Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Civil Services: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The charm of civil services has always been an enigma. It is struggling hard to maintain its shine especially after the waves of LPG but still it attract lakhs who ferociously compete for a handful of seats. People predict its doom yet surveys rate it as the most preferred choice of youngsters.

In order to understand why all this happens let us make a balance sheet, outlining its pros and cons. Keeping the pros for the later part, the bad news first.

The foremost disadvantage of civil services is the low salary salary, both in absolute and relative terms. A civil servant may be drawing one fourth salary compared to his peers in the private sector. It may be difficult for an honest civil servant to send his/her kids in a public school, buy a car in the initial years, spend holidays abroad or construct a home. After some years of idealism, reality sets in and then the lack of money pinches hard.

Another thing is the cadre than can be allotted. Suppose one worked hard, invested years, resources; got selected and then got a ‘bad cadre’. There are cadres which may be thousands miles away from his/her home, where a parallel government is running and due to lack of manpower a civil servant will have to work at all levels of hierarchy. Remember, this shall be his/her cadre for life.

Now about tenures, 90% IAS officers spend less than a year on any post. They are shuffled like cards at the slightest of whims of the politicians. This is also an instrument of ‘disciplining’ the civil servants. A DM who is looking after a population of half a crore may be shunted to Archives department having not even an office; and the person may not even know the reason for same.

Then there is the issue of utility of merit. Everyone wants his good work to be appreciated. But Government is like lord Shiva; jo kare uska bhi bhala, jo na kare uska bhi bhala. So irrespective of whether you work or not, system will throw you up.

Adding to all this, a person has to invest a lot to clear the exam. It is highly unpredictable exam with a degree of arbitrariness. A person will never get selected without studying, but even if you study, chances are that you may fail. What is left for a failed thirty year old guy who has wasted four five years in the preparations.

Last but not the least, the powers of civil servants are declining. The commanding heights of the economy are now in the hands of private sector. Bureaucrats no longer enjoy the glory of License Permit Raj. So what shall be the future of services? Will they only a weak image of their former self in the coming times? Is it really worth it to enter the bureaucracy.

Picture is gloomy. But there is a brighter side too, and aspects that make civil services what it is.

It is a career of diversity. Once a CA was asked why he entered IAS when he could have worked for any major company. His answer was he could have worked for ICICI, then could have moved to Deutche Bank, then perhaps to World Bank at much higher pay scales. But till he retires, he would be doing the same work. What if the challenge left in such a job? In civil services every day and every post is a new challenge and a new learning opportunity.

And love it or hate it, stability in civil services is a big plus point. Let me take my own example. I wanted to live life on my own terms, do what I want to do and not because it will increase my ‘market value’. I want to be relaxed from any undue pressure of continuously competing throughout my life in the rat race. I now have an assured career. Competition is good but its excess may take a heavy toll on life.

Any post in civil services may be of much greater value than in private sector. Only a handful may rise to become a CEO in private sector but nearly all IAS will manage a public sector unit in their thirties. In terms of importance of work too, civil services score fairly well. A person may sell the sixth brand of toothpaste much more than his fourth brand, but the satisfaction he gets may not compete with that of a civil servant who has successfully managed relief work during a cyclone.

Another intangible but still a very important thing is the social respect a civil servant commands. In India this may not be matched by any other service. I do not know what future in services have in store for me. But whenever my parents tell anyone that their son is an IAS, they have a glow in their eyes. Leaving other things apart, this alone is a reason sufficient for me to choose civil services as a career.

And then the biggest thing, here one can really work for the people. Most civil servants, at least when they come in service, have the passion of creating a difference; and many succeed in doing that. I once heard an election commissioner who ensured free and fair UP elections. There was a village which had never voted before because of terror of dominant groups and when he ensured that they fearlessly vote in elections, he got all the satisfaction of his life. Hearing him, I realized I had made a right choice.

Anyways emotions apart, both pros and cons are pretty strong. Before deciding to enter civil services, one should be very clear in his/her mind what is he/she going to get. The reality may be pretty different from the perceptions. For seeing more, have a look at this .

It’s a path that demands big sacrifices; and has its own way of giving rewards too!

PS: My Bharat Darshan starts on 8th Dec and will last till mid Feb. So I will be almost offline during the period and my blog may hibernate. But, I will be back :)