• Introduction w.r.t. declining state of civil services.
  • Mention the reasons for its ignominy.
  • Steps that can be taken.
  • Conclusion

Even if the civil services have been appreciated for its competence, commitment & integrity, over the last 50 years, the civil services (especially the IAS) have brought ignominy for itself for its ineptitude, indifference, corruption and loss of moral compass. Former Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar in his book “Public Service Ethics” argues that the country’s rusted steel frame is viewed as “a well operated gang of corrupt & incompetent members”. The PM, too, had lamented the IAS pervading India’s administrative structure.


  • The Civil services, especially the IAS, is a virtual clone of the British ICS. It has persisted the colonial structure‘a maai baap sarkar’ manned by people behaving as corps d’ elite. Hence, it is a symbol of ‘inequality and amateurish dilettantism’ in our administration.
  • It has become increasingly self-serving.
  • Deeply flawed system of incentives & penalties. Everyone getting promoted by seniority, breeding a system that promotes mediocrity & risk aversion.
  • Many incompetent people often occupy top leadership positions. Acute leadership deficit is plaguing the civil services.
  • Officers are seen to be easily pliable, indulging in politicians’ whims & fancies, to seek favours. This has resulted in ‘politicisation of bureaucracy’. It has become parasitic.
  • Greed has taken its toll. IAS has ensured its total monopoly at the top layers of bureaucracy, even encroaching in areas of technocrats, educationists and other groups – a phenomenon termed as “bureaucratic imperialism”.
  • There is a adage – ‘the IAS never retires’, pointing to extension of tenures or post retirement sinecures. This applies to other services as well. The higher the seniority level, the more vulnerability & timidity is seen among officers.

Thus, individually intelligent, industrious and idealistic officers eventually turn avaricious, clannish & hegemonic, under the grind of the system.

Steps to be taken:

  • Several reforms initiated by the government includes systematic review post 30-years of service or 50/55 years of age; opening small window of lateral entry of professionals in central ministries, a task-force to help government effect major reforms through Mission Karmayogi.
  • Consider & implement the 2nd ARC and NITI Aayog recommendations.
  • NITI Aayog’s recommendation to cut the number of civil services from existing 60+ cadres and reducing the upper age limit from 32 years to 27 years, can be considered.
  • It is useful to study and take cue from the armed forces selection, recruitment and training of commanding officers.
  • Post mid-career selection by UPSC may be considered for a common panel for senior positions from all services.
  • Effective mechanism to safeguard civil servants from political whims & bureaucratic vengeance.
  • Extending tenures & post retirement sinecures should be highly discouraged and eventually, forbidden.
  • Creation of an independent Civil Services Board tasked with matters of appointments and transfers. This will ensure impartiality & objectivity. However, it requires an expedient political will.

Administrative reforms has remained a staple of perennial debate. India needs creative destruction for reinventing its critical institutions. Therefore, makeshift repairs will remain futile. So, the ‘steel frame’ which has steadily become a creaking bamboo frame, belying Sardar Patel’s expectations, needs a complete overhaul.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish April 22, 2022