Need to reform and reinvent civil services: Former RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao

New Delhi, May 6: Former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Duvvuri Subbarao has said civil services in India have to be reformed and reinvented as the “steel frame” introduced by Britishers to govern India has certainly rusted.
Subbarao, who held various positions, including that of the Union finance secretary, wrote in his new book titled ‘Just A Mercenary?: Notes from My Life and Career’ about the gender gap in the IAS.
“The steel frame has certainly rusted,” he told PTI.
UPSC conducts the civil services examination every year in three stages — preliminary, mains and personality test (interview) — to select officers of Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS), among others.
“I firmly believe that a country of our size and diversity still needs a generalist service like the IAS but the service needs to be reformed, and even reinvented, in many ways.
“The solution is not to throw away the rusted frame but to bring it back to its original lustre,” Subbarao said.
According to him, when the IAS was instituted soon after Independence as a successor to the colonial-era ICS, it was seen as the home-grown answer to the enormous task of nation-building.
While IAS officers led this effort from the front, built an impressive development administration network from ground zero and earned for the service a formidable reputation for competence, commitment, and integrity, Subbarao said reputation began unravelling in subsequent decades.
“The IAS lost its ethos and its way. Ineptitude, indifference, and corruption crept in,” he said.
Subbarao said this negative view is shaped by a minority of officers who have gone astray, but the worry is that that minority is no longer small.
On the Modi government’s decision last year to issue a circular asking civil servants to showcase its achievements, Subbarao said it is inappropriate for the government to issue such instructions, and it is inappropriate for civil servants to follow such instructions even were they were issued.
“Political neutrality is a fundamental tenet of civil service code of conduct,” he said, adding that widespread breach of that code has, in fact, been one of the prime reasons for the moral decline of the civil services.
While noting that it is a thin line between becoming a propaganda machinery and publicising a specific achievement aimed at a public policy goal, he said both politicians and civil servants have to be conscious of this line and scrupulously respect it.
Responding to a question on a number of public officials — retired civil servants, judges, armed forces personnel — standing for election from various political parties, Subbarao said joining politics is the democratic right of every citizen of the country and public officials cannot be denied that privilege.
“But with an eye on a post-retirement political career, there is the risk that officials will compromise their integrity to curry political favour,” he said.
Observing that even perceptions of political bias on the part of officials can diminish our democracy, Subbarao suggested that ideally, there should be a cooling off period of, say three years, after retirement before a public official is allowed to contest an election.
He pointed out that the Catholic church prescribes a time limit of five years after a person has passed before he or she can be canonised and this time limit ensures that the judgement of candidature for sainthood is not clouded by emotional connections and that the person’s reputation survives the test of time.
“Why not a similar test for public officials?” Subbarao asked.

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