Reportedly a new policy for cadre allocation has been finalised by the Government of India for Officers of the All India Services – the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Forest Service (IFoS) – aimed at ensuring “national integration” in the country’s top bureaucracy. Currently, they are allocated a State cadre or a set of States to work in, based on their choice and a concomitant, complex formula. They are also eligible for Central deputation and inter-State deputation on the fulfilment of certain eligibility criteria. In replacement of this system, Officers will now have to choose cadres from a set of Zones, instead of States.
The existing 26 cadres have been divided into 5 Zones. Zone I has 7 cadres – AGMUT ( Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territories), Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana. Zone II consists of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, while Zone III comprises Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam-Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura and Nagaland will constitute Zone IV, while Zone V will have Telengana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Candidates will now have to select one State/Cadre from a Zone as their first choice. The other choices have mandatorily to be from the remaining Zones, in a descending order of priority. Usually candidates choose their home-State as their first choice and neighbouring States as their subsequent preferences. This will no longer be feasible. Once indicated, the choice will be taken as final. Officers from Bihar for example, will have to work, according to their declared choice, in southern or north-eastern States, if they do not get their home-States or States of first choice. According to the Ministry of Personnel this will provide varied experience, essential to nurturing the core spirit of the All India Services.
The logical inference to be drawn from this initiative is that the core spirit is felt to be in need of reinforcement. There never has been any doubt on the essential character of the All India Services, as enshrined in our Constitution. That it has not always lived up to the expectations of our founding-parents (not fathers) is a no-brainer.
However, the immediate trigger for this new policy, its timing and, most vitally, the rationale for its stated link to the lofty cause of national integration, as distinct from shoring up the All India Services, is not known and may not come into the public domain any time soon, as we do not actually set much store by transparency, in spite of strident protestations to the contrary. At best, the rationale and its link to national integration can only be fuzzy. It could well be simply a marketing ploy for unenthusiastic stakeholders, as everything needs to carry a certain nationalistic patina these days.
Nonetheless, what is striking is that there is not much that is new in the policy, though it is being projected as such. It does not appear to effect any fundamental changes and essentially works towards making an already inscrutable system even more incomprehensible than what it is, much to the despair and dismay of those who have to bear its brunt.
It is no secret that the aspirations of the lakhs and lakhs of wannabe All India Service Officers, year on year, converge precisely on getting a State cadre of choice. That is the ultimate in the realm of dreamlike possibilities. Ironically, the prospects of achieving it becomes that much more tantalising as merit has to be twinned with the opaque formulation, referenced above, in the final lap of getting to it. This has, over the decades, thanks to the tireless efforts of successive Governments to rejig the bureaucracy – mostly ineffectually – acquired multiple layers of dark density. Its operationalisation resultantly leaves much room for endless speculation and idle guesstimates. The allocation of cadres is awaited with much anxiety and trepidation by successful candidates of the uber-challenging Civil Services Examination. After all, there ceases to be a level playing field in the post-allocation scenario, given the skewed nature of our development in different parts of the country.
Earlier, the wait to know one’s fate – as it is nothing short of that for an AIS Officer – was excruciatingly long. Recently, some do-gooder within the Government has thought it fit to cut down the heartburn and frustration-time, which more often than not overwhelms the sense of fulfilment and pride at having entered the hallowed portals of the bureaucracy.
Many strategies are tried to swing the cadre allocation in line with what the candidates have opted for and to get around a potential mega disappointment. Quite popular – and very convenient – is the marriage route, even though that does not guarantee the home-State, only a perceived upgrade in the pecking order among the more sought after cadres. Pragmatism trumping Cupid! Quite appropriate, one may say, given the high stakes. More difficult and not everyone’s cuppa tea, is networking and pulling the right strings, behind the scenes. These are managed in so skillfully surreptitious a manner that only the beneficiaries remain in the know of the efforts and the outcome. For the record, of course, the entire exercise of cadre allocation is totally objective and unquestionable.
There are categories of favoured and not-so-favoured cadres to serve in. No prizes for figuring out which they are. The unpalatable reality is that the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir are rarely cadres of first choice, except for those for whom they happen to be home-States. Again, there is the great Deccan-divide, if one may term it so, with a clear reluctance to serve by crossing beyond the familiar. Those who are so assigned, against their choice, have to perforce make a very special effort to blend in to the State in order to do full justice to their onerous responsibilities. This inevitably takes its toll.
Of course, it must be granted that many do go for it with great gusto and they do succeed. Full credit to them. There are enough success stories in the public domain, highlighted thanks to social media. However, there are some who never do make it, either for lack of effort or in spite of it. Thereafter, they carry on in a dispirited, lackluster manner but are most unwilling to forego the privileged position they are placed in. Most of their time and energy is spent on bagging a posting outside the non-prized cadre and staying out for extended tenures, to return only to pick up periodic, almost assured promotions or retirement benefits. Since leave of so many hues is permissible, it is liberally availed of, without any qualms, whether formally granted or not.
This is notwithstanding special facilities accorded to compensate the difficult postings. These non-success stories and the extensive governance-deficit they cause over long periods, especially to less developed regions, are invariably swept under the proverbial carpet as introspection on dark spots is never encouraged.
This brings us to the fundamental issue of the pan-Indian ethos which is the underpinning of the All India Services, as conceptualised by Sardar Vallabhai Patel in the post-Independence days as a worthy successor to the classy Indian Civil Service of the Raj era. Perhaps no in-depth study has been carried out to understand how well it has worked in the past 70 years. It may be useful to undertake one. The takeaways may help in overhauling the system of forced cadre-allocations, which clearly militates against efficient governance, particularly at the grassroots level, which matters the most. There is no way reluctant bureaucrats can be force-fed an ethos which they do not subscribe to.
Instead of perpetuating something intrinsically unpopular, with infusions of enhanced complexity and rigidity, for the elusive glory of “national integration”, let there be some fresh thought on how best to tap the human capital available with the Government. There is much talk of institutionalising lateral entry to energise an evidently creaking governance structure and getting bright unicorns to bedazzle with their brilliance and competence. How about sparing more than a passing thought, dressed up as a new policy, for those who are willing to give up their all to become its integral part? There are many burning issues within but they are not yet being adequately addressed for reasons as yet inexplicable.
The author, Dr. Tuktuk Ghosh, is a retired IAS Officer and one-time academic. She retains a keen interest in promoting excellence and equity in all spheres of our public life.
Tweet at Dr. Ghosh: @tghoshk