes IAS has become synonymous with power and authority.

Stumbling block

The facts that several senior IAS officers are currently cooling their heels in jails and bureaucracy is perceived as the biggest stumbling block in India’s transformation as an economic super power and lampooned as comprising of babus who oppose change and cause red tape and delays didn’t seem to deter them. In the air-conditioned, sanitised offices buzzing with sophisticated gizmos they might work in a clean environment and draw attractive salaries but lack the decision making authority and sense of power which their IAS counterparts enjoy. While during the initial stage of their careers, the big bungalows that the district magistrates enjoy are a source of envy at senior level, it is the one-size-fits-all image of the IAS which is a huge attraction. An IAS officer is considered a Jack of all trades;. Moreover, once selected, unlike the corporate world, one can’t be sacked except in rarest of rare cases!

But shouldn’t government be concerned with the exodus of engineers to central services? Isn’t it wastage of huge investment in the IITs? After all these weren’t set up to breed IAS/IPS officers? The ratio of doctors and the patients places India at 67th place among developing countries; there is just one doctor for over 2,000 patients. So while the entry of doctors might be good for the health of the central services, it isn’t necessarily good for the health of our nation.            

India occupies a very high place on the list of the corrupt countries. Every morning reveals a new scandal involving bureaucrats, politicians, corporate world, judiciary, defence establishments, media, middlemen, movers and shakers. To bring down such rampant corruption shouldn’t the UPSC be testing a candidate’s innate honesty, integrity and incorruptibility and will power to withstand pressure, coercion and inducement rather than go by the marks scored by them?

The current form of examinations and selection process for All India services is ill-equipped to select the kind of people who can make a difference. Being intelligent, honest and hard working isn’t enough for an administrator today. One must have the nerves of steel to resist political pressure as well as temptation of corruption.

Sensitiveness to the needs of the common people and some fire of idealism within to serve the people with dedication even at the risk of earning wrath of the high and mighty is essential. One must also show courage to embrace imaginative and innovative ideas and latest technology to cut the labyrinthine lanes of administrative decision making and ensure timely implementation of various policies meant for the good of the people. Above all, they must remember that they are government servants and not govt officers! Do they care enough?

(The writer is a former dean, Foreign Service Institute, New Delhi)

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