Need for urgent reforms in states' civil services

Candidates writing their KPSC exam in Kalaburagi. DH Photo/Prashanth HG

An efficient bureaucracy serves as the foundation of good governance. The political executive relies on bureaucracy to implement its policies and programmes. The selection of persons to serve in the sphere of public administration is therefore of paramount importance.

Following the system that evolved during the British regime, India adopted a system of merit-based appointments through competitive examinations. 

In order to conduct such examinations in a fair and impartial manner, the Constitution provided for the creation of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to select candidates for all-India services such IAS and IPS and for other Central services. Also created were the State Public Service Commissions (SPSC) to select candidates on similar lines for the state administrative and other technical services. 

While the UPSC has continued to maintain high standards of recruitment process, many SPSCs have unfortunately adopted dubious practices adversely affecting the quality of personnel recruited to the state services.

The functioning of the Karnataka Public Service Commission (KPSC), has in particular, come under a cloud during the last two to three decades. When serious irregularities in the process of selection of gazetted probationers during the years of 1998, 1999 and 2004 came to light, writ petitions were filed in the Karnataka High Court alleging malpractices. 

On the basis of investigations carried out at the at the instance of the court, the malpractices in the conduct of examinations were confirmed and some of the results had to be annulled. However, the move of the state government to regularise the appointments already made has given rise to fresh controversies.

The important question that comes up is the quality of members appointed to the State PSC. A CID enquiry into the conduct of gazetted probationers examination revealed payment of huge amounts of money to certain members of KPSC to secure prized posts such as Assistant Commissioners, Deputy Superintendents of Police, Assistant Commissioner of Commercial Taxes and so on. This led to scrapping of the examination. A matter of serious concern that came to light was the operation of ‘agents’ with connection to PSC members to procure specific jobs.

If persons of doubtful integrity and lacking necessary expertise are entrusted with the task of recruiting candidates who will be responsible for running the administration of the state, it reflects badly on those making such appointments and is bound to have a deleterious effect on governance.

It is time serious thought is given to reforming the state PSC as an institution. As of now, the selection of chairman and members of the PSC is entirely the discretion of the chief minister. No wonder, junior officers who had served as private secretaries to the CM enjoyed the privilege of being appointed as members. 

In Tamil Nadu, the Madras High Court quashed the appointment of 11 members of the Tamil Nadu PSC in 2017 on the ground that they were appointed arbitrarily without following any process. The most important administrative reform required at the state level is to have a foolproof method in the recruitment process of civil servants in states. The UPSC is able to conduct competitive examinations for various positions in central civil services every year with unfailing regularity and with hardly any complaints.

There is no reason why the same cannot be done at the state level. In 2013, the Karnataka government constituted a committee under the chairmanship of P C Hota, a former chairman of the UPSC, to make recommendations to strengthen the systems and procedures of the KPSC “to conduct free and fair selection to the posts in the State Civil Services.” 

Based on the recommendations of the committee, certain changes were made in the examination system.

Whatever the changes on paper, the strength of an institution lies more in the quality of persons who run it. The first major step to be taken by the state government is to prescribe suitable qualifications and experience for persons to be eligible to be appointed to the positions of chairman and members of the PSC.

It must also be ensured they enjoy impeccable integrity. Secondly, the conduct of examinations must be free and fair with no outside interference in the process of evaluation of papers or oral tests. Unless this is done, the selection process is likely to suffer from infirmities.

What is at stake is the future of young men and women aspiring to occupy positions in government and serve the people. In an age of severe competition, they must rest assured that the selections would be based purely on merit and not on extraneous considerations. 

Macaulay report

In its report on the creation of a civil service for India submitted in 1854, the Macaulay Committee, emphasising the importance of merit-based appointments, observed: “Henceforth, the appointment to the civil services of the Company will not be a matter of favour but a matter of right. He who obtains such an appointment will owe it solely to his own abilities and industry”.

These days, when we are talking about rights in every sphere - right to education, right to housing, right to health and so on, a citizen has a right to a job which is advertised and where she or he gets selected on the basis of merit. 

To be denied such a right by someone who adopts illegal and immoral methods abetted by those in authority is not only a travesty of justice but makes a mockery of the selection process.

At a time when India is facing a jobs crisis, it is strange that a large number of posts in government should lie vacant because of laxity and inefficiency on the part of recruiting authorities.

A study of 15 universities in Karnataka revealed 42% of faculty posts and 50% of non-academic posts were vacant. Somewhat similar is the story in several other departments. The government should quickly wake up to this sorry state of affairs and take corrective steps. Ultimately, human resources are the key to the success of any public policy, programme or project.

(The writer is former chief secretary, Government of Karnataka)

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