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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Who cares for efficiency?

Reservation in government jobs and educational institutions has been anathema for long for many in the civil society, although they have reconciled to this as a unique reality of our affirmative action. However, recent efforts of Parliament to pass laws which in perpetuity reserve posts for promotions of SC/ST civil servants has given rise to fears that it is a ruse to distract attention by all political parties from the ongoing fracas on corruption and scams.
It appears that the demand to amend the law arises out of the observation that even after six decades of reservations at entry point, the top bureaucrats are invariably the likes of Sharmas and Guptas. Earlier efforts at amending laws to provide quotas in promotions were struck down by the Supreme Court, which stipulated specific and compelling reasons demonstrative of backwardness and inadequacy of representation, without impacting maintenance of efficiency in administration. During TV debates, both supporters and critics cite the poor representation of SCs and STs at the senior levels of civil service. A constant refrain from the critics has been that the proposal would divide the civil service. However, this overlooks the fact that it is already divided into All India Services, Central Services, technical services, provincial services and so on. The moot point remains whether it brings about administrative efficiency. 

Non-IAS services 

That only 4 out of 150 or so secretaries to the Government are SCs/STs even after six decades of affirmative action is galling. But what about the even pitiably scarce representation of non-IAS services at the top echelons of government? Referring to this, a former Chief Election Commissioner once said that this was not a glass ceiling but an “iron ceiling”. One of the reasons that has led to the paucity of SCs/STs at senior levels is said to be their age disadvantage compared with the general candidates. They join rather late and are, therefore, not able to put in 30 years of service, which is the norm for being promoted to the level of secretary. One way of remedying this, as suggested by a Hindu columnist, is to grant a tenure of 35 years so that SCs/STs do not have to retire at junior levels. Of course, apart from its acceptability, how far this proposal will be conducive to administrative efficiency will remain a matter of conjecture. 

Reverse discrimination 

The entire political class seems to back the proposal of quotas for promotion and only the beneficiaries of the current system seem to entertain vague fears of further deterioration in administrative efficiency. However, no one seems to have thought how the quota of 22.5 per cent for SCs/STs for promotions may result in reverse discrimination after 30 years. If any ceiling has to be torn down at any level of government service, it would be necessary to convert that level from a promotion position to an entry-level position. The First Administrative Reforms Commission (1956) recommended lateral recruitment for joint secretaries. If, say, the joint secretary and the secretary levels become entry points, the laws on quotas for entry points can be used without bending the Constitution out of shape. It will help attract diverse domain expertise, including from the academia or the private sector.
By the way, the UK is all set to advertise vacancy for the Governor of Bank of England. 
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