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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 20, New Delhi, May 1, 2021

Reforms In Civil Services: Issues and Challenges | Nisha Mishra

Saturday 1 May 2021


by Nisha Mishra*

“We need government servants with commitments to the development of the country and personal involvement in the tasks.” — Indira Gandhi

The civil services, the administrative apparatus of the state and the architecture of governance are seen as instruments to actualize the vision into reality. India inherited an extensive and well-defined administrative set up from the British (popularly known as ‘steel frame’) but the challenge to change its spirit and outlook, attitude and direction remained unaccomplished. Post independence, two new All India Services i.e., Indian Administrative services and Indian Police Services were started. The credit of establishing the modern-day public institution was pioneered by nation’s first home minister Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. In a special address to the first batch of IAS officers at Metcalfe House in Delhi, he remarked “your predecessors were brought up in the traditions in which they....kept themselves aloof from common people. It will be your bounden duty to treat the common men in India as your own. He viewed them as a team of efficient and loyal officers who would contribute to the stability and integration of the nation. But unfortunately, with the passage of time, the civil servants have failed to maintain the reputation of the ICS as the honest and dedicated public service, while some lack professional competence.

India being the world’s largest democracy, the socio-economic problems of the country is varied. With the advent of the concept of ‘welfare state’ the very concept of governance underwent a sea change from the earlier notion of the rulers and the ruled. The government has adopted multi-pronged strategy to reach every nook and corner of the country.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2008) on ‘’refurbishing personnel administration’’ has observed: ‘’often systemic rigidities, needless complexities and over centralization make public servants ineffective and helpless in achieving positive outcomes. On the other hand, negative power of abuse of authority through flagrant violation of law, petty tyranny and nuisance vale is virtually unchecked. This situation is further aggravated by asymmetry of power in our society.”

Quality of governance and role of public servants have performed dismally in number of crucial areas such as public health, education, etc,. Henceforth it is clear that lack of performance of public service is due to the absence of accountability, outdated laws, rules and procedure, excessive of red tapism, politicization of services and maintenance of status quo. The public servant is more conscious of their position than of their commitment to the service.

There are several reasons that act as an impediment to effective functioning of the public services. First, frequent use of transfers and postings as instrument of reward and punishment have affected the effective implementation of policies, resulting in improper allocation of public funds and undermining the efficiency.

Second, the lack of fixed tenure for officials is also seen as a stumbling block to effective managerial performance; thus leaving the officer in the position irresponsive and unaccountable. The civil service reform committee (Hota committee,2004) in its report submitted in july,2004 observes that ‘’we feel that if an officer of the higher civil service is given a fixed tenure of at least three years in his post and given annual performance targets, effectiveness of the administrative machinery will register a quantum jump.” It also recommended for a rigorous review to be carried out of performance of civil servant after 15 years of service, based on earlier quinquennial review of performance. If an officer is not honest and performance oriented, he be weeded out of service on the completion of 15 years on proportionate pension. A government servant’s promotion, career advancement and continuance should be linked to his actual performance on the job.

Third, the growing nexus between the political executive and civil servants have raised questions on neutrality and anonymity principles. The unwillingness of political executive to welcome free and frank advice of the officer and lack of confidence in civil servant have found to be serious impediment to effective implementation of public policy. Sardar Vallabh Patel said:’’ I advise you to allow the service to open their mouth freely. Today my secretary can write a note opposed to my views. I have given that freedom to all my secretaries. I have told them,’’if you do not give your honest opinion for fear that it will displease your minister, please then you had better go. I will bring another secretary.” I will never be displeased over a frank expression of opinion.’’

Fourth, rampant corruption in public offices from bottom rung up to the top level and misappropriation of public funds have significantly hampered in giving proper shape to priorities, government programmes and policy. Public servants being caught red handed while accepting bribes, or possessing assets disproportionate to his source of income has raised questions on his ethical conduct and integrity. P.C.Hota committee (2004) recommended for rules to be framed under Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act 1988 for attachment/forfeiture of ill-gotten property of corrupt public servants. The transparency international index in its report for the year 2019 has ranked India 80th position among 180 countries in the corruption perception index.

In India, there is no ethical code of conduct for administrators; there is what we called the government servant conduct rules which only lay down what constitutes misconduct for the public servant. The second administrative commission (2008) recommended for ‘’public service values’’ for civil servants to regulate them in their organizational and public dealings. Paul.H.Appleby in his book “morality and administration in democratic government ‘’highlighted the moral features of public servant : (i) a sense of responsibility (ii) skills in communication and personnel administration (iii) effective utilization of institutional resources(iv)initiative to create new ideas (v) pubic interest to be the major priority.

Over the time, the role and responsibilities of public servant have become increasingly complicated and convoluted. With the onset of globalization there is a paradigm shift from centrally planned economies to market structures and their integration with global economy. The emergence of information communication technology heralded new opportunities for rapid social and economic transformation worldwide. Building a professionalized civil service possessing necessary competence, skill, public service orientation, participatory and pro-citizen ethic, is the need of the hour. The present government is more concerned of the lateral entry into civil services. Induction of non-IAS/private sector talent at senior level of government departments/organizations will be beneficial in ameliorating the shortage of officers in the key position, bringing in fresh ideas and more target-oriented specialized administration.’’ It is an opportunity to attract and retain the best and brightest from across the world that have a sector perspective and boost the ministry or department’s capabilities and proficiency.’’ Amitabh Kant, CEO of the NITI Aayog wrote.

The Right to Information Act, 2005 gave the common people the much needed right to seek information about the working of their government .the act is also accorded the status of fundamental right under Article 19(1) of the Indian constitution. Though the RTI has been criticized on several occasions for being used frivoslously, yet it acts as a vehicle of citizen-government interface. The effective implementation of this law would help keep government on its toe, thereby making it responsive and accountable.

E-governance has reduced distances to nothing, linking remote villages to government offices by effectively eliminating middleman and facilitating ‘single window system’ of payment of income taxes, electricity bills, online applications, ticket reservation, etc,. However this will be a big challenge for the government as majority of the population being illiterate and aware of its complexities can be deceived and circumvented. The appropriate application of ICT may possibly reduce the number of inefficiencies in processes by allowing file and data sharing across government departments thereby streamlining the internal processes, fast and convenient transactions in terms of time, content and accessibility.

Second administrative commission on ‘citizen-centric administration’ has listed down number of reforms: (i) single window agency within the organizations to minimize delays and maximize convenience to citizens.(ii)mandatory social audit of the policies and programmes being implemented by the government organization.(iii)effective grievance redressal mechanism and regular citizen’s feedback for improving organizational efficiency. The Sevottam model, enunciated by 2nd ARC, is an integrated approach aiming at improving the quality of public service delivery mechanism in the country.

A careful analysis of various recommendations on the reforms of administration structure is somewhat shaped by competing claims of new public management philosophy and democratic strivings evident in the concern for efficiency, effectiveness, autonomy and citizen-centricity. The 21st century civil servant has to imbibe professional ethos, be dynamic to excel in delivery of service to the common citizen.

(Author: is Post-Graduate Scholar in Department of Political Science, BHU, Varanasi)


  • Civil services reform: P.C.Hota committee (2004)
  • Reports of Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2008)
  • Readings from Indian Journal of Public Administration.
  • Three year action agenda of NITI Aayog (2017)
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