Reservations in promotions will lead to systemic dysfunction

Reservations in promotions will lead to systemic dysfunction

India is a nation of minorities, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-party democratic federation with the world’s most extensive human socio-economic disparities, deprivation and illiteracy  all of it violating the fundamentals of human rights.

Given this very complex social reality, one expects the government to have in place a comprehensive strategy for social affirmative action which would bring per capita happiness followed by the quality of life improving with each passing day — but the government’s objective, as is evident, is not even remotely linked to these common expectations.

On the contrary the nation is being subjected to the government’s experiments with dysfunctional principles and ideas. A blatant case today is the government’s Bill seeking the 117th amendment to the Constitution to grant reservation for promotions in government jobs to Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) to the extent of 15 per cent and 7.5 per cent respectively.

The backdrop to the government’s move is that there are no SC and ST officers at the secretary level in the Government of India while they are under-represented in most levels of the bureaucracy. The government is factually correct and a corrective step is needed to overcome this anomaly. But the path that the government has chosen — reservations in promotions notwithstanding  parliamentary affairs minister P K Bansal’s declaration that the government is committed to it, is certainly not the best course.
 The introduction of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha itself was a tumultuous event in the last session of Parliament as the honourable members descended from their seats for a free style fighting and did not augur well for our democracy, even if the Bill is highly contentious.

Significantly, the Supreme Court on April 28, 2012 had struck down the Uttar Pradesh Government Servants Seniority Rules, which had introduced reservation for promotions and termed it “unconstitutional and done without any sufficient data.”

The government is required to take cognisance of the judgment and take a correct affirmative action in the larger interest of the SC and ST and not take any step that could divide the civil service or institutionalise bitterness and prejudiced conduct in the bureaucracy. The government must do a thorough study to understand why the SC and ST are not represented or under-represented in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy.

The All India combined competitive examination for the civil services (CECS) conducted by the Union Public Service Commission attracts many graduates in India and passing the examination opens the door to the best government jobs in the world — the IAS, the IFS, the IPS, the Indian Revenue Services, the Indian Railway Traffic Service etc.

Age limit relaxation

The prescribed age limit for taking the examination is minimum 21 years and maximum 30 years as on August 1 of the year of examination. For SC and ST candidates, the upper age limit is relaxed by 5 years, for Other Backward Classes by 3 years and for candidates with disabilities — visual or hearing or orthopaedically impaired by 10 years. The reason for relaxations on upper age limit is based on the historical and inherent social denials, discriminations and the social disadvantages the SC, ST, OBC and the disabled persons encounter on a daily basis.

The CECS however is not an easy examination and the competition is intense. As many are unable to succeed in the first attempt, the UPSC allows a limited number of attempts for all. For the general category and the creamy layer of the OBC only four attempts, for the OBC seven attempts; and, for the SC and ST any number of attempts till the age of 35 years — that translates to a maximum of 15 attempts. And with a retirement age fixed at 60 years, a normal tenure in the civil service thus ranges from 25 to 38 years.

A relevant fact is that every civil servant from day one on the job knows the date of retirement which is referred to in the government as superannuation on attaining the age of 60 years. Should a candidate appearing for the CECS at the age of 21 is successful- the candidate joins the civil service at the age of 22 years and will have 38 years tenure.

If belonging to the IAS or IFS, the officer after 30 years of service attains the rank of a Secretary to the Government of India. Most candidates from the SC and ST graduate late and thus join the civil service late — many therefore have shorter tenure of 25-30 years which denies them promotions to the higher echelons such as an additional secretary or secretary to the Government of India.

The government Bill on reservations in promotions to favour the SC and ST will result in giving promotion when it’s not due. This would disturb the order of precedence, disrupt the rationale of hierarchy and interrupt the chain of command and last but not the least the current level of functional efficiency will give way to systemic dysfunction.

A colleague from the IFS, Vivek Katju suggested a fixed tenure of 37-38 years provided they join before attaining the prescribed maximum age. Allow a fixed tenure of 38 years for all who clear the CECS in the first 4 attempts and reduce the tenure by a year for every unsuccessful attempt in the case of SC, ST and the OBC.

This alternative to reservations in promotions will fulfill the objectives of the government to have SC and ST Officers well represented at all levels of the bureaucracy, and as a bonus to the government a ‘happiness factor’ in the administration will emerge to raise the level of efficiency.

(The writer is a retired career diplomat from the Indian Foreign Service)