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 :)


Hari said...

Hi Anurag,
Another interesting entry. But I have some views on it and want to test them with the budding civil servant.

The cons ( disadvantages ) doesn’t seem to be as strong as pros. Sample these.

Why does one want to own a car when the government provides a fleet at one’s disposal :)

Why does one want to construct a house when provided with palatial bungalows :)

If one’s salary is small, no reasons for worry since the sixth pay commission may increase the basic by 100 per cent. Or when the reality sets in one can always take up an assignment with global organizations to earn some honest money.

Then the question of transfers. Given the scales of governments departments I think every department offers some scope to use one’s skills. Otherwise how can one explain kiran Bedis efforts to make Tihar jail in to a Meditation Centre.

Coming to cadres. They might pinch u in the beginning but they also seems to be rewarding. To the best of my knowledge , SEBI chairman Damodaran belongs to Nagaland Cadre. Similarly , Air India Chaiman Tulasi Das belongs to Manipur – tripura cadre.

On utility of merit . I think the intrinsic satisfaction of working for societal cause that too at the highest level is greatest reward one can have.

And Anurag my above observations are my own perceptions and are not meant to refute u r views. If u think they need to be moderated u can ceatainly :)

And I agree with all u r pros and they are really strong.

I also wish u all the best for u r Bharat Darshan. But we would certainly be missing some interesting, witty and creative stuff from u in the mean period.

Saagar said...

All things aside, u r an IAS, which means u have successfully made through one of the toughest exams in the world, which should be enough satisfaction for the rest of your life.. Every profession has its own cons, when u r in US, u spend time away from family and friends in wild goose chase in ur dollar dreams, and I am sure so is every profession. But then when the pros are so good, I dont think the craze for IAS is gonna go down any time sooner..

Anonymous said...


I'm a little late to say this but... Congratulations! I wish you a long and satisfying career :)

I am an aspirant too... must say its a pleasure reading your blog

I have a doubt... how many years did you devote to prepare for this exam? Did you begin right after graduation?

Anurag Srivastava said...

@all: Have a look at

@Hari: I think it depends on the person if he gives importance to intrinsic or extrinsic factors.

Fleet of cars may not always be present. For eg if a person is an SDM, he will have a gypsy, and that too for 'official use'. An upright officer may not like to use it for his personal perpuses.

I think in India everyone has this dream of having his own house. Let us suppose you are planning for retirement. A civil servant who has lived in palatial bunglows may find it very hard to buy a good flat in any metropolitan city. His living standards may come crumbling down.

It 'may' increase, it well may not. And whatever it gives shall be fixed for next 10 years or more. I heard Justice Shrikrishna and he asked us to 'serve'. Taking assignments abroad is easier said than done.

Suppose I am in West Bengal cadre. I will have my family, some career obligations, and some roots. WOnt going abroad will be similar to someone going to middle east to send money back home.

Every department has opportunities. But one needs time to harness them. A person who spends hardly an year in officer will not be able to do much good work. I believe that it can be a big demotivation.

Cadres have both good and bad things. What you are talking about is seniors, who mostly are at centre. The difference comes in first twenty years of service and not after that.

Well I dont dispute satisfaction of working on a social cause.

And, I have consciously chosen this career, so at heart I am very much satisfied with my decision. Any dissent of opinion is welcome and that shall never be moderated :)

@saagar: Grass is always green on the other side. So a civil servant may look at those who earn a lot, others may like the job of a civil servant. But yes craze should not die, else I will become redundant :P

@anonymous: Thanks. I am an engineer. I devoted nearly 1.5 years, worked for 5 months after my graduation and then quit the job. Was lucky to get selected in the first attempt.

Vivek Kumar said...

Good luck for bharat darshan!

Kiran Mahasuar said...

Hi Anurag,
I've been an avid reader of your blog.
This is a very well crafted article.I had once vehemently argued in favor of Civil Services in my alma mater's Forum.Its here.,com_forum/Itemid,29/page,viewtopic/t,139/
I also aspire to become a civil servant someday....
But then,my motto is to serve the people & i believe that is the most important thing.
Most of your batch mates would agree with this.
Even with a degree from IIT under your belt you could have easily gone abroad or done an MBA from say IIMs.
But you opted for IAS.Why?
I believe more than anything else,its the passion to serve the real India....
Wish you all the best of luck for all your future endeavors.

Kiran Mahasuar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kiran Mahasuar said...

Hi Anurag,
Please have a look at the first line of third para.I think,you have committed a mistake.
I guess,its low starting salary....
I guess he has made a mistake in mentioning that Damodaran belongs to Nagaland cadre.I suppose its Manipur-Tripura Cadre...

Cosmic Voices said...

Civil Services...

The Good ... Challenges, status, powers, perks etc...

The Bad.... 'Bad' cadres, stagnancy (read boredom) at mid-levels, slow pace of work etc

The Ugly.... ME, who despite going to an academy with better sex ratio, is still without luck :-(

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Pilani Pictures said...

the best: one can go on very long leaves without being thrown out of office

freebird said...

Hi anurag,

Thanks a lot for your blogs... i am also and iitian(iitk) and now working but i am very serious about ias and i am preparing for it. But I don't want to quit my job and then prepare for ias, is it possible to crack ias while working too?

Shwetank said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shwetank said...

Hi Anurag,
Awesome Post !! I could totally relate to it as my dad is also an IAS officer (84 Batch) so i have seen everything up close. Hope you had a great Bharat Darshan. Have heard from dad that itz a great experience! I had written a similar post. Check it out when you have time:

Anurag Srivastava said...

@vivek: though a bit late, but thanks for your wishes.

@kiran: Though this might degrade my image and disappoint you but I agree mostly with this post on the question "Why I came to civil service"

And you know what, I am still searching for the real answer.

I will right now look at the first line of the third para :)

@cosmic voices: You lack initiative. And you too can laugh at yourself :)

@pilani pictures: I cannot agree more ;)

@freebird: yes it is possible, only the difficulty lever increases. So the competition becomes even more difficult for you.

@shwetank: saw your blog. See the comment there.

Anonymous said...

Very encouraging Post.
I am going to my final year in BMS (management studies) and was considering this as an option. My question is-
All the name and fame aside...
At the end of his lifetime, with the help of the Govt. perks and gratuity and pension etc.
Can he afford the following:

1. A decent marriage for his daughters
2. A house for Each of his kids
3. A good retirement plan (and i mean vacations and stuff, being able to buy gifts for your grand kids etc.

Will he be able to afford this if he has sincerely and wholeheartedly worked for the Govt.

Another question is can a person who is an IAS officer run a business of his own at the side? Is the income sufficient to start a business?

Just some tiny thoughts i had..
Please do let me know if you can..
I totally would love to be an IAS off. and these are the few things i want to have answered.
God Bless you!

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