The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) was once described by Sardar Patel as the steel frame. He fought vehemently for its constitutional protection, for it to be able to exercise an independent voice for the benefit of the people and as a check on misuse of power by politicians.
This framework, comprising 4,200 serving officials, has become cybernetically intelligent. As in the Terminator series of movies featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the metal can take any shape intelligently and protect itself. It quickly occupies important slots, just as liquid metal flows into any crevice, even those meant for the judiciary and the scientists. It fights all intellectuals, specialists and domain experts as foreign bodies and meticulously subjugates all cadres, by dynamically arranging the pecking order. It must come on top, each time and every time.
Criticism is discounted as acts of prejudice and envy. Jibes, darts, recommendations dont hurt this intelligent frame. It is a marvel and an inspirational model for the rest of bureaucracy it sets the conditions and standards for accepting and resisting reform. It overwhelms inexperienced political leaders. It makes political leaders realize they are truly birds of passage, that must gather their worm and fly away; it may even help the birds gather the worms effortlessly. It dashes any ambitions for reform, by disheveling new brooms and reining-in enthusiastic leaders, one way or the other. It will reform only those processes that do not hurt its larger interests. The paradox is, the leaders have to rely on this very steel frame for any reform, while it refuses to shoot itself in the foot.
The IAS-run civil service has stymied all administration reform ideas
We have to move to specialist streams and lateral entry for needed change
The steel frame could be exclusive in another sense. According to a 1985 study, the quotas for the SC and ST candidates were continuously unfilled and the data remains masked. While other minorities are over-represented in comparison to their population, Muslims are grossly under-represented. Among the Hindus, upper castes accounted for 68%. Shudras were a mere 2%, with the largest contingent from AP. Women were under 8% of the total. With the concomitant urban bias, decisions may indeed be tilted towards the interests of the rich and powerful than the masses. The Alagh committee has reportedly commented on the ruler mind set.
This steel frame has also insulated itself from the Central Vigilance Commission, as noted in a CVC study titled The Indian Administrative Service - A Study of the Current State of Preventive and Punitive Vigilance Mechanisms. We now need a super-intelligent and mighty body for conceptualising and implementing reform. A permanent commission that knows meta-reform. It must be hands-on, to stop fresh recruitment and graduate strategically to a system of specialist streams and new cadres, with possibilities of lateral entry. This is the only way to bring in more relevant organisational designs, diversity, accountability, public service values and enthusiastic performance, to support the larger goals of development, equity and justice. But then, the steel-frame would have factored this also by now!