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Sunday, September 16, 2012

A case for quotas in promotions...

The absence of SCs and STs at higher levels of government shows that our decision-making process is neither inclusive nor democratic.
Amidst the chaos over ‘Coalgate’, Parliament failed to pass the 117th Constitution Amendment Bill, enabling reservation for the scheduled castes (SC) and the scheduled tribes (ST) for promotion in government jobs. Yet, the hard facts of the issue deserve a debate at the country’s highest panchayat.
In a memorandum submitted to Governor General of India in 1942, B.R. Ambedkar estimated that in a cadre strength of 1,056 Indian Civil Service (ICS or today’s Indian Administrative Service: IAS) officers, 568 were Indians. Of them, only one belonged to the SC category.


The situation, even after seventy years, is no different at the cutting-edge positions of decision-making. There is only one ST and not a single SC among the 126 Secretary-level posts in the Government of India today. Among the rest of the 594 Central posts at the Additional Secretary and Joint Secretary level, there are only 19 SCs and about that many STs.
Inclusion through recruitment is the mere beginning of an empowerment process. It needs to be carried forward in the form of parity and equality in the highest decision-making levels and bodies.
Today, the SCs have an overall 17 per cent representation in central government jobs, which is more or less proportionate to their relative population. But that is only a result of their over-representation – 40 per cent – in ‘Group D’ services and below. Moreover, there is a huge backlog of vacancies at the higher levels in every department – Central as well as State.
Affirmative action for SC/STs in India has never been the pro-active, consciously inclusionary process that was envisaged by our Constitution drafters. Why is it difficult for an SC/ST IAS officer to become a Secretary to the Government of India? After all, direct recruitment through all-India competitive exams conducted by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) ensures that 22.5 per cent of SCs and STs enter the IAS every year.


The problem arises when the ‘seniority list’ for direct IAS recruits is prepared at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie. This is based on 80 per cent weightage for marks at civil services entrance exam and 20 per cent for marks during the training period at the Academy.
Since the SC/ST merit list is normally below the general merit list, the IAS recruits among the former, even after a good probation (that is in itself a subjective matter), end up finishing at the bottom of the ‘seniority list’ every year.
The selection of Secretaries, Additional Secretaries and Joint Secretaries in the Central Government is done through an empanelment process. Since 1990, the empanelment process for the Joint Secretary level has been based on a quantifiable scale from zero to 10. This method converts all the annual confidential records of IAS officers into marks and calibrates it on a scale of 10 every year.
A recent change introduced in 2010 by the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT) decided to mark anybody securing points between 8 and 10 as being under the “outstanding category”. But in a batch of 100-150, only 40-45 officers become eligible to work as Joint Secretary. It is from this bunch of 40-45 Joint Secretaries that Additional Secretaries and Secretaries are selected. If, by some chance, no SC/ST figures at the JS level, there would be no Secretaries at the end of the spectrum.


In the case of the IAS batches of 1990, 1991 and 1992, the cut-off for selecting Joint Secretaries was itself fixed at 9.3, despite anything above 8 being termed ‘outstanding’ by the DOPT. Why cannot there be an affirmative system of selecting SC/ST officers, subject to their obtaining this minimum 8 points that is officially regarded as ‘outstanding’? In this case, the objective itself seems to be to deny any opportunity for SC/STs to contribute to nation-building at the cutting-edge of decision-making. Such arbitrary, if not deliberate, exclusion was also seen in the recent empanelment of Additional Secretaries from the 1982 IAS batch, where all but one SC and one ST officer got picked up. It is quite possible that at the next stage for selection as Secretaries, even they may face the axe.
Is it possible that our Dalit and Adivasi officers are so unqualified, or that our bureaucracy at the top is so outstandingly meritorious? Either way, please don’t blame Dalits and Adivasis for the current policy paralysis in the Government or the bureaucracy not delivering on its commitments.


The situation is no different in, say public sector banks. There is a common mechanism of “zone of consideration” for SC/STs in promotion up to scale 3. This means that if SC/ST candidates qualify a written test and are found fit for promotion, they are exempted from interview. However, there is no such scheme after this level. Nor do all banks follow a uniform mechanism.
Typically, promotion schemes in public sector banks are based on confidential report (CR) and interview, with both being given equal weightage. It is at the interview stage that SC/ST officers invariably face disqualification for promotion at the senior levels, even if they may have better CRs and have joined as direct recruit officers. Sometimes, they get knocked out even by general candidates, who may have joined the bank at the clerical cadre levels.
All these only highlight how administrative selection procedures at the top have no in-built inclusive, leave alone affirmative, mechanisms. Very rarely do we see meritorious, hard-working SC/ST officers managing to break the ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents them from rising to the upper rungs of the bureaucracy.
How many of us remember G. Krishnaiah, a Bihar cadre IAS officer, who was killed in 1994 while serving as District Magistrate of Gopalganj, on the orders of a well-connected local criminal politician? His crime? Being a Dalit, who was energetically implementing land reforms in a region where various upper caste landlords-led bhoomi senas ruled the roost.
The kind of social experience, vision, fresh perspective a Dalit or an Adivasi would bring to officialdom the table is something we need to explicitly recognise today. 
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