Monday, 16 May, 2022
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IAS has now become a customer service, pleasing politicians and businessmen

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The new motto for the IAS seems to be: ‘Customer, not the Constitution, is Supreme.’

The IAS, the successor of the heaven-born Indian Civil Service of the British Raj, is under an increasing onslaught from the other all-India and central services. The latter has been clamouring for a greater share in the joint and additional secretary level appointments at the Centre for a long time.

The central government is now, more than ever, convinced that the IAS cannot claim exclusive expertise or monopoly in different domains of public administration and branches of governance. The emerging scenario may lead to a re-imagining of the role of the IAS officer. Will they turn into an ICS officer again like in the British era? Only this time, the ‘C’ would stand for customer.


Also read: IAS is here to stay because it suits the political executive


In response to the government’s recent proposals, the Central IAS Association has asserted that ‘policy-making’ is a specialisation in itself even as they conceded that there is perhaps a need to develop the career of IAS officers in broad sectors of public management.

Traditionally, the IAS has been at pains to demonstrate that it is fundamentally different from its earlier British avatar, the ICS. It is supposed to be an integral part of the federal, democratic polity under the Constitution of India. The focus, it is argued, has now changed from regulatory to developmental, from scheme implementation for beneficiaries to being facilitative agents for the clients.

The IAS has morphed into the ICS: Indian Customer Service. The job of an IAS officer, at any level, is now to tackle a wide-variety of irate customers. But the tools in their hands are outdated and obsolete, and also their authority to do anything is quite nebulous and often open to post-facto and frequent questioning by multiple agencies with 20/20 hindsight.

And the “customers” are not necessarily common citizens, but they now include legislators, political leaders at all levels, the executive, senior bureaucrats, journalists, rich businessmen, advocates, et al. These are the customers are not only looking for a “tatkal” service but also a “First Class” experience, irrespective of the merits of their case from a procedural or legal perspective.

The time, resources and the capacity of a civil servant, and by extrapolation, of the bureaucracy in general, is severely limited. But their reputation is made or marred by the feedback of the elite class. And now, with the so-called 360-degree appraisal system, the elite class is also responsible for the officer’s “performance appraisal”, and no sensible bureaucrat would like to invite reprisals from them.


Also read: IAS officers see tremendous growth in two areas: Ignorance and arrogance


A few years ago, while heading a national cooperative responsible for the marketing of tribal produce and training of tribal youth, I discovered that the most effective regional officers were not those who provided relevant training courses but those who picked up the local MP’s choice of venue, timing and trade.

More recently, as in-charge of relief and disaster management in Punjab, I found that the deputy commissioners who disbursed crop-damage relief to the elite landlords and MLAs on priority were lauded, while those who proceeded sequentially were labelled ‘laggards’.

So, what is the objective of the IAS or ICS officer now? The virtual motto seems to be: “Customer, not the Constitution, is Supreme”. The underlying objective of the officer becomes not merely to do what the elite customer desires but to make sure that she/he is not offended or peeved. The idea is that even when the job cannot be done for any reason—legal, financial, administrative or policy—every officer strives to make sure that the customer leaves with a belief that if the job wasn’t done it was not because of the officer’s lack of efforts but because of systemic constraints beyond their control.


Also read: Suicide prompts three IAS officers to show the unglamorous side of civil services


No sensible officer ever says, “Sorry! This is patently illegal; it can’t be done!” He/she says, “I shall try my level best to try and find a way to get this done.”

Often the 5-star clients also know full well that the job for which they are approaching the officer cannot be done but they come on account of their own political compulsions and to satisfy their political constituency. The manner in which the officer deals with them is of tremendous importance to them, irrespective of the outcome of their work. Thus, form and manner, not the substance of words and actions, makes all the difference.

The “front desk” may quite literally be the “affront-desk” for commoners, but for those who truly matter it is the gateway to the exclusive “First Class Lounge”. The specialisation of the officer is to gauge the importance of the customer, not the gravity of his/her problem, and deal accordingly. The officer’s ability to change the customer’s facial expression from a scowl or frown to a 1000-Watt Madhuri Dixit smile, depending on the customer, is a quality that is highly valued. For the special customers, there is always a red-carpet that can be rolled out at a moment’s notice, notwithstanding the officer’s “prior engagements and meetings.”

The author is an IAS officer of 1984 batch of Punjab cadre. The views expressed are his own. He can be reached @kbssidhu1961. 

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29 COMMENTS

  1. One couldn’t agree more with the author. However such self deprecating and introspectionary pieces serve little purpose. Much more is expected from a senior IAS officer who has ‘been there done that’.

  2. I am glad that many of our readers have found value in this piece. It has generated a meaningful debate, and I am sure that by itself serves the purpose.

    Just in case you missed it, I am including below a link to another article of mine which as published on The Print. It is captioned “IAS is here to stay because it suits the political executive”

    https://theprint.in/opinion/ias-is-here-to-stay-because-it-suits-the-political-executive/69442/

    The comments on the same are also welcome.

    KBS Sidhu, IAS (Author of the piece)

  3. A case of painting with the same brush. Too general a comment. Its like saying my days were better than what it is today. Pre 90s, it was unending bureaucracy hampering the country’s growth. Post, they were supposed to be customer friendly, for the public is the customer of a service provided by the Government. Too easy to criticise isolated acts as general rule. Where does the much maligned babu go? Damned if he appears to be rule bound and damned if he tries to be “customer friendly “!

    • Aryan, I think Mr. Sidhu is referring to selectively serving certain customers – the ones that have power. Rest of us are not even considered customers. Worst these days is that they pretend to serve any ordinary citizen but in reality serve the vested interest. Just today morning, I followed a Municipal Corporation (MC) garbage collection tractor and I saw a man sitting on the pile of garbage on the truck. Our minister here is the son of the chief minister and is trigger happy with the twitter but he does not seem to see or know about the reality how an ordinary Indian is treated. MC is office is less than 2 kms from the junction where I saw the tractor. I am sure it was on a regular beat. Other day, some one came to our colony and told us that we should buy bio-digesters of certain make and install in our colony and when we told them that the MC is allowing garbage to be dumped just outside the colony, the MC person backed off. I see new slums coming up in our area (it is so called IT hub) every now and then, the Minister and the Corporation staff can’t see it. Admin and Politics are hand in glove and the only objective seems to be to fool and loot the Indian public – whatever it takes.

  4. Absolutely right , Pradhan sevak has taken all the duties of civil services hence the IAS AND IPS rank officers have their reins at the hand’s of the sevak and one word is enough “BEHAVE else look at the condition of IPS official of Gujarat who is being punished again and again for taking on upfront the sevak.

  5. It is going to be worst in the days ahead as long as the Pradhan sevak is at the helm of power and further more the same fate is going to be meted to the ranks of IPS because one IPS official is getting punished again and again for taking on powerful SEVAKS. THIS IS THE MESSAGE SENT ACROSS ” BEHAVE ELSE ……….. good governce. Jai ho Indian democracy.

  6. The type of professional hazards brought out by the writer are common to all services. The pressure groups vary for each service as per their role in decision making process. Still the upright officers are able to prove their worth to the highest competent authorities by virtue of their intelligence and consistent approach in decision making.

  7. Sir you have rightly anf correctly adjudged today’s working of sn IAS. Sir due to their behavior of ignorsnce and aerogance general poor prople are suffering even to.their small work. They have got the power to deliver judtice as per law and to please politician beyond law. Thanks for pointing out factual position of IAS.

  8. Sir,
    The opinion expressed by you is truly bold & honest.
    Now due to fast changing globalisation whether Indian National Service like body may serve better purpose for our country where large numbers of population are still remained under below poverty line and at the same time required economic growth to match the developed countries , instead of continuing All India & central services which appears to be almost obsolete at this junctures.Perhaps this need to be reviewed.

    This is purely my personal opinion.

  9. Such days are not far away if……. loby continued to clean pan stains. They must understand their status before photography and publicity in news papers

  10. Yes. True precisely. What is the remedy? Indian Adament Service IAS, Egocentric bureaucracy, unaccountable, flairy. Scrap IAS, change it to Bharat Peoples Service. Close British style Mussorie Institute and make it into a elstwhile museum of Imperialism. Close egocentric training, rather train new civil service aspirants in military first, then Border security force to know the patriotic feeling for this country, train them in continuous development without ego. Promote team work. Train them in Japanese type of Administration, care for the country is the need. Then corruption will go from this country.

    • Though issues with the bureaucracy are very true, but your solutions are not just ludicrous but decisively idiotic.
      Military training, border training, patriotism blah blah blah. By your dimwit logic every doctor must serve on border to be a better one, every professor must first teach in a foxhole to be more pedagogic.
      Ah! to be frank, Intellectually disabled people like you are bigger issue for the country that the sodden bureaucracy.
      All we need is a better and more comprehensive training focusing on the specific fields and nurture officers to lead the society towards the prosperity.
      Just because you have access to cheap internet and substandard mindset does not mean you can gibber anything what you want.

  11. Sir, very true…seen it personally…I think underlying desire of positive image building in media & elite circle is also one of the reason..

  12. Sir,
    Your words are from an experience and unquestionable!
    I only have one submission that in a democratic setup strengthening of an institution is must.
    Would urge the retired fraternity to put forward best efforts to let the system remain alive for the larger role of democracy. This situation of making customers happy, may breed officers no less than salesman! An IAS is not a post or position it is an institution in itself and it has to be held with authority and esteem! He should be approachable but not cannot be desk keeper for griviances!
    Wish good luck to serving officer!
    Regards
    Capt Deepak Patni (retd.)

  13. My Dear KBS Sidhu Sir,Now the period arrived when everybody is thinking like your goodself.
    But the fundamental rule is ,””Equilibrium to/will be maintained automatically by law of nature and no constitution on this earth planet can break or amend this law. Though personally i do respect and obey and abide by the constitution of India but now that what your community is starting to cry for is resultant of fear of losing your comfort zone,minimizing your custom made attitudes/systems.Therefore that’s all needs to be change now. Everybody has to think like this “Service to man is service to God”. Rest you can understand automatically. Regards.

  14. Thanks alot for this post at least now these IAS OFFICERS and ASPIRANTS will understand that becoming civil servant is not to please illiterate politicians for safeguarding their Jobs and lavish lifestyle. These days IAS and IPS officers only using their power to harrass and suppress common public but when it is come towards politicians and their families they behave like pet dogs.

  15. Hi a voice has come from the beaurocrates the truth of the elite ruller, the wrighter is a bit confused person I don’t know what inspired to write about something in working of administration, practically the ics the Avtar to IAS was a different material , don’t go to details now the IAS is in euphoria I am the best , practically no????better to call INDIAN chamcha service how many IAS follow straight forward desison, other

  16. There is a definition on who is a customer.Thease IAS officers have their own definition which suits them.Actully they work on the principal of show me the man I will show him the rules.They learn perfect hipocracy in their trainings and become feeder of the Corrupted politicians.You will not find a single reform in our administratative system which our so call IAS officers contributed for the last 70 years.I was going through one of the old British traditional system in tendering where lowest bidder get the order.This process attracted maximum corruption as the supplier after getting the order at lowest bid which are even less than actual cost of raw materials indulge in sypplying low grade materials and short in Quantity.Theb they bribe receiver and get acknowledgement of supply .In one Western country their system modified for Govt. Procurement and a price fixing committee determine the practice which is fixed and tender is floted on who will give best quality and the suppliers companys trained manpower,their technology,how many welfare scheme they have for their employees and overall contribution to society.All including is having a marking system.and highest mark holder get the order.But see our IAS officer’s they pass the exam to become exploiters of common people and join politicians to loot our country.

  17. Very true. The current situation is due the ongoing competition between central govt and state govt ( in every non bjp state) by introducing populistic schemes to lure poor citizens of country. This resulted in a situation where public/ customer is all in all. All customers are not gentleman. Many unruly customers take the advantage in the name of poor people and try to swing the government machinery in their favour. Even powerful politicians behave like a mouse in front of these unruly customers. At current situation, customer is the real king.

  18. The points indicated is true not for now but last few decades, it is a standard thing ,pleasing the top and throwing weight on the people below , Even today we see how they deal with high hand on the people or the persons they are supposed to help or serve, Obviously they have to remain suppressed to politicians or other powerful people. They can’t complain as they do the same to others when they get chance . We all know how adamant is beurocracy

    • Ok but these spine less so called IAS and IPS officers can just finish all corruption politicians if they unite and Whole police force follow their order.Actual fact is that a politicians cannot do anything . But all is done by Secretary who suspend . Transfer conduct action . This person is a great chamcha of Minister and remin in this post till he continues to be personal servent of Minister.He never bothers to harass his own IAS or IPS junior colleges to please his master.

  19. Good and keep it up.most of them are icse and cbse school. No body from govt.schools.upsc is following stupid English culture and doesn’t have own system to screen the people of India. The students comes from govt schools, they only knew what is India and value of roti and dual.milky babies from English schools will try to fill up their wallets.

    • Whatever is said on recruitment process of IAS officers is less because You can keep on giving exam and get selected through a process which is totally a western selection process.You should have very Good memory and mugging capability and good in mathematics calculations.In the interview board you should be able to impress through your potential hipocracy.In the board you wiil find so called Hippocratic people who need to know how you can fool others. If are able to convince them that you can fool everybody’s you are selected.A person who want to be creative .A person who is truly interested to uplift poor will be rejected because he cannot impress the board and board members are ex criminal supporters and having highest quality of hippoccray

  20. Losing real administrative control by yielding to the political class .Not practicing fair principles while executing there responsibilities and duties ,except dancing to the tunes of politicians will make this position REDUNDANT.That is what is the politician looking for .And in times to come this post will be removed and politicians will have a direct control on execution art mechanism.Bureaucrat/IAS kept as check and balance will vanish and politicians will have field day.The common citizen will become a slave on true sense .Politicians to act and police to enforce political will. Only honest citizens can build nation not politicians ,IAS still has that aura

  21. Not quiet. Please ask those ‘customers’. One, only the ‘five star’ ones feel that they are being heard by the IAS – or by any other service. Others – particularly the common and most dis-empowered citizens, are not even acknowledged. Two, all of these customers too have the other side of the story to tell about but no one listens. The famous anecdote holds: since the tigers do not know how to write, the word of the hunter will continue to be taken as the truth.

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