Need to reform civil services recruitment







  1. Does the present system of selection in the Civil Services Examination (CSE) conducted by UPSC does justice to fulfill the objective? Does it recruit the best talent?
  2. Can a 3-hour examination on Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude and Interview be adequate to test the character of candidates?
  3. Why can’t India have a civil service college that awards graduate degrees to students and selects the deserving ones to serve in the Government when they finally graduate?
  4. Is it really needed to have different services? Why can’t a common pool of candidates be selected and then allocated services based on their aptitude, interest and performance?


Do the Civil Services aspirants know what a narrative is? How is it built in national interest? How to identify an enemy narrative and how to dismantle it? What are the hidden agendas, sleeper cells and their role in perception management? How the image of India is globally projected through mediums like Bollywood and what is the influence of all such factors on Indian psyche? When the ancient Chinese decided to live in peace, they made the Great Wall of China. They thought no one could climb it due to its height. During the first 100 years of its existence, the Chinese were invaded thrice, and every time, the hordes of enemy infantry had no need of penetrating or climbing over the wall because each time they bribed the guards and came through the doors. The Chinese built the wall but forgot the character building of the wall-guards. This is what the Civil Services in India are. They are the wall built to protect, but they allow to demolish every wall, that may be created, they can be fatally apathetic to the feeling of India and a true epitome of what the British wanted to do and what they left behind, a true reflection of colonial powers intention. A statesman rightly pointed out, “India has the most lethal missile, indestructible but capable of destructing everything efficient and capable of delaying any progress, it’s called the Civil Servant – it doesn’t work and can’t be fired”.

The present bureaucracy

It is indeed an irony that the country has progressed and has grown up, looked up, brightened up and still moving forward. Despite the fact that we may not have tasted development, but at least we tasted growth, and all this despite the bureaucracy. Indian economy has grown despite the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy has not managed the aviation sector despite the enormous inertia being available by way of Air India…..so what? Air India may have been ruined, but the aviation sector developed without bureaucracy. The bureaucracy has almost completely devastated the Shipping Industry……. so what? Indian exports have picked up. HEC, Ranchi and other public sector units have fallen from grace……. so what? A lot of state-of-the-art industrial centers have come up that mock HEC. Every road-block the Bureaucracy can put up, despite that the road transport has shown growth – qualitative as well as quantitative. The Indian film industry has grown in universal appeal despite the bureaucracy; the Indian software industry has exploded, despite the bureaucracy, the quality of ‘education’ (read information and literacy) has improved at least quantitatively if not value wise………despite the bureaucracy. The Milk Revolution, the Amulya experiment headed by V. Kurien, Telecom revolution orchestrated by Sam Pitroda, Satellite and Space Technology growth directed by ISRO, the UID and Aadhar conceptualized and implemented by Nandan Nilekani, The Konkan coastal Railway, the Metro by E. Sridharan all grew up only because there was no bureaucratic involvement. Many sectors have shown an improvement in spite of obstacles put by bureaucracy. Had the bureaucracy only worked, not obstructed the work, the Country would have been a much better place to live in.

It is left to anyone’s imagination what would have happened with a responsive, efficient bureaucracy having a feeling for the country and its people, and what would have they done. The country’s economy would have shown a progress unparalleled in the whole of Asia, and we would have been a power to reckon with.

Ceteris paribus, one of the reasons is the selection process. The chosen candidates, of whichever educational background, are a product of this faulty selection procedure and training process. They are billed, as the best talents we have, but is it that talent has to be enough for bureaucracy or attitude?

The present recruitment process of Civil Services

The candidates selected out of the present procedure need not be made to think that they are the most talented candidates, because they do not supplement it with their ability and attitude to administer. Is it not that a talent without an aptitude, attitude, and without any value does not have the capability to take the country forward? The Civil Servants need to be learners and not judgmental, but must have a sense of judgment based on their capability of logical and emotional differentiation.

Anomaly between what is required and what is tested

So we have grown despite bureaucracy. There are reasons to believe that. There are two aspects to consider here, one despite the prevalence of terrific talent, why do we lag behind in taking the best administrators in bureaucracy and second, after selection, why even the best become unfit for the country, unresponsive to the needs and aspirations of the people and rather obstructive. To a large extent the selection process has to be blamed. There are grave anomalies between traits required and the selection procedure prevalent.

A trait that is required for selection into bureaucracy is attitude for administration but what is tested is examination technique; what is required for selection into bureaucracy is administration ability, and what is tested is information base; if the requirement is empathy for the people, the chosen candidates are trained to be arrogant; if the requirement is honesty, there are minimal ways of evaluating their ethical dimension; where the trait required is objectivity, the selection has no means to prevent students who have taken majority of their decisions on the basis of perception and rumors. When the selected people are required to know their country, have an understanding of their country and feel for their people, the candidates who come out of academy are replica of their colonial masters which got even more strengthened during their training in the Academy.

Why does this happen

The selection and the training procedure are still very colonial.The Bureaucracy is protected by articles 311 and 312 of the Indian Constitution, meaning that even for their deadliest mistakes, deliberate mistakes they will not be punished and they are not accountable. In a situation where the country is, where the Prime Minister and his cabinet is accountable to the Lok sabha , the MPs are accountable to the Parliament, the teacher is accountable, technocrat is accountable, and the creative people are accountable for their expression why the Civil Services, in particular the IAS cannot be accountable. Once recruited, they do take the country and its people for granted.

Moreover how does the same examination test the candidates for different services like IAS, IFS, IPS, and IRS which require different aptitudes and attitudes and that too through one single examination? Even this exam doesn’t test the candidates for their personality in a short duration of the personality test and their administrative ability but rather their memory and examination presentation techniques.

We take talent, but forget whether that exceptional talent has character and values or not. We forget the basic dictum, “Values and Morality can compensate for an intellectual and talent shortage, but talent and intelligence can never make up for lack of values and morality”. Integrity and knowledge both are required for effective, transparent and ethical governance. A civil servant shall have high values to maintain public interest in the conduct of his duties.

What can be suggested?

It is in this light that the government’s decision to accord merit list, services and cadre after their training in Foundation Course that holds some meaning and credence. It is a prudent idea provided the training at Foundation Course gets modified and is reformed to an extent as not to allow the training candidates to have a ‘paid holiday’ and does not become subjective.

There are three stages of reform that are needed to prevent UPSC being called as “Unpredictable Public Service Commission”.

Everything is acceptable at the prelims stage except for the fact that it has been so unpredictable that no one is sure that even a single mistake can cost their attempt and the poor souls might have to restart an arduous journey of insipid preparation for one more year. The quality of intake also leaves a lot to be desired and becomes a gamble of sorts to prevent even the best of administrative talents to sit out. A good idea then will be the reintroduction of options to make three tests, instead of two, one for optional and two papers of CSAT. Optional will help some real good students who lack in test techniques, but with observational analytical skills to find their way. The significance of knowledge will be reinforced, and whichever way the student has academically lived till his graduation, the chance factor will be minimized and UPSC’s job will also be made easy. This suits easy identification of talent as well. As of now, the prelims exam has become more of a gamble because the margin of error in this case is so low that even within a range of 1 mark more than 10000 students can be weeded out and as such it has become more a test of exam practice, a test of elimination rather than any effective attitude test. It serves no purpose other than to eliminate some of the brightest students as well. Moreover, the drastic changes in number of questions asked along with the randomness and decipherment of the various topics from different parts of the syllabus makes matters even worse.

At the Mains level, there has been innovation in the type of questions asked that are good and relevant, but what the students are doing is they are packing their facts in a sack and depositing it to get marks. The test of language, flow, coherence of thoughts, analysis and its ability to go deep is not tested. This should precisely not be the hall mark of a candidates ability, indeed what is tested very well is the students ability to pack facts in their answers like jute sacks. The structure of the question paper needs to be changed to include not only 150 word answers but also one 600 word, two 400 words, three 300 words, and many 150 and 100 and 50 words too. This will test many aspects of candidates and expose their ability as well. The examiners shall also be instructed and trained to check the language, analysis, coherence and arrangement that are a part of the answer and not only the facts arranged in a deranged manner. The answer has to be checked in a manner that the students can’t be doctored in a coaching institute and masquerade themselves as knowledgeable students. Also the sheer pace at which the aspirants have to think, organize and produce the answer to a question in the examination makes the process a mechanistic and robotic exercise.

At the Interview level, a major reform is required. The Interview at present by one single board doesn’t do justice to the selection procedure. A half an hour is not enough to test the personality of the candidate. There are two options-the best option is make it in the form of Combined Defense Services and National Defense Academy tests. Here a candidate is kept for five days and observed intricately. The other is make the personality test a  two stage process conducted by two different boards with a greater allocation of marks with as much weightage as Mains marks. In 1975, the Kothari Commission recommended that officers be asked to join the Foundation Course (FC) without the disclosure of their marks and allocation of Service. After a year-long FC at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), another examination should be conducted by the UPSC to assess intellectual competence, personality traits, and the broad interests of an officer. This post-FC training examination was assigned a weightage of 30 per cent, and the final service allocation was made thereafter.

Finally in the training stage for foundation, it is imperative that training procedure is completely revamped, extended and restructured. Three month training may not be sufficient to assign services to candidates and understand their administrative abilities, policing capabilities, diplomatic understandings and underpinnings, negotiation abilities or accounting abilities. Service allocation only then can have some objectivity imparted.

The best suggestion perhaps will be to recruit the potential Civil Servants at the grass root level after +2, keep them in field training for three years, give them a degree in Administration in the same manner as Graduation. This way the chosen candidates can be trained and guided in a manner that the country requires them to be. They will be less arrogant, more flexible, more empathetic, and since they would have gone through the lowest hierarchy to the one hierarchy where they are recruited now, they will understand the problems better. Also they can be made to understand the country better and they will be far better candidates to make them learn. They will also be far more flexible and far more responsive with all the traits required in bureaucracy that can be easily imbibed in them.

Any argument against this has to take into account whether the 35 years of service to the country is more important than the three years of difficulty in making them.


Whatever the difficulties in revamping, won’t the whole selection procedure is more than worth the 35 years of service these fresh recruits will do the nation, its economy and the society in a manner that the country needs?

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