Demand for pay parity with IAS: A dishonest debate

Demand for pay parity with IAS: A dishonest debate

The debate on inter-services pay-parity – which is the demand of the other services to be given the pay and promotions at par with the IAS – in context of the divided opinion in the Seventh Pay Commission Report is a dishonest debate. The proposition obfuscates the real issue which is, what structure of governance and administration best serves our country.

The pay and promotional parity among all services would mean that, theoretically, the Indian Police Service officers could become, at the Centre, say health secretary in the Ministry of Health (MHA), or the Indian Revenue Service Officers could be secretary, Tribal Affairs.

Further, the coordination role of home secretary in the MHA or revenue secretary in Department of Economic Affairs vis-à-vis heads of organisations (CBDT, CBEC, Police Organisations etc) under these ministries would be rendered ineffective.

It is akin to making multiple captains in a cricket team – “batting captain”, “bowling captain”, “fielding captain” etc on the specious argument that all aspects of cricket are equally important, so each type of “expert” ought to be the captain for the specific activity.

Democracy is a self-evident truth. And from this truth itself a large part of structure of governance and administration flows out as a corollary. Elected governments via universal adult suffrage is the first essential feature of a liberal democracy. You cannot dismantle elected government system without destroying democracy.

In much the same way, the basic structure of the civil services cannot be altered by giving en-mass promotions to all civil servants across all services on equal footing without having serious repercussions on the efficiency and efficacy of the civil services.
The public policy is a complex multi-disciplinary endeavour. Public policy making is characterised as a dynamic, complex, and interactive system through which public problems are identified and countered by creating new public policy or by reforming existing public policy. This is done by continuously correlating the inputs and ideas with what the citizen wants or needs.

The IAS, with decades of experience of directly working with the people and actually implementing the policies of the government, has the requisite exposure to people’s aspirations and problems, making them the best suited to handle the positions of policy formulation and coordination.

An IAS officer begins her career in the remotest village working as part of her training as the lowest Group D functionary. She works in all branches of the government including judiciary, police, development, enforcement etc.

She spends more than a decade in the district directly working with the people. She works with the whole and not some limited sub-sets of the populace in census operations, disaster management, conduct of elections, running anganwadis and schools, managing massive fairs, urban management, health, commerce etc.

She lives the dictum that administration is not a diktat but an engagement of people. She learns first hand to think beyond silos and limited truths. She learns to coordinate and harmonise divergent interests to achieve common goals.

She learns that dialogue and communication works better in bringing people together than logic alone. She learns that apparent contradictions are just that – apparent contradictions - and, there are almost always win-win solutions if only a few sacrifice their extreme narrow interests.

The IAS have cross-sectoral vision and experience to have a ‘complete view’ of the competing needs and give a connecting link to all organs of the administration. A service which, while being part of a department, also transcends it in its outlook when larger good is in question. The IAS, due to its close working with the full population, is also the most democratised service.

Policy formulation being a complex field of human endeavour, needs a “multidisciplinary expert”. Therefore, all democracies have either “generalist” civil servants or  outsiders at the helm of policy formulation.

For example, in the United Kingdom, the secretary of treasury is a so-called
“generalist” civil servant as is the commissioner of internal revenue, a rank outsider, in the United States. Thus, careerist taxman does not rise to the position of policy formulation.

Fallacious argument

Therefore, it is a fallacious argument that the IAS being “generalists”, the posts
they have been handling can be thrown open to other sister services. An IPS becoming home secretary or an IRS becoming finance secretary is as incongruent as an IAS becoming the DGP or commissioner of income tax.

In the context of public affairs, the requisite expertise is to be an ‘expert’ of common man and human affairs. This roughly means an expertise to know where each expert fits in the overall picture. This expertise arises out of knowing how the nation lives through its citizens. It is created as a consequence of working along with the citizens and attempting to solve problems.

The biggest immediate loser in the process would be the Government of India itself and inevitably, the nation. While democracy without elected governments is dead, the democracy without civil servants who have worked with the people is blind.

Change is the law of the nature. However, going round in circles is no change. The subject matter ‘specialists’ and ‘experts’ controlling organs of government is an archaic and discarded practice. It stands supplanted by democracy and “non-expert” policy makers.

The idea, actually, violates one of the holy grails of a liberal democracy – separation of powers. The law enforcement wings of the civil services becoming the framers of the law, rules and public policies, is a sure way to degeneration. Not a single democr-acy in the world follows this model which is a sure road to decadence and destruction.

“Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it,” is a dictum that would come to haunt our nation like inexorable Law of Karma in our own life-time.

(The writer, an IAS officer, is Commissioner, Rural Development and Director, Bhoomi, Karnataka Government, Bengaluru)

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