Diana Jue-Rajasingh

Building a World-Class Civil Service for Twenty-First Century India — S.K. Das

Posted in Fulbright, India, Traveling by Diana on December 19, 2012

SKDasI bought this book on Amazon, and it’s probably the best piece of literature that I’ve read on the Indian Administrative Service. S.K. Das retired from the IAS as Secretary to the Government of India, and he has been in touch with my research adviser. Hopefully he’ll end up working with us; we shall see. Anyway, his writing provides many insights into India’s civil service that are rooted in solid literature about organizational theory and organizational change. I tend to think along his lines, which is actually quite reassuring. At least it shows that I’m not thinking up crazy ideas on my own.

Here is the first paragraph of Das’ first chapter. It provides some background on the IAS that we have today, which is actually built upon the remnants of India’s colonial past. This demonstrates why the civil service needs so much reform.

The civil service that we have today was founded by the British during the colonial days. Its structure and practices derived from that of Whitehall in the mid-nineteenth century, developed on the basis of a career service with tenure until retirement age, subject to satisfactory conduct. The British had set it up to exercise control over a large but potentially subversive group of native employees in the government. They had put in place a complex array of rules, regulations, and processes to maintain control over the decision-making of native employees. The organizational set-up was hierarchical to ensure a clear-cut chain of command based on a rigorous system of reporting. Since the native subordinates could not be trusted to take decisions, it was necessary to force the decision-making process upwards; this resulted in excessive centralization. The result, on the whole, was the creation of a rigid, hierarchical, centralized, process-driven bureaucracy.

Today’s IAS has many characteristics that were leftover from colonial times. It’s centralized, hierarchical, leader-dependent, and process-driven instead of results-driven. The big issue, though, is not just to diagnose the problems but also to find solutions through, for example, case studies of officers who were able to make a difference in the current system.

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