New Delhi: The results of the civil services exam every year bring out stories of farmers’ children, and others from the rural heartland, acing the test to become the first in their families to land a plum government job. However, data from the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), the premier civil services training academy, suggests that at least half the recruits every year are children of government officials.
Of the civil servants who have taken the foundation course at the LBSNAA since 2014, at least 50 per cent come from families with a government service background, data shows.
The foundation course (FC) is an introductory course conducted by the LBSNAA for newly-recruited civil servants of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Foreign Service (IFS), among others. The course was only compulsory for the IAS and the IFS until last year, but the government has now made it mandatory for all new civil service recruits.
According to data compiled annually by the LBSNAA, the fathers of 166 of the 326 Officer Trainees (OTs) — 50.9 per cent — who took the FC in 2019 belonged to government services.
LBSNAA records only list the occupations of trainees’ fathers, not those of their mothers.
The data for 2018 is not available with the LBSNAA, but the trend was the same in all preceding years until 2014 (the cut-off year for the data analysed in this report).
For some, the trend points towards an informal play of social capital and privilege, but others say it is natural for parents employed in the government to push their children into the same profession, as is seen among lawyers, politicians, doctors, etc.
There’s also the fact that ‘government service’ covers a large spectrum of jobs, like state services, Group ‘B’, ‘C’ or ‘D’ jobs, among others, and not just the elite civil services. In such cases, insiders say, a civil servant’s job for a junior employee’s son or daughter, for example, means a step up in life.
Of the 369 OTs who went to LBSNAA in 2017, the fathers of 212 — or 57.4 per cent — belonged to government services.
In 2016, of the 377 OTs, the fathers of 208 — or 55.1 per cent — belonged to government services. In 2015, of 350 OTs, the fathers of 200 — or 57.14 per cent — belonged to government services. The figure was 171 — or 60 per cent — of 285 OTs in 2014.
Officers say the trend of government employees’ children joining the civil services was even stronger in the past years, when there were fewer opportunities in the private sector.
According to an IAS officer who belongs to a family of farmers, the trend is a function of how dreams are tailored for different strata of society.
“If a farmer’s child is ambitious and educated, they would aim to become a patwari or a teacher — seldom would they dream so big that they would want to become an IAS officer,” the officer said. “A government employee’s child, on the other hand, would always have had the grooming, the inclination and the social capital to want to become an IAS officer.”
In the 2019 and 2017 batches, of the 326 OTs and 369 OTs, respectively, fathers of 42 were farmers.
“The fact is that the system is formally merit-based, but, like any other closed group, it knows how to remain exclusive and impermeable for outsiders to some extent,” the officer added.
“It makes you think, what if the UPSC did not have an exam? It would be as bad as any other profession – only children of IAS becoming IAS.”
A cycle of ambition
However, some argue that just the fact that parents of civil servants belong to government service does not suggest the perpetuation of privilege. It is also about aspiration.
“My father was a state civil servant… For him to see his child become an IAS officer was a big feat — like a completion of the cycle of ambition,” said a 1985-batch officer who did not want to be named.
“Now, similarly, if the child of a PA to a senior IAS officer becomes an IAS, their happiness would know no bounds… The father has served an IAS officer all his life, now his child becomes one himself — it is an unparalleled sense of achievement.”
This kind of upward social mobility does not suggest exploitation of privilege, but just tapping into your social network, he said.
“And that is the whole point of upward mobility — that you form social networks that improve the condition of your future generations as well.”
‘Government service’ does not mean elitism
“Government services are not a monolith,” argued LBSNAA director Sanjeev Chopra. “One cannot discount the fact that the government is still the largest employer in the country… Add to this the fact that the child of a government servant is extremely likely to have access to schools and education, and the disproportionate number seems very understandable,” he added.
Moreover, if one is to actually break down the government service category, they will find that not more than 10-15 recruits would have civil servants as parents.
“You see, the people who are coming to us are more from Navodaya schools or Sainik schools or Kendriya Vidyalayas…They are not coming from Welham or Doon School,” he said.
According to Neelanjan Sircar, Senior Fellow at Centre for Policy Research, the Delhi-based public policy think-tank, to argue that parents’ government employment actively affects someone’s results, one needs to see if two people with the same score fare differently in the interview. “That would most concretely corroborate the advantage argument,” he said.
Not just civil services
However, Sircar agreed that the networks one has access to create a degree of repetition in any system. “From lawyers to professors, people tap into their social networks to overcome roadblocks.”
Gurbachan Jagat, former chairman of the UPSC, said it is only “normal” for children to take up the same profession as parents.
“It is not just a function of who the UPSC selects, but also of who selects the UPSC,” he said. “Children of IAS, IPS, officers are raised in this atmosphere where they aspire to become officers themselves.”
That, however, does not make civil services a dynastic occupation at all, he added. “Interviews don’t matter for much anyway… The maximum weightage is given to the written exam for which everyone has to work equally hard…” he said. “And UPSC’s interviews themselves have always known to be fair and impartial.”
The 1985-batch IAS officer added that the exploitation of social capital in bureaucracy “does not operate in such a simplistic fashion”. “The child of an IAS officer may not be an IAS officer themselves, but become instead a lawyer, a spokesperson of a party, etc. — They continue to work within the power structure even if they are not a civil servant per se.”