If the proposal comes through, scores awarded by the training academy will now be on par with those given by the UPSC, a constitutional body.
The fundamental change proposed in the service/cadre allocation policy for All India Services is that probationers’ performance in the foundation course at training academies will also be taken into consideration now for determining the final merit.
This is problematic on many counts.
One, it will bring in subjectivity and discretion in this entire process because scores awarded by the training academy will now be on a par with those given by a constitutional body like the UPSC, although these scores wouldn’t add up at all.
The Civil Services Examination is a rigorous three-stage exam, conducted in the most transparent manner, that tests the intellectual and psycho-social capabilities of the candidates. In contrast, the foundation course is a short-term training programme whose only purpose has been to promote esprit de corps and inter-services camaraderie. An academic assessment of officer trainees has never been its focus. As such, adding it as the fourth stage of the exam will do more harm than help.
In 2010, when I attended the 85th foundation course at Mussoorie, we had officers from the Indian Foreign Service, the Indian Police Service, and the Indian Forest Service training with us, a phase of our career that will always be remembered for building enduring friendships in the ‘Happy Valley’. Had we been competing against one another for better scores, better services and better cadres, the batch-feeling would certainly have been missing.
Secondly, the size of batches in recent years has grown, and on an average, around 1,000 officers are being recommended by the UPSC every year. This has necessitated the splitting of the foundation course as Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, the premier training academy of the country, can’t afford the logistics for so many officer trainees.
The course is now being conducted in other places too, like HIPA, Gurgaon, and Mari Channa Reddy Academy, Hyderabad. Therefore, it will automatically pose the problem of standardisation. How do we compare candidate assessment in one academy to that in another for the same exercise of service/cadre allocation? What if the training faculty falls for inter-personal biases, or becomes a victim of political interference, which most likely they will? The policy change that is intended to bring in a more ‘all-India’ perspective in the services will instead push them towards complete a loss of perspective, and further politicisation.
As of now, officer trainees, by and large, know the service and cadre they are likely to get on the basis of their UPSC rank. So, once they join the foundation course, they have already stepped into their future roles mentally. And it affects their decisions on the kind of books they read, the extra-curricular modules they opt for, the cadre languages they develop an interest in, and the nature of people they prefer to network with. If the service/cadre allocation exercise is postponed till afterwards, the candidates will be unable to decide these preferences on time and the environment of uncertainty will sap the foundation course of its entire educational value.
When the idea is to get a high score in a structured test, networking and socialisation automatically take a back-seat.
This can turn training academies into tuition academies where officer trainees enrol for coaching programmes that guarantee a better score in the foundation course director’s assessment or exit exam.
During my foundation and professional course at Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, I recall, I maintained my rank after a lot of struggle. While I was not interested in most of the things that mattered to the academy, the things that I was interested in — hands-on skills, free speech, leadership, communication — didn’t matter much to the academy, although, soon after our batch passed out, the institute made significant changes to the courses of study. But looking back, if the current policy was in vogue that time, I am sure I would never have got the state that I got.
Also, over the years, the UPSC has developed a scaling system that takes due care of candidates who are either from the reserved categories or have opted to take the exam in a medium other than English. This is to eliminate inter-subject, inter-category and inter-language evaluation biases. But training academies won’t be able to do that. The very scheme of the foundation course is such that English-educated candidates from well-to-do families will automatically get an edge and the candidates from reserved categories will be put at an obvious disadvantage. This will be detrimental to the spirit of the All India Services that otherwise seek to extend equal opportunities to all the citizens of the country, irrespective of their background.
For all the above-mentioned reasons, I believe that the DoPT proposal on the service/cadre policy for the All India Services will be counterproductive and should not be implemented.
The author is Edward. S. Mason Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School and an IAS Officer from J&K Cadre.